Imagine a massive traffic jam where loud Punjabi music is being played in several cars. Even as the vehicles stand idle, one can see alcohol being consumed inside several, with some of the youngsters even having the audacity to come out of their cars with glasses in their hands while others behave like bullies.

This was my experience last Sunday evening at the tri-junction of Parwanoo bypass while stuck for more than one hour in a traffic snarl, as tourist arrivals create havoc just at the entry point of Himachal Pradesh.

These sights would convince any sane person that the state is in need of responsible tourism. Instead it is rowdyism that is taking over, and if things continue the way they are, rational people will think twice before coming to the state and the bitterness among the locals outside the purview of the tourism sector will only grow.

The tourist surge in the last few days has brought into focus the need for promoting tourism that local residents as well as tourists can be proud of, instead of something that leaves a bitter taste.

Reports have quoted the state DGP Sanjay Kundu saying that an average of 18,500 tourists have been visiting the state every day. This rush is due to the easing of Covid norms following a brutal second wave that saw a very high number of people perish.

We are witnessing ugly behavior by some tourists here. There are traffic snarls caused by arrogant drivers who just do not want to drive in lane, and resort to breaking the line at the first opportunity available. They give two hoots for other people as they honk their way through the highways littering wherever they go. Nor are they bothered about distancing or wearing masks as mandatory under Covid norms.

There have been instances of ugly brawls. Only around ten days ago, there was this instance in Manali of four Punjabi youngsters stopping their vehicle in the middle of the roads causing a traffic snarl, and when they were asked by some locals to reverse their vehicle they came out of their vehicles threatening people and brandishing swords.

Though they were detained and booked by the police, the moot question is what kind of people go out as tourists carrying weapons? Thereafter the police have enhanced checking of tourist vehicles at the entry points of the state.

Then there were reports from Solan of some tourists getting into an altercation with police personnel over wearing face masks.

A resident of Kullu pointed out, “Some of the tourists cause a lot of nuisance while driving through the recently built Atal Tunnel that connects the district to the neighbouring tribal district of Lahaul and Spiti. They overtake while driving in the tunnel and a large amount of plastic equipment meant to act as road dividers is already damaged.”

He further stated, “Even the pristine Sissu Lake that was developed as a beautiful tourist spot has not been spared, as one can find heaps of empty beer bottles and snack wrappers dumped in small ditches.

“The same is the case in Kullu and Manali. Some of the volunteers of local NGOs do the cleaning at various spots every week, but the issue is why should they clean the litter of tourists?”

Around 7,500 tourists have been visiting the Atal Tunnel daily.

In Shimla, the local administration was compelled to restrict the tourist rush on the Mall and the Ridge. This move followed concerns expressed by the Himachal Pradesh High Court on overcrowding in the town and the inability of the authorities to enforce standard operating procedures related to Covid19 even as a possible third wave looms.

The benches from the iconic Ridge where tourists used to spend time were removed, with only the senior citizens and those having health issues provided seating facility at certain relocated benches.

Locals feel that the police that are on the ground in large numbers must convey to the visitors that they have to abide by the law and no disruption of order will be tolerated. The police need to impose fines and deal with those flouting the law in whatever manner allowed by law.

They say that visitors to the state must be handed pamphlets carrying information on safe driving and proper conduct at all entry points. Another suggestion coming from the people is that the state government should reach out to potential visitors through mass media, telling them politely about the behaviour expected of them.

Even the chief minister, Jai Ram Thakur has stated that the state government is keeping an eye on the tourists while urging them to strictly follow Covid appropriate behaviour. Some days back he said that although the state welcomes the tourists, the government is also ensuring that no tourist is allowed to flout the SOPs issued regarding Covid appropriate behaviour.

Thakur said the police must identify places where the flow of tourists is very high and special police personnel be deployed there so people can be motivated to behave appropriately.

President of the Shimla Hotel and Restaurant Association Sanjay Sood underlined that the authorities need to take several measures to ensure that there is responsible tourism in the state.

“The negative and discouraging approach has to end while taking essential measures. There is a need to create a highway team by the police to ensure that there is no parking of vehicles on the roads. Personnel in the reserve battalions must be put to use to see that there are no traffic snarls and unruly behavior by the visitors,” he said.

“Responsibility must be fixed as to who has allowed beggars and roadside eating joints without any licence to dot the highways. These are neither in the interest of the government nor in the interest of anyone else.

“If these joints continue to grow you cannot stop the tourists from stopping there,” he said.

He added that after an initial surge, the state is now witnessing a drop in arrivals.