From January 9 to February 22, 2015 trekkers were all set to hike on the frozen Zanskar river in Ladakh. But the the conflict between Indiahikes and local tour operators took a turn for worse
On the evening of November 13, 2014 close to 300 trekkers who had registered for Chadar trek received a mail from Indiahikes. The mail informed them about the conflict surrounding Chadar Trek 2015. “I have received close to 60 calls since morning,” said Lopamudra Mandal, from IH Support Team. “Many of them are asking us to shift them to a local operator. But really can’t do so without ensuring their the safety procedures being followed. Quite a few of them are also looking for alternative trek options like Sandakphu or Skiing Course in Gulmarg. But then there is also a considerable chunk that’s disheartened by the sudden change of plans. They are primarily worried about their flight bookings.”
Talking about why Indiahikes had to take such a drastic step, Arjun Majumdar, co-founder, Indiahikes says, “We were forced to cancel Chadar trek. It was not a choice. The local cartel (ALTOA) keep making fresh demands that cannot be met, almost like terrorists.”
Manish Pasad, Chief of Operations, Indiahikes paid a visit to Ladakh in the last week of October to save the Chadar trek. “I first contacted the President of ALTOA, and Travel Trade Alliance President, PT Kunzang to open the floor for discussion.” Pasad wanted to sort out conflicts to save the trek for 300 or so trekkers. But ALTOA set forth conditions like payment of Rs 50,000 as donation money, Chadar batch size to be limited to 10 trekkers and also demanded an apology letter in media against the Times of India article that was published regarding the said issue. “We could not accept these conditions. But Kunzang stressed on the fact that further discussions will be made only once the public apology has been published. He even gave a deadline of November 4, 2014,” said Pasad.
Then, IH attempted to try and find local people who would work with Indiahikes to save Chadar trek. “I contacted local porters, even finalised them. But a couple of days later when I asked for their bank details for transfer of operational payment they backed out saying they had received a threat from ALTOA that if they work with IH they will be banned from Ladakh,” Pasad revealed
Finally Chief of Operations, IH decided to turn to Kunzang again and began calling him. But repeated calls went unanswered. “Finally Kunzang responded saying he is busy with some work and brushed off the issue,” Pasad said. That is when IH realised that ALTOA and other unions are happy to have IH out of their way. “They were worried about their business going down because we have been pricing our treks at a lower price than local operators and giving a better service,” Pasad concluded.
“It’s a very frustrating situation. We know we are the best qualified people to run the Chadar trek. People want to go with us and here we are with our hands tied because of forced non-cooperation. It almost leads to a violation of the fundamental right of free movement for an Indian citizen in any part of the county. As Indiahikes, we have lost our fundamental right to conduct trade/business in our own country,” said Sandhya Chandrasekharayya, co-founder, Indiahikes.
It remains to be seen how the whole situation pans out. Stay clued in to this space for more news and views on Chadar trek.