The COVID-19 crisis has put tourism in Idukki on the ventilator. Tourism, which was the main source of income for the district, has now come to a standstill. The situation in several world-renowned destinations is pathetic and presents a striking contrast with the hustle and bustle witnessed earlier.
For instance, the famed Thekkady Lake is deserted except for some youngsters from the nearby Mannakkudy tribal settlement catching fish from the waters and forest officials on duty. It is now three months since tourists stopped arriving at the lake, which is the reservoir of the Mullaperiyar Dam. Earlier, the lake used to receive 5-7 lakh visitors a year.
Vehicles that took tourists to the area inside the wildlife sanctuary are now virtually abandoned on parking ground. The watchers of the Forest Department who were earlier engaged in day duty have now been redeployed for COVID-19 efforts of the government.
Meanwhile, many jobless tourist guides are now working as daily wagers. Some others have taken to farming. They are, in fact, finding it difficult to make both ends meet. There are 20 licensed guides and several more unlicensed guides in Thekkady. Their bad times had started from the Thekkady boat disaster a decade ago and the situation at its worst now. The guides had thought that the COVID-19 crisis would overcome in two months and now have pinned their hopes on the government’s announcement that domestic tourism would be allowed within six months.
Closed shops, hotels
Around 100 Kashmiri traders had set up shops in Thekkady to sell woollen clothes, which were popular among foreign tourists. They were living here with their families. After the pandemic struck, many have returned to their native places and the remaining traders are preparing to leave.
Almost 90 per cent of the shops in Kumily town sell spices, handicrafts and clothes catering to tourists. Majority of them downed shutters after the pandemic was reported in Pathanamthitta.
Earlier, shops in Kumily town had witnessed brisk business when the Lord Ayyappa shrine at Sabarimala opened for five days every month. However, with the roads to Thekkady and Kottayam blocked and the temple closed for pilgrims, everything has come to a standstill.
Another sector that has suffered severe damage is hospitality. Hotels, homestays and coffee shops are all shut after tourists stopped arriving.