As the Spiti valley finally opens its doors to tourists on February 17 for the first time since it was shut in the wake of the lockdown imposed to keep the coronavirus at bay in March-end last year, vigilance against the entry of any Covid-infected traveller needs to be a priority. Earlier, in mid-September, when the Himachal Pradesh Government lifted travel restrictions, the Spiti Tourism Society had chosen to keep tourism-related activities suspended as it feared an influx of visitors amid the then raging pandemic. Aware of its harsh, sub-zero temperatures and limited medical infrastructure and healthcare facilities that render its population vulnerable, wisdom lay in taking the preventive route. And, rightly so. Covid-free today, Spiti has reported among the least number of Covid-19 cases.
Now, as the local administration lures tourists with a two-month snow festival, it aims to keep up the good record with the slew of precautionary measures. It is equally the responsibility of the vacationers to ensure that they are armed with a Covid-negative test report from an authorised hospital or lab 72 to 96 hours before arrival. Also, ensure own safety as well as that of the hosts with masks and distancing. While the town is used to dealing with mountain sickness and extreme weather-related ailments, the virus would play spoilsport in the quest for enjoyment of the scenic mountains, glaciers and lakes and monasteries that the area is endowed with.
No doubt, the task is challenging, for there is a huge surge in the number of Lahaul-Spiti-bound tourists ever since the all-weather gateway to the valley, the Atal Tunnel, was commissioned in October. Built under the snow-clad Rohtang Pass, due to which the valley used to be cut off from November to April, the tunnel holds the promise of transforming the economy of the region. However, a regulatory mechanism is imperative to preserve the ecologically fragile area. The queues of vehicles running up to 3 km in December-end call for better provisions to deal with the resultant problems of accommodation, litter, pollution and nuisance that play havoc with the sensitive region.