Tourist footfall at Patnitop fell 80 after the Chenani-Nashri tunnel opened. (File)
Once a buzzing hill station in Jammu and Kashmir, Patnitop in Udhampur district has fallen silent in peak tourist season. People stopped coming to the hill station, which lies on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Chenani-Nashri tunnel in April this year.
The 9.2-kilometre-long surface tunnel, the longest in India, reduced travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by three hours and bypassed the tourist hotspot at Patnitop. Tourist footfall is said to have declined 80 per cent since the tunnel was opened.
Locals -- hotel owners, shopkeepers, pony handlers, drivers -- who did brisk business suddenly found their source of income has dried up.
Naseer Ahmad, a pony handler, said he has not earned anything in the last fortnight. Hundred others who used to ferry tourists on their ponies are out of work now, he said.
Hundreds of tourists going toward Kashmir valley and the Vaishno Devi shrine used to stop at Patnitop before the tunnel opened.
"This year there is no work. Look around, all the places are empty. All the ponywallahs are jobless. When we can't earn for ourselves, how will we take care of our ponies? Naseer Ahmad said.
There are some 60 hotels and guesthouses at Patnitop, and over 2,000 people are engaged in the tourism business. According to them, the government must take innovative steps such as building a cable car similar to the Gulmarg Gondola to attract tourists.
"We are facing a lot of problems. This is happening for the first time in Patnitop. We never thought we would ever come to such a situation," Vishal Sharma, a hotelier at Patnitop, said. "It is getting difficult to find customers for guesthouses. You can see there is not a single tourist here," Mr Sharma said.
Another hotel owner at the hill station, Satbir Singh, said Patnitop needs a new feature to attract tourists. "There should be development. The only option to bring tourists here is by having a cable car on the pattern of the Gulmarg Gondola," Mr Singh said.