The picturesque town of Dharamkot, also known as the Tel Aviv of Himachal, was immersed in the celebrations of Jewish festivals like Rosh-Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot until some time ago.
It has suddenly become desolate, as most Israeli tourists have left following the Palestinian group Hamas’ mega offensive against their country. They say they want to return to Israel and serve their nation in this time of crisis.
An eerie silence hangs over the village overlooking Dharamshala as the few left behind also prepare to return. Chabad House, the synagogue at the southern end of town, lacks its usual hustle and bustle.
“Most of the natives of Israel have already returned to New Delhi from where they will return home. Those left behind want to get out as soon as possible,” said Hannah, who did not want to be identified by her full name.
She said the situation is murkier than the news says and that she is worried about her family who lives in a city in southern Israel. We receive updates from near and dear ones. The videos that arrive are horrifying, she added.
“There are not many people who are left behind. During Rosh-Hashanah (Jewish New Year), more than 300 Israelis had gathered in Dharamkot but now they are very few. Even they long to return,” said Kangra additional superintendent of police Hitesh Lakhanpal. He added that there are between 15 and 20 tourists left in the region.
Another Israeli citizen said that they had not anticipated this and that since “Israel is at war, we want to be there for our country.”
Dharamkot, located about 13 kilometers from Dharamshala and just three kilometers from McLeodganj, the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile has become a Jewish settlement over the years.
Dotted with guesthouses, restaurants, yoga centers and makeshift food joints amid cornfields, it attracts a steady stream of Israelis in spring and fall.
On the walls you can find writings and posters in Hebrew. Most of the local population belonging to the Gaddi tribal community speaks fluent Hebrew.
Ashok Pathania, a guesthouse owner, said Dharamkot was packed with Israeli visitors last month.
“However, most of them left quietly after the Hamas attack,” he said, adding that this also affects the local population, as the town’s economy depends on Israeli tourists.
“The worst thing is that it happened when they came to town in large numbers, during their important Jewish holidays,” he added.
Elsewhere in the state, very few Israeli tourists visited Kasol, another popular destination located in the Parvati Valley of Kullu district.
Now that war has broken out, those who had stayed have also left, says Rajesh Both, a travel agent, adding that this would affect the local hotel industry.
Police said they were on alert and had checked security around Dharamkot.
Hamas launched a surprise attack by land, air and sea against Israel last Saturday, coinciding with Simchat Torah, one of the holiest days in Judaism.