Shimla, Dec 29 (IANS) Don't let the weather fog your New Year celebrations. Catch the sun, which is giving northern India's plains a miss these days, in the hills of Himachal Pradesh.
The Met Office has predicted that the sun will shine on New Year revelers in Himachal Pradesh. It has forecast clear skies across the state till Dec 31.
Members of the hospitality industry say it's not just snow but also the sun that is attracting the tourists to the state this winter.
"We are daily getting a number of enquiries regarding the possibility of snowfall in Shimla and surrounding hills on the last day of the year. But the tourists are equally excited about the bright sunny days in the hills," D.P. Bhatia of Clarke's Hotel told IANS.
"Those who are eager to say goodbye to 2012 in snow can travel to Narkanda," he added.
The popular tourist resort town of Narkanda, some 65 km from here, has good accumulation of snow, whereas Shimla, known for the imperial grandeur of buildings that were once institutions of power when it was the summer capital of British India, is totally bereft of snow.
Shimla's Meteorological Director Manmohan Singh told IANS that popular tourist destinations like Shimla, Kasauli, Narkanda, Dharamsala, Palampur, Manali, Chamba and Dalhousie have been experiencing sunny days for the past 10 days.
Pradeep Goyal, a Chandigarh-based entrepreneur, said he and his wife Charu will travel to Kasauli hills this weekend to enjoy the sun. "It will be a warm break from the dismal winter weather of the plains," Goyal said.
This time again the tourist resort town of Manali is attracting holidaymakers owing to the plentiful snow in nearby hills.
Gulaba, 20 km from Manali, is under a thick blanket of snow. "Every day, hundreds of tourists are coming here to enjoy skiing, snow scooter rides and photography sessions against icicles," said Balbir Thakur, district tourism officer.
"We are expecting a good number of tourists this weekend," he added.
Manali experienced a moderate spell of snow Dec 16, but it melted within a few days.
Manali Travel Agent Association president Anil Sharma said that snapping of air links in the state for over four months has affected the tourism industry.
"Most of the high-end tourists are preferring Srinagar to Manali because of lack of air connectivity in the state. Moreover, Srinagar has regular flights from Chandigarh too," he said.
State tourism and civil aviation officials said Kingfisher was the only airline that operated regular flights between Delhi and the state -- Jubbarhatti near Shimla, Gaggal near Kangra and Bhuntar near Kullu. However, it discontinued operations in the state before it was grounded in October.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, at the 57th meeting of the National Development Council (NDC) in New Delhi Thursday, raised the issue of restoration of air traffic to the state to promote tourism. He also demanded provision of subsidy on heli-taxi service on the pattern of north-eastern states.
The annual tourist arrivals in Himachal Pradesh crossed the 15-million mark in 2011, a state tourism department report said.
At present, 2,169 hotels with a bed capacity of 55,928 are registered with the state, it said. The state's economy is highly dependent on hydroelectric power, horticulture and tourism.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org