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Rain civic respite but tourist headache

Darjeeling, May 28: Heavy rain in Darjeeling for the past two days has brought cheer to the water-starved Darjeeling municipality but has been a spoiler for tourists.

The hill town at this time of the year bustles with travellers, mostly from the plains where the summer heat is unbearable.

But the rain has drenched all their plans of the morning stroll in the Mall and the trip to Tiger Hill for a view of the Everest and Kanchenjungha.

“I have 13 rooms and all are full. But none of the tourists ventured out today. They watched TV and ordered unending rounds of tea and pakora (deep-fried balls of spiced chickpea flour),” said Pranab Chhetri, whose hotel is barely 500m from Chowrasta, Darjeeling main promenade.

Aloke Banerjee from Garia, Calcutta, said: “We had plans to go to Tiger Hill to view the sunrise. After the sunrise we were to go to Batasia Loop in the morning and a monastery at Dali. After lunch we had planned to visit the Darjeeling zoo, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and take a ride on the ropeway. Our visit to Tiger Hill and the entire sightseeing plan has been cancelled.”

But the rain has eased the water supply crisis the Darjeeling municipality was facing.

Darjeeling gets its water supply from three lakes, the North and South lakes in Senchel and a lake a kilometre away from these two at Sindap.

Amar Singh Rai, the chairman of Darjeeling municipality, said today that on Sunday the water level in the North and South lakes was four-and-a-half feet, low enough for the civic authorities to wonder if they should “write to the state government for funds to hire tankers and distribute water to residents”.

But today the water level rose by two feet in both the reservoirs. Darjeeling would be dependent on rain for water supply till the Balasun project does not become functional. “The water should suffice for a fortnight and by then we expect the monsoon to hit Darjeeling,” Rai said.

The rain stopped at 5.30pm today. Met department sources said there would be more rain for next 24 hours across sub-Himalayan Bengal.

The sources said the northern limit of the southwest monsoon was yet to enter the region. But a low-pressure area had developed in north Bengal and neighbouring Jharkhand and Bihar and was the cause for the rainfall.

According to the Met sources, the rainfall recorded in Darjeeling in the past 24 hours was highest in the north Bengal region at 88.3mm. Siliguri got 65.9mm of rain, Kalimpong 54mm and Sikkim capital Gangtok 55.3mm.

Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Balurghat, too, got rain but not as severe as in the hills.

“This is an abrupt change in weather. Even last week, Darjeeling district had a deficiency of 42 per cent in seasonal rainfall since March,” the weather department source said.

The rain has also caused small landslides in the hills, further blocking tourists’ mobility.

“There have been landslips on NH31A leading to Sikkim and also in north Sikkim because of which some tourists got held up,” said Samrat Sanyal of East Wind Holidays, a travel agency based in Siliguri.

“As there is a rush of tourists to the hills, we are facing a shortage of rooms and vehicles. Today’s inclement weather has added to the problems. For example, a tourist scheduled to leave for Pelling from Gangtok today wanted to stay back because of the rain as taking hill roads in this weather can prove risky. On the other hand, we do not have his room available for tonight as it has been booked by somebody else,” Sanyal said.

But tourist arrivals to Darjeeling have not stopped.

“We reached NJP by train and found it was raining heavily. But we hired a vehicle and reached Kalimpong this afternoon,” said S.S. Dhar, a lawyer from Bagha Jatin in Calcutta.