Even while travel agents SOTC, Thomas Cook and Cox & Kings are drawing departure schedules for passengers travelling to Singapore, Malaysia or Mauritius, lesser known travel company Leisure Hotels is busy making bookings for tourists to stay in their camps in the hills of Uttaranchal.
This is because the Chardhams (comprising Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri), where Leisure Hotels have their camps, have seen a surge of pilgrims in the beginning of the shrine season. At least 10 lakh (1 million) devotees have visited these four places in the last two months.
Leisure Hotels offers luxury-tented accommodation at the Chardham base camps. The Chardham Camps of Leisure Hotels are branded accommodation providing weather-proof tents, attached baths and toilets, multi-cuisine dining, guided visits to the shrines, first aid at camps, doctors on call, and ayurvedic massages.
"We have taken into account the needs of both domestic and international travellers," says Vibhas Prasad, director, business development, Leisure Hotels.
What's more interesting is that old parents don't have to depend on their children to take them on the holy tour. They can join other tourists in Delhi from where buses headed for the Chardham camps originate.
These buses are fully booked and travel at their own pace, keeping the travellers' leisurely requirements in mind. While the stay in Chardham Camps costs Rs 1,500 per day, for those taking the bus from Delhi it is a bit more.
Typically spread over 12 days, the entire trip costs Rs 18,000-20,000 depending on how you travel.
To cater to tourists from all over the country, Leisure Hotels have offices in Bangalore, Indore, Ahmedabad and Bombay, besides an interactive website for online bookings. And the company is devising innovative tools to attract more customers.
For instance, to give a personal touch to pilgrims from Maharashtra and Gujarat, Gujarati chefs are specially flown to the camps to provide meals.
Prasad claims the Badrinath and Kedarnath shrines have already seen a traffic of a record 850,000 pilgrims this year. "Last year during the same period just about 200,000 pilgrims had visited the two shrines.
There was a 20 per cent rise in tourists to Chardham in 2003-04, and this year we expect it to be more."
Chardham Camps is also ensuring free flow of tourists and revenues virtually the whole year round (except when it is snowing). "When it is not the shrine season (April-November) we are trying to use our camps for offering different trekking packages," says Prasad.
He claims 40 per cent of visitors to Chardham Camps are the youth who'd like to combine pilgrimage with adventure. So, the company is offering a special package to include the Valley of Flowers, 45 km from Joshimath, the base camp for Badrinath.
"If this works, we may develop semi-permanent structures with better facilities," says Prasad.
And if tourists want to extend their pilgrimage by including Haridwar, they can check into Haveli Hari Ganga, Leisure Hotels' heritage property right on Har ki Pauri, with a private ghat on the banks of the Ganga.Certainly beats the traditional dharamshala for most.