To enjoy snow, extend your holiday in Himachal

Shimla/Manali: If you are heading to the hills of Himachal Pradesh for New Year celebrations and want to experience snow, extend your holiday by a few days.

The Met Office in Shimla has forecast snow at some of the state's tourist destinations from January 3.

"There are chances of snowfall across the state as the western disturbances will be active from January 3. Till that time, the weather will largely remain dry," Manmohan Singh, Director of the Meteorological Department, told IANS.

He said the probability of snowfall in Shimla, Kufri, Narkanda, Manali, Kalpa and Dalhousie is high from January 3.

Members of the hospitality industry said most of the tourists were enquiring about the chances of snowfall before New Year's Eve.

Despite prevailing dry weather, most of the hotels in Shimla, Kufri, Kasauli, Chail, Dharamsala, Palampur and Manali are chock-a-block ahead of New Year's Eve.

"Had it been a plentiful snowfall this week, it would be a different situation at all the tourist destinations," D.P. Bhatia, liaison officer with the Oberoi Group, told IANS.

He said all three properties of the group in Shimla have been sold out till January 2.

"It's normal that the tourists start descending on Shimla and its nearby destinations on weekends and on special days like Christmas and New Year's Eve. This year, the tourism business was badly hit initially after demonetisation. Now the weather has played truant," Bhatia said.

Snowfall is always an added attraction for the tourists, mainly from the plains.

Shimla and its nearby destinations like Kufri, Fagu and Narkanda and Kalpa in Kinnaur district and Dalhousie in Chamba district experienced the season's first snowfall on December 25 -- but the snow melted within a few hours.

Vijay Sharma, General Manager, Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC), said there is a heavy rush of the tourists at most of the destinations for the New Year Eve celebrations.

He said the arrival of tourists in Shimla, Kufri, Kasauli, Narkanda, Manali, Dalhousie, Dharamsala and Palampur was overwhelming.

"We are advising them to extend their stay as the weather department has predicted snow at some places by next week," he added.

Baiju and Ronnie Sebastian, a couple from New Delhi, said they might extend their New Year holidays "if there are chances of snowfall".

"For the past two days, we have been enjoying long sunny days, a perfect break from foggy conditions in Delhi. If there are chances of snowfall as the Met has predicted, we will not mind extending our holidays in Shimla," Ronnie said.

The mountain peaks viewed from Shimla, and the Dhauladhar peaks overlooking Tibetan Buddhist leader Dalai Lama's official palace in McLeodganj near Dharamsala are covered by a white blanket.

Tourist arrivals in the hill state every year surpasses the state's population of about 6.5 million.

Kullu-Manali has emerged as a favourite tourist destination in the state, followed by Shimla and Dharamsala, according to the state Tourism Department's surveys.

A five-day winter carnival in Manali, beginning January 2, is an added draw for tourists who want to extend their stay.

Manali Hoteliers Association president Gajender Thakur said hotels are getting a good response for the New Year celebrations.

He said after demonetisation the footfall of tourists has spiked for the first time.

"We are hopeful that the snowfall prediction for next week will attract more tourists during the winter carnival," Thakur added.

According to the Met office, the last time it snowed in Shimla on New Year's Eve was back in 2002.