Traffic congestion at Atal Tunnel as tourists rush to Himachal ahead of New Year

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Long lines of vehicles were seen between the Atal Tunnel and Sissu in the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh as people thronged to the snow-clad region ahead of New Year celebrations.

Visuals posted by the news agency ANI showed rows of cars moving inside the Atal Tunnel, which is also known as Rohtang Tunnel. Inaugurated in October last year, the 9.02 km-long highway is the longest highway single-tube tunnel above 10,000 feet (3,048 metre) in the world.

Himachal’s economy largely depends on the tourism sector, which was badly hit during the first and second waves of the coronavirus pandemic. The sector contributes 12,000 crores to the state’s economy annually which is 7 per cent of Himachal’s GDP.

The tourism industry started to recover in summer this year, but it is again fearing losses as Omicron, the latest and more contagious mutation of the Covid-19, threatens a fresh surge in the country.

Though Himachal hasn’t reported a single case of Omicron infection, the tourism industry is anticipating tough times.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, roughly two crore tourists, domestic and foreign, would visit Himachal every year. In 2020, the number dropped to around 32 lakh.

In 2019, the state witnessed a jump of 4.63 per cent in tourist arrival. A total of 1.72 crore people visited the state that year of whom more than 3 lakh were foreigners.

This year, 40,98,592 tourists visited Himachal Pradesh till October and only 3,972 foreigners came to the hill state.

A maximum of 272,048 tourists visited Kangra, which is also famous for its ancient temples, and as many as 182,423 people went to Solan, which adjoins Haryana and Punjab.

The majority of the tourists visiting Solan were from Haryana, Chandigarh.

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