Students of the Advanced Technical Training Centre leave the campus in Bardang. Telegraph picture
Gangtok, Sept. 19: An eerie feeling creeps over you as soon as you enter Sikkim.
An almost deserted National Highway 31A stretches out from the Rangpo check-post to Gangtok, 41km away.
Tourists and students desperate to leave the state wait in small knots here and there, trying to thumb down the rare vehicle that heaves into sight. Groups of local people huddle before closed shops and offices.
Leaving the state after a traumatic night has not been easy, though. NH 31A, the link between Gangtok and the rest of the country, was breached in over a dozen places.
Some of the blocks have been removed and the entire highway was to be cleared by afternoon, officials say. But many drivers are still refusing fares: they know that in Sikkim, falling boulders can come as unannounced as an earthquake.
Despite the risks, many outstation students are determined to leave.
The hostel rooms at the Advanced Technical Training Centre in Bardang, about 30km from Gangtok, are almost empty. Only 20-odd among the 280 boarders have decided to stay back, at least for now.
It was very scary. We want to leave. The college has closed for the next three days, said Ashutosh Kumar, 16, a first-year student from Jamshedpur.
College principal Sada Sivam said the quake had terrified many outstation students. We were watching a film when everything began to shake. A second-year student, Sanjay Singh, jumped off the first floor and has been admitted to hospital, he said. Most of the boarders are from Bihar, Jharkhand, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh. Many want to leave, although we have enough food stocks.
The mood among the outstation students at the Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology could not be ascertained because of poor mobile communication in the state.
Bhanu Rasaily, president of the Sikkim Hotel and Restaurant Association, confirmed that most of the tourists were leaving.
The tourist season has not really started but I think there were around 5,000 tourists in the state. We are confident that this incident will not affect our season, which is likely to peak from the last week of September, Rasaily said.
Those who are leaving expect to reach Siliguri only late in the evening.