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Drive to draw foreign tourists to hills

Calcutta, Dec. 31: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today flagged off an exercise to upgrade the north Bengal hills as a destination for foreign tourists in a meeting with Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) chairman Subhas Ghising at Writers’ Buildings.

Bhattacharjee said he asked Ghising to look for a “vacant space” to build an exclusive resort for foreign tourists in any of the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong.

“Darjeeling town has become a concrete jungle. Buildings there are coming up haphazardly. The Town and Country Planning Act must be strictly enforced in the hills,” he added.

The chief minister said that with snow falling in Darjeeling, foreigners would love to go there but there is no proper place to accommodate them. “So we need a sprawling and sparsely populated expanse where a resort conforming to international standards can be built,” he said.

Ghising said he had several places in Kalimpong in mind for the purpose.

Expanding on his plans to boost tourist traffic to the hills, Bhattacharjee said efforts are on to rope in travel agencies dealing with international travellers. “These agencies can bring foreign tourists to Calcutta and take them to Bagdogra airport. From there the tourists can move to the resort and use it as a base for touring the hills,” he added.

He said attempts are also on to connect Bagdogra airport with Dhaka and Paro in Bhutan.

At this point, Ghising interjected that Bagdogra airport should be upgraded to an international terminal and new international routes should be created to lure foreign tourists.

“At present, 90 per cent of tourists in the hills are domestic. I have suggested at today’s meeting that a Calcutta-Kathmandu-Bagdogra-Rangoon-Bangkok-Singapore route be created keeping foreign tourists in mind. The volume of foreign tourists in the hills will go up sharply if Bagdogra can be included in the international tourist circuit,” said Ghising.

Bhattacharjee said connecting Bagdogra with places like Thailand and Singapore may not be possible immediately. But Ghising told reporters the chief minister assured him he would take up the matter with Delhi.

Ghising said the government should realise the vast scope for developing international tourism in the Darjeeling hills. “I have come to Calcutta to seek the state government’s support to promote the idea of creating an international air route through Bagdogra,” he added.

The two discussed the condition of some of the roads in the hills whose maintenance has been transferred to the DGHC. Bhattacharjee accepted that the council was finding it difficult to maintain these roads.

The DGHC chairman also sought the chief minister’s help for the construction of a Rs 20-crore bridge in Mirik that will be built by Gammon India.

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