The almost deserted Chowrastha in Darjeeling on Thursday. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Oct. 10: The glistening white Kanchenjungha under an azure was in view today but there was hardly any tourist to marvel it.
Chowrastha, Darjeeling’s famous promenade that is chock full in the Puja season, was deserted — the ripple effect of nearly a month of agitation that has kept visitors away.
Although the hill parties suspended their agitation last month, by then many tourists had cancelled bookings.
Several European countries had also issued travel advisories dissuading foreigners from travelling to the hills.
“This is a rare sight,” said a businesswoman, who is otherwise cheerful, looking at the almost-deserted Mall.
An empty Mall when it should be packed with visitors would not bring cheer to businessmen, despite the view of the Kanchenjungha being picture perfect from there.
Raju Basu, the convenor of the Association for Conservation and Tourism who looks after 384 homestays across the hills, said: “The occupancy proportion across the hills (Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong) during the Puja is about 20 per cent this time. Last year, it was more than cent per cent because we could not provide rooms to all the people.”
This year, the Puja season is between October 11 and 18.
“The situation is so bad this time that when we would have sold about 70 per cent of the rooms for the Christmas-New Year season, we are finding it hard to rent out rooms even in October,” he said.
Basu has around 1,100 rooms at his disposal and the total number of rooms in the hills is estimated to be more than 5,000.
A businessman from Calcutta who had taken a 13-room hotel in Darjeeling on lease, said: “I had taken the hotel for an annual lease of Rs 5.5 lakh. I normally sell my rooms for Rs 800 each but this time, during the peak tourist season, I was forced to let out each room for Rs 300 a night.”
“Last year, I had people begging for rooms. This year, I have bookings for only two rooms in the coming week,” he said.
More than 50 per cent of the 270-odd hotels in Darjeeling are leased out.
“Given the current situation, I cannot take the hotel on lease for Rs 5.5 lakh. The figure has to be sliced down or I will have little options but to look for greener pastures,” said the businessman.
The landowner is bound to feel to pinch, too, when he renews the lease next year.
“Foreigners and domestic travellers plan two months before the holidays. The July-August strike has ensured that tourists stay out of the hills. The inflow of foreign tourist is 50 per cent lower this time,” said a tour operator who deals mostly with foreign clients.
This year, most European countries issued advisories asking their citizens to think twice before visiting Darjeeling.
“Such advisory affects a lot,” the tour operator said.
The advisories have been withdrawn now.
The tour operator added that there are no inquires even for the November-December period.
Darjeeling receives around 3.5 lakh domestic tourist each year apart from 40,000 foreigners.
On Tuesday, 650 people visited Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, a must visit site in Darjeeling, which records a footfall of around 2,000 every day in the tourist season.