The landslide zone that blocked the Jawaharlal Nehru Marg at 9th Mile. Picture by Prabin Khaling
Gangtok, June 15: Sikkim police have stopped issuing permits to tourists driving up to Chhangu Lake, Baba Mandir and Nathu-la after landslides on several stretches along the Jawaharlal Nehru Marg.
“We stopped issuing permits yesterday because boulders are continuously rolling down the road at 9th Mile and 17th Mile (near Kyongshala village), which is dangerous for tourists,” said an officer at the police check post at 2nd Mile.
A police officer said that the permits would be issued once the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) gives the green light for vehicles to travel up to Nathu-la.
According to the police officer, the decision not to issue permits — tourists require them because Nathu-la is close to the China border — was taken after a discussion with the BRO and the state tourism department.
Chhangu Lake (12,000ft), Baba Mandir (13,500ft) are two other popular tourist destinations in East Sikkim and tourists have to take the same JN Marg to reach there. The distance from Gangtok to Nathu-la is 56 km.
According to the check-post office records, on an average day, 400 vehicles are issued permits during the tourist season for the trip to Nathu-la and back.
“We issued permits for 1,090 vehicles on May 20, perhaps making the highest number of tourists visiting these three places this year,” said a check post personnel.
A BRO officer said 120 workers were trying to clear the road. “When it rains, the boulders start falling down on the road,” the BRO officer said. With the Nathu-la option not available for tourists, there is a sense of disappointment among holidaymakers.
“We had come to Gangtok on Wednesday and booked a trip to Chhangu Lake and Baba Mandir on Thursday. The travel agency here informed us that the permits are not being issued. We are disappointed with the news as our entire itinerary has been affected” said Sujoy Ghosh who had come from Bengal’s North 24-Parganas.
Tourists are now heading to Namchi in South Sikkim and Yumthang Valley in North Sikkim.
“Although it is quite depressing to learn that the permits are not being issued, we were told that the initiative has been taken for our safety. We have decided to visit Samdruptse, Char Dham and Sai Mandir at Namchi. The trip for Chhangu and Baba Mandir is due for the next time we visit Sikkim,” said D.K. Bomzan from Dehradun.
“The second option for most of the tourists after Chhangu Lake is Lachen, Lachung and Yumthang. There has been a 50 per cent increase in bookings for Lachung,” said Raju Rai, a local tour operator.
According to the check post office here 92 vehicles took permits for Yumthang on yesterday and 73 vehicle permits were issued today for the same destination.
A check post officer (on condition of anonymity) said that permits would be issued to Chhangu Lake, Baba Mandir and Nathu-la from Sunday if the road is cleared.