The picturesque hill station was teeming with tourists just a few days ago but the sudden turmoil and indefinite bandh called by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha seemed to have dealt a body blow to tourism, one of the two main industries in the hills. After yesterday’s violence, tension prevailed in the hills and hardly any tourist is visible on the deserted roads, including the one leading to the mall. Several tourists who had come to enjoy the scenic beauty of the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’ were finding it difficult to get down safely to the plains. “We only know how we managed to reach Siliguri safely. We had a harrowing experience and we will never come back here,” said Gargi Adhikary, who had to cut short her trip to Darjeeling by five days. The stranded tourists were highly inconvenienced as most of the hotels, restaurants, eateries remained shut and there was hardly any bus or vehicle.
“We are waiting for a bus since 5.30 am but none is available to take us to Siliguri,” another tourist, Aninda Bhaduri said. Several foreigners, who camp in the hills during this season, to enjoy trekking, have left. Tourism and tea gardens are the two major industries in the hills, generating over 80 per cent employment. The tourist season in Darjeeling starts from April and continues till Durga Puja in September-October. During the season lakhs of tourists visit Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Mirik. “This time it is a total loss for all of us. Those who had booked hotels during puja have already started cancelling them. Due to this agitation, the entire tourism industry in north Bengal is going to be affected,” chairman of eastern chapter of Travel Agents Federation of India, Anil Punjabi told PTI.
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According to tour operators, the revenue generation during the peak tourist season runs into crores. Punjabi said, the turmoil will also hit the inflow of NRI tourists to the hills. “This is a peak tourist season. This agitation and bandh have served a deadly blow to all of us. Most of the hotels are lying vacant,” Tour operator Raj Basu told PTI. According to Punjabi, tourism industry in Darjeeling is like a chain. “If one part gets hit, the entire industry suffers.” Punjabi’s apprehension became true as the car rental services from Bagdogra airport and New Jalpaiguri station to Darjeeling have come to a complete halt. “We have decided not to go to Darjeeling as we can’t take the risk of our cars getting damaged and putting the lives of the drivers in danger.
Who will take the responsibility if something untoward happens”? asked Saikat Dey of a car rental service company. The normal fare from Siliguri to Darjeeling ranges around Rs 1800 during peak season. But due to the turmoil and non availability of cars, the fare has gone up to Rs 5000-Rs 7000. Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association president Samrat Sanyal said, “The saddest part is that it was after a long time that we were having a great season this year in the hills. It could have been an all time record if this unexpected situation had not cropped up,” he said.