This paradise of honeymooners in Himachal Pradesh has virtually been robbed of its natural beauty. The snow doesn’t crown the chuckling mountains of Kufri, just a half-hour drive from state capital Shimla, for long and the road to this once heavenly resort is dotted with muck.
Its ecological degradation hasn’t escaped the eyes of the National Green Tribunal with its latest order on preservation of Rohtang Pass, another popular hill destination overlooking the picturesque tourist resort Manali, extensively referred to the Kufri’s "barren hills".
Expressing concern at the rapid pace of environmental degradation, a bench headed by its chairperson, Justice Swatanter Kumar, observed this month: "Have you seen what has happened to Kufri? In Kufri we used to have skiing all winter, but today there is hardly any ice visible there."
Hearing a plea to relax his order on limiting to 1,000 a day the entry of diesel and petrol tourist vehicles at the Rohtang Pass, which is also facing an ecological disaster, he said: "You cannot finish Rohtang like this. You cannot ruin nature. Can you restore the glacier which is reducing by one metre per year?"
Members of the hospitality industry say poor parking, lack of cleanliness, haphazard constructions, high intensity of human activity and deforestation have marred Kufri’s image of a lover’s paradise located at 2,510 metres above sea level.
"You will find mule droppings everywhere. There is nothing great to come here. In fact, the area appears like a quagmire of excreta," Abhijit Chattopadhyay, a tourist from Kolkata, said.
His wife Sharmistha remarked: "The moment you get out of the vehicle, the pony owners virtually try to poach upon you without paying any heed to your refusal. There is no policeman in the vicinity to lodge a complaint."
Discovered as an ideal hill resort by the British in the 1930s, Kufri quickly emerged as a popular destination for winter sports due to good snowfall. For many decades, it was a regular venue for the National Winter Games.
But in the past three decades, no winter sports activity has been organized here.
"Till the early 1980s there used to be heavy snow in winter. It used to be a skiers’ paradise. The average temperature across the winter is too high these days, resulting in the melting of snow within a few hours or we can say a few days," local travel agent Babu Ram Thakur said.
With the decline in snow-related activities, there is also a noticeable fall in the footfalls of adventure tourists, added Thakur, who once provided the necessary equipment to skiers.
The Kufri slopes were shorter and gentler, attracting mainly tourists and first-timers.
Ramesh Chaudhary, a retired government employee who has been long settled in Kufri, said too many commercial constructions have marred the hill station’s beauty.
"There is no mechanism to check the construction of hotels and resorts in and around Kufri. Unscientific disposal of sewage and solid waste is also threatening the pristine environment.
"Now Kufri faces water scarcity in both summer and winter as most of the natural resources have dried up," Chaudhary said.
Kufri remains chock-a-block with vehicles owing to a woeful shortage of parking lots, especially during the peak tourist season – from May to June and November to January.