KULLU VALLEY (India) • Its ski slopes are considered among the best in India, while its stunning views are a magnet for hikers, horse riders and paragliders in the summer. But a new ruling by India's environmental court designed to protect the Kullu Valley from its hordes of visitors now threatens to devastate the tourist industry, according to furious local businesses.
"The vast majority of the people are engaged in tourism activities in and around the Rohtang Pass," said Mr Anup Thakur, president of the Kullu-Manali Hoteliers Association. "Isn't the livelihood of the people more important than the environment?"
His fears are echoed throughout the Himalayan valley known as the "Valley of the Gods", a favourite haunt of the British during the colonial period and now one of India's most popular tourist hot spots.
The valley is framed by the majestic Rohtang Pass, which rises to a height of 3,978m, its roads often gridlocked in the summer months and flanked by a seemingly endless row of stalls selling tea, food and trinkets. The accompanying mounds of rubbish and other pollution have reached such alarming levels that snow on the slopes has been turning black while glaciers have been melting at a record rate, the court has been told.
In a move aimed at reversing some of the damage, the National Green Tribunal last month banned all commercial activity around the pass and the adjoining ski slopes.
It also banned horse-riding, snow-biking and paragliding on the top of the valley while food shacks were ordered to close.
"Except water, everything else is prohibited in and around the pass," the green court said in a ruling which caught locals by surprise.
Campaigners say the situation has reached a crisis point as the authorities in the state of Himachal Pradesh had turned a blind eye for decades. During the tourist season, the sheer weight of numbers means the 50km journey from the base of the pass to the town of Manali - which takes about two hours - lasts up to seven. There are also nearly 1,000 hotels in the twin resort towns of Kullu and Manali, which have been drawing generations of Western backpackers and Indian tourists.