Jammu: Jammu and Kashmir's Leh district has emerged as the favourite destination for foreign tourists as nearly 50,000 people from abroad visited the land of high passes last year, tourism officials said.
The overall tourist arrivals in 2018 in the district, located at an altitude of 3,524 metres (11,562 ft), also crossed three lakh mark for the first time, setting a new record, the officials said.
"A total of 3,27,366 tourists, including 49,477 foreigners, visited Leh in 2018, marking an increase of over 50,000 compared to the previous year," a senior official of the state Tourism Department told PTI.
He said the tourist arrivals in the district first touched the six-figure mark in 2011 when 1,79,491 tourists, including 36,662 foreigners, visited the district.
The feat was achieved a year after sudden floods in August – considered as the peak tourist season – caused by a cloud burst heavily damaged the town.
In 2014, the record number of 59,305 western backpackers flocked the area along with over 1.21 lakh domestic tourists.
The number of tourist arrivals, however, dropped to 1.46 lakh in 2015 but picked up again next year, crossing 2.33 lakh, including 37,497 foreigners, the official said, adding the figures reached 2,77,255 in 2017, including 46,593 foreigners in 2017.
Ladakh, also known as the cold desert, usually remains cut off from rest of the country owing to heavy snowfall which blocks 434-km Srinagar-Leh and 490-km Manali-Leh highways for months together owing to heavy snowfall along the high passes.
Last year, the Centre had approved the construction of the 14.2-km long tunnel project, Asia's longest bi-directional Zojila Pass tunnel at an estimated cost of Rs 6,089 crore, to provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar, Kargil, and Leh which, when completed, will further give a boost to the tourism sector in the region.
"The tourist arrivals by road remain restricted between April and October, as a result of which other months of the year record a very low turnout," the official said.
Last year, he said that 5,665 tourists arrived in January followed by 1,136 in February, 1,298 in March and 11,277 in April when the road connectivity to the region was restored.
As many as 44,583 tourists visited Leh in May followed by 77,041 in June, 70,139 in July, 53,621 in August, 38,049 in September, 20,784 in October, 2,416 in November and 1,357 in December, the official said.
The highest number of 13,033 foreign tourists visited Leh in August followed by 12,226 in July, 7,355 in September and 6,209 in June, the official said adding only 421 foreigners visited the region in January, 476 in February, 523 in March, 2,678 in April, 2,785 in May, 3,223 in October, 286 in November and 262 in December.
"Leh district possesses immense tourism potential and the Governor's administration is keen to upgrade its tourism-related infrastructure to attract increased tourist footfall to the region," Chief Secretary B V R Subramanyam, who visited Leh on Friday and held a series of meetings, said.
Expressing happiness over the increasing trend of tourist inflow to Leh, the chief secretary stressed on Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, to work out a master plan for guiding tourism sector towards inclusive and sustainable development of the district.