Igloo in Manali | Photo: twitter.com/Pickyourtrail/status/
Manali: Started in 2017 by using an ingenious knowledge to offer travellers with a chance to live like the Inuit people living in the ice-clad Arctic regions of Alaska and Newfoundland amid the silvery and snowy slopes of the Himalayas, the Hampta valley, easily accessible from Manali in Himachal Pradesh, is now christened as the Igloo valley.
Starting from six igloos, the Hampta valley, almost without tourist buzz, at present has 30 igloos of different shapes and sizes to offer for the backpackers from January to February.
Most of the igloos, owned by the local youth, are dotted in the vicinity of Sethan village, 12 km uphill from Manali, the area known for growing delicious apples.
"For the first time we experimented in 2017 to set up an igloo by using the knowledge of our village elders. In that year we offered travellers a day's stay free of cost," local entrepreneur Vikas Kumar told IANS.
He and his friend Tashi Dorjee are the first to start the concept of the Eskimo village in the Hampta valley that offers an opportunity to live the life of the Inuit people on the edge of the wilderness amidst stunningly beautiful surroundings.
Kumar said in the first year a handful of travellers preferred to stay in the igloo. "It was the word of mouth that started attracting the travellers next year onwards. Seeing the enormous response, we have built six igloos this time."
The igloos are located on ski slopes that have more than three feet of snow. In summer, the slopes turn into lush sheep pastures.
Seeing the success of travellers' experience close to the Inuit life, the idea spread to other locals.
An official with the state Tourism Department told IANS seeing the success of the Kumar-Dorjee duo, more local youth, who are basically skiers and involved in camping, have opted the concept of this tourism on the pattern of state's rural homestay scheme.
"Now the Hampta valley houses more than 30 igloos and it is now aptly called Igloo and Eskimo valley," he added.
To reach an igloo unit, one has to trudge the snow-laden path for 15-20 minutes. Only a four-wheel drive vehicle, which is provided by the host and covered within the accommodation cost, will take you up to Sethan, the last motorable village. From there potters will take the luggage.
Depending on the snow conditions, a team of five-eight people can build an igloo measuring six feet in circumference in a couple of hours.
"It was really cosy to stay in an igloo that offers a chance to live like Inuit on the edge of the wilderness," remarked newlywed Ramesh Menon, a tourist from Chennai.
"We were a bit nervous on seeing the ice made beds and reluctant to stay in night. After spending a night, we decided to extend our stay by a day," his wife Aamani said, adding "the igloo preserves the heat generated by the human body and helps keep warm inside the dome".
The creative ice sculptures are also added attractions. The beds made out of snow are covered by layers of warm materials.
Kumar, who runs Keylinga Himalayan Adventure, says the igloos are of different sizes. "We have an igloo for a couple and also for a family of four. We are charging Rs 11,000 per couple that includes all three meals."
The daylong trip costs Rs 2,000 per person with pick up and drop charges of Rs 3,500 for six people.
Picturesque resort Manali in Kullu district houses no less than 1,500 hotels, lodges and home-stay accommodations in and around.
Himachal Pradesh has no tourist accommodations in far-off areas. Rural homestays that started in 2008 have been driving tourists to the interiors and that is the best option to stay and enjoy the virgin nature.
The highest arrival of tourists in the state in 14 years was at 196.02 lakh in 2017.
The state's economy is highly dependent on tourism, besides hydroelectric power and horticulture.