Just as when the water crisis was at its peak in Shimla last year this reporter had come across a group of tourists from Punjab heading for the place and told them of the impending crisis. One of them had replied, “We won’t be drinking water. We would be drinking beer.”

This sums up the attitude the majority of tourists have towards the hills. This incident needs to be recalled as once again the hills are reeling from the onslaught of the ‘ugly tourist’ who has scant respect for nature, environment and the host community. Of course not everyone is brash and insensitive but the majority of the middle class showing off their snob value and attitude forms the category of the ‘ugly tourist’.

Be it Shimla, Dharamshala, Manali, Nainital or Mussoorie, the ugly tourist is there to demonstrate his or her detest for humility, peace, serenity, frugality, harmony and whatever the hills and their lifestyle stands for.

One can just begin with the reports of the daily traffic snarls that are being reported from the highways to the tourist destinations in the hills. The question that comes to the mind is that when it is known very well that there is an extreme paucity of parking spaces in the hills, why do they have to bring their big cars in the first place when, particularly in Himachal Pradesh, there is very good neat and clean public transport available. They come in these cars blaring loud music and to make matters worse drive at break neck speeds.

Despite seeing hundreds of vehicles moving in a lane upwards, they have to overtake and this leads to long traffic jams. For what? Just to brag back home, “Tere bhai ne paanch ghante mein gaadi Shimla laga di. (Your brother took the vehicle to Shimla in five hours flat.)”

Come to think of it that it is for the first time that the administration has had to declare a holiday in schools for successive weekends in June because the traffic flow is unmanageable. This is surely not the way to move ahead in the tourism sector.

And what do they do when caught in a traffic snarl. They gorge on fast food and dump the wrappers along the road side along with the cans and plastic bottles. To add on they just ease themselves along the road.

It needs to be pointed out that the administration too has not been playing its role effectively in trying to awaken the tourists to dump the garbage in dustbins and to ease themselves in public toilets. In 2016, an important intervention was planned on the Parwanoo-Shimla stretch by the then Solan deputy commissioner Rakesh Kanwar and Shimla Mayor Sanjay Chauhan that envisaged giving the tourists a jute waste bag at a nominal rate of Rs 50 at the state excise barrier in Parwanoo with the request to put all their wrappers of sweets, wafers and other edibles along with empty beer cans, cold drink bottles etc., in the bag instead of littering the highway. There was a proposal to set up special disposal sites at three places between Parwanoo and Shimla where people normally halt for a small break to eat and also refresh themselves. Somehow the plan never took off.

Coming back to the ugly tourist, their indifference to dumping litter often leads to heated arguments with the locals. This reporter has been witness to numerous to numerous such scenes in places like Kasauli and Chail where the tourists are ready to pick up a fight the moment someone objects to their throwing litter on the roads with a sneer, “Phir kya hua.(So what)”

It is a common sight to see them getting off their big cars and the first question is, “Where do we find an air conditioned room with a good television?” What is the point of coming to the hills if one just wants to watch television in an air conditioned room? Won’t it be better if they stayed back home in Delhi, Gurgaon or Ludhiana. The kids on their part can be just asking for Pizza outlets.

“In the hills, it is a fashion to walk,” say the boards put up at many hill stations. But a majority of the tourists can be heard complaining and cribbing about the compulsion to walk. After all they are used to a lifestyle where in places like Delhi and Ludhiana they go on a scooter even to purchase bread and milk.

A gentleman from Jaipur travelling by the Kalka-Shimla toy train was horrified to learn from this reporter that there won’t be any auto rickshaws available at Shimla railway station. “How am I supposed to go hunting for accommodation?” was his problem and he could not believe that he would have to do the job on foot.

Even in the toy train they can be heard complaining about how long it takes to reach Shimla. Their attitude defeats the very purpose of enjoying scenic beauty while traveling by the toy train.

These are the type of tourists who also are absolutely insensitive to the fact that there is a water scarcity in majority of the hill stations particularly during the summer months. They believe in wasting water because they claim that they are paying for the stay.

There are also instances of the tourists misbehaving with the local women which also lead to conflicts. In most of such cases, the former are in an inebriated state.

The most quiet and biggest sufferers of this brand of tourists are the vulnerable pastoral communities living in the higher ranges of the hills. “Things have come to a pass that such tourists with their big cars blaring music make it difficult for pastoral community members to move on the roads with their animals. On many occasions these cars just brush past the animals. Tourism in the shape of tent accommodation is causing immense problem. Firstly those staying in such accommodation do not respect local cultural sensibilities and secondly they dump all sorts of waste along the meadows that harms the environment,” pointed out Pawnu Kumari, an activist from the remote Bara Bhangal area of the Kangra district.

The tourists are free to approach the authorities if they are being fleeced or harassed by the local population but they cannot go around creating trouble.

The administration too needs to come out with a long term strategy to tackle such tourism that is more damaging than profitable for the local communities.

(Cover Photo: Traffic en route Shimla. HT)