MUNNAR: Driving through the winding ghat road from Neriamangalam to Munnar, tonnes of earth and trees sent tumbling down by a series of landslips welcome the odd visitor to the hill station. The waterfalls at Cheeyapara and Valara, in full spate just three weeks ago, have been reduced to graceful silver cascades. While the police have placed barricades where landslides have wiped away portions of the road, the remains of damaged houses hang precariously on either side. To allow passage, a narrow track has been cut through boulders, branches and muck strewn by the ‘earth flow’.
Munnar, which remained cut off for around three weeks, is limping back to normal. Having inundated Old Munnar after the shutters of the Mattupetty dam were opened, the Muthirapuzha has shrunk into a stream. But the scars it inflicted on the town remain. The hill station, which was all spruced up to welcome nature lovers from across the world to witness the duodecennial blooming of neelakurinji, remains a ghost town. Spreading a bit of cheer, severed power lines have been fixed and the huge stash of mud left behind by the ravaging floods has been cleared.
The economy of the hills, however, has taken a bruising and it will take a while for the tourism sector to recover. News about the catastrophic floods has forced thousands of tourists to postpone their travel plans.
Hotel owners have suffered huge losses as tourists cancelled bookings en masse. A month on, hotel rooms remain vacant as fresh bookings are marginal. Even advance bookings for the second week of September have been cancelled and hoteliers continue to refund customers. Only a few restaurants have resumed service after the deluge.
“The hotels and resorts in Munnar have suffered a combined loss of around Rs 200 crore due to the floods,” said Munnar Hotels and Resorts Association president Dileep Pottamkulam.
“We have refunded all customers who cancelled bookings. As the road connectivity has been restored, we expect business to pick up by the end of September. We had conducted a mass cleaning drive involving 1,200 people to remove the dirt and mud that accumulated in the town. Now that the temporary bridge at Periavarai is open, access to Rajamalai has been restored. This will attract more tourists,” said a hotel owner.
Hotels have now started receiving enquiries from the northern states. “But we are waiting for guests from West Asia and Europe. They spend more money and purchase spices on their return,” he added.
Boating resumes at Mattupetty
KSEB has resumed the boating facility for tourists at Mattupetty but the response has been poor. The Hydel Tourism Centre at Mattupetty used to receive 2,500 to 3,000 guests per day, but hardly 200 tourists arrive for boating now. Post floods, the centre was opened on September 1.
"There has been an overall decline in the arrival of tourists after the floods. We want the tourists to come, so we are initiating steps to ensure basic amenities in Munnar. We intend to ensure all facilities are provided to tourists as the sector is a major source of revenue for the state," said K Raviraman, Planning Board member.
Landslides and floods pulverised Munnar for two weeks, from August 7. Around 7,000 people were accommodated in 58 relief camps for around 25 days. The bridge connecting Rajamala to Munnar was damaged in the floods and a temporary bridge was opened on September 9. As many as 131 houses were destroyed completely while 763 houses suffered partial damage.
"The government has allocated F28 crore for the construction of a new bridge at Periavarai. I have urged the government to consider developing roads under the Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP), which promises high durability", said Devikulam MLA S Rajendran.