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Ladakh

In Conversation With Reach Ladakh

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In Conversation with Tsetan Angchuk, President All Ladakh Tour Operator Association (ALTOA)
By Rigzin Wangmo, Tuesday, September 18, 2018

LEH:
The first Travel Association of Leh was formed in the late 1980s with around 20 to 30 members. Later, it was named as All Ladakh Tour Operator Association (ALTOA), formed as a certified body in the year 2004.  At present, there are about 300 members in the Association.  In this issue, we have Tsetan Angchuk, President ALTOA to talk about the tourism industry, plans, and initiatives.  He was appointed as the president of ALTOA in November 2017.

Q. Brief us about the tourism sector in Ladakh.  Can you share the data of visitors in Ladakh and in which year it has increased? 

Earlier, agriculture was the main source of livelihood for the people of Ladakh.  Now the tourism has become a source of revenue.  Ladakh was opened for tourists in the year 1974. Later in 1994, the restricted areas like Pangong, Tso-Moriri, Nubra valley, Dha-Hanu was made accessible to tourists by the government of India. In 1974, around 500 foreign tourists and 27 domestic tourists visited Ladakh. The growth was witnessed in the year 2004 because of the Bollywood movie ‘Three Idiots’.  In 2004, 21,608 foreigners and 13,483 domestic tourists visited Ladakh.  Ladakh has seen an increase in the number of domestic tourists in the last 10 to 15 years due to increased facilities and connectivity.

Number of tourists visited Ladakh in the last five years
 

Year

Foreign tourists

Domestic tourists

Total

2014

59,305

1,21,996

1,81,301

2015

2,9614

1,16,887

1,46,501

2016

38,005

1,97,693

2,35,698

2017

46,593

2,30,662

2,77,255

2018

60,000 (May)

1,10,000 (June)

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Q. What are the positive and negative effects of the booming tourism industry? 

Along with the increase in domestic tourists, several issues have come up in terms of environment.  Many of them lack etiquettes, throw or leave garbage anywhere causing environmental issues. Most of the bikers tend to go off route which disturbs the wildlife habitation. On the other hand, well-educated tourist before coming to Ladakh do research about the sensitivity of the place and maintain discipline. They respect the culture and heritage of the region. The foreign tourists go trekking in the rural parts of Ladakh, thus creating economic opportunities for them. They also help create awareness about cleanliness and preservation of old monuments. 

Q. Along with the increasing inflow of tourist every year, do we have enough infrastructure and resources to cater to mass tourism? How do you keep a check on the issues?

The topography of Ladakh is small and compact, we have less carrying capacity. We are not ready to cater to the increasing number of tourists every year as the infrastructure is not up to the mark. In the month of May and June, every year shortage of taxi service is seen for at least 15 to 20 days.
Earlier, the capacity in Nubra valley and Pangong were less. But now we have bed capacity for around 5,000 and about 70 hotels, guest houses and homestays are registered.

In the luxury segment, we have a few hotels in which high-quality tourist is accommodated. It is important to have more luxury hotels in all the tourist destinations of Ladakh.

Q. What will you say about the sustainable tourism in Ladakh?  Do we have any plans to promote quality tourism?

We have a fine example of Bhutan, where the cost of one individual per day is approximately 250 dollars which is expensive for any tourist. So, in that case, only quality tourist can afford the expenses. 

Similarly, the local administration and the stakeholders should seriously work together and make a tourism policy for the better future of Ladakh. There is a need for discussion on promoting quality tourism.

Q. Tell us about the potential of winter tourism in Ladakh. Do you have any plans to promote it further?
 
Chadar Trek is one of the famous treks. Earlier the trek was considered to be an exclusive trek which was not easy for everyone. The trekkers had to survive in -35 temperatures with limited resources and facilities. Only the foreigners would come for the Chadar trek. In the past few years, the domestic tourist has also started coming for the Chadar trek. The travel agents of other places are selling the packages for the trek like hot cakes which has also helped in promoting the winter tourism. With the less carrying capacity and fewer facilities, negative impact on the environment has also been witnessed.

In 2018 and 2019, limited tourist will be allowed for the Chadar trek. Certain rules and regulation will be imposed: rest for three days will be mandatory, medical certificate, and good quality equipment. Once they meet the criteria, they will be allowed for the trek. We are also planning to increase the rate.
The number of wildlife tourists is seen increasing every year. Tourists come to see the snow leopard in the areas of Rumbak and Ulley in the month of February and March.

Q. How the Association tries to involve more youth in the tourism sector? 

The job opportunities have also increased which is positive for the unemployed youth. Our association aims to arrange programs for youths every year. This year, along with LBA we organised a program on eco-tourism in the month of June for 14 days for the students studying outside Ladakh.  They were trained as guides, given information about the local cultural heritage, monasteries, wildlife, flora, and fauna.  We are planning to organize more programmes to give exposure to them. We are working on involving more youths in the tourism sector.

Q. Do ALTOA have plans to explore new trekking routes, areas, and other potential areas?

Domestic tourists are increasing every year which is good and having said that there is also a need to retain the foreign tourists because the number is seen decreasing every year. The reason behind the decline in foreign tourists is because many of the trekking routes have been connected with the motorable roads like the Sham valley, Sku Marka, Trance Zanskar, and many other routes. Now, there are fewer trekkers in those places due to the interference of moving cars on the routes. 
 
Ladakh as a tourist destination has many potential and it is the adventure hub. In Ladakh, we have many peaks which are up to 7000 ft and along with that, we have wonderful trekking routes that need to be explored. Many trekking routes are in the restricted areas; many peaks in Nubra and Changthang are restricted due to security reasons.

We have sent a proposal for almost 6 to 7 virgin trekking routes to the authorities. If all the trekking routes are made accessible, we will be able to bring back the inbound tourists for the trek. The local administration and other stakeholders should emphasize on the issues which is very important.

Q. How safe and secure are tourists on road to adventure trips? Any action required by the government?

In adventure trips, many bikers meet with an accident due to their negligence. They have less awareness about the terrain. They do not acclimatize themselves well and start their journey. This year we have fewer cases of road accidents as compared to the last year because of better infrastructure and expansion of the roads. There are even emergency cases due to high altitude. The medical ambulance should be available all the time on the Chang La and Khardong La. Recently, a medical center aid was opened which is a good move and same needs to done on the other passes so that the risk of high altitude problem can be tackled easily. It is very important to give a briefing to the guest prior to their journey. 

We have tied up with an insurance company and have opened a medical camp in Stok expedition base camp and other areas in which we have qualified doctors for the medical examination. We have plans for rescue facility and even planning to get choppers for timely evacuation. 

Q. In future what actions should be taken by the government to regulate tourist flow?

Ladakh is already famous among the domestic tourists. Now it is time to attract foreign tourists. Without the support of the authorities, we will not be able to do it. The promotion in foreign countries becomes very challenging for an individual. We need funds to promote in the foreign countries.

 Message to the readers: 

We should promote quality tourism.  It is the responsibility of everyone to promote sustainable and responsible tourism as our economy is directly or indirectly dependent on the tourism industry.
 
 



 
                   
 
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