Leh (Ladakh), Nov 26 (IANS) The flash floods that washed away parts of Leh in Jammu and Kashmir also scared away the tourists who had become synonymous with the town, leaving the region and its economy in a state of suspended animation.
'Right after the flash floods, television channels flooded their air-time showing the devastation and wreck of Leh. Though it brought a lot of help and assistance to this place, it scared away all the tourists,' Rigzin Spalbar, chief executive councillor of Leh-Ladakh, told IANS.
'The general idea that prevailed was that the entire Leh was washed out, which really wasn't the case,' he added.
Spalbar says 52 out of the total 112 villages in Leh were affected by the downpour Aug 6. Over 200 people were killed and scores of families became homeless as a series of cloudbursts devastated Choglamsar and other villages adjoining Leh town.
The flash floods hit the two most important industries of Ladakh -- agriculture and tourism. The number of visitors during Ladakh's tourist season, which was at an all time high, instantaneously touched zero.
Tourism had been booming in the region for the past few years. The number had gone up from 40,000 in 2005 to more than 80,000 in 2009. This year, the hoteliers were expecting their biggest sales ever.
'Earlier, the actual tourist season lasted only a couple of months, from July to October. However, during the past couple of years it had stretched, starting in May and continuing till October, and even then a trickle of tourism industry thrived,' said Stanzin Namdan, a hotelier.
Little has been done to revive the image of Leh and bring back those lost visitors, say people associated with the hospitality industry in Ladakh. They say the misconception that the whole of Leh was washed away by floods has to be cleared up.
Some six to seven years ago, around 90 percent of tourists visiting Leh were the hiking- and trekking-loving foreigners. But with Bollywood exposing the region to Indian audiences, even locals were flocking to the picturesque region.
'Apart from a reassuring visit by Bollywood actor Rahul Bose in September, the area has been largely ignored by the people of the film industry. Little else has come our way since,' Stanzin Namdan said.
Government officials say after providing people with immediate needs such as ration and shelter, they would think of reviving tourism.
'We are planning to start a positive ad campaign to attract tourists, both local and foreign. If things go as planned, we might touch the 100,000 tourist mark in the coming season, a number that we were anticipating this year,' Rigzin Spalbar said.
'It may help to restore normalcy and jump-start Ladakh's economy once again.'
(Suhas Munshi can be contacted at email@example.com)