The snow-lined road from Gangtok to Nathu-la in Sikkim’s East district on Sunday. The Himalayan state, which gets several hundred visitors from Bengal as summer scorches the plains, could witness a spurt in tourist traffic because of strikes and bandhs in neighbouring Darjeeling. In May 2010, when the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had announced a 10-day bandh in the hills, there was an exodus of travellers to Sikkim from the hills. On Monday, though, the snowfall had blocked parts of the North Sikkim Highway and JN Marg, roads to tourist destinations in the North and East districts. Picture by Prabin Khaling
Siliguri, Feb. 18: Tour operators have started asking domestic as well as foreign visitors to reschedule their trips to north Bengal so that their travel dates don’t clash with the days the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has planned bandhs in the hills.
The tourism industry is staring at revenue loss during the coming season that accounts for 60 per cent of the annual earnings because of the Morcha’s call of two 48-hour bandhs on March 14-15 and March 21- 22.
The tourism season begins in March and continues till mid-June.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed as around 50 per cent of hotel rooms have already been booked in the Darjeeling hills for the summer season. As the Morcha announced bandhs in March, we have started contacting our clients and other agencies asking them to reschedule their itineraries so that the tourists do not face any inconvenience during the bandhs,” said Samrat Sanyal, who represents East Wind Holidays, a travel agency in eastern India.
North Bengal has 15,000 hotel rooms and they all are generally booked in summer.
Although his agency was entreating its clients to change travel plans, Sanyal had a valid fear.
“The clients might not find any suitable date other than the scheduled days which coincide with the bandhs. In that case, we fear they will cancel the trips altogether,” he said.
Some wary tourists have already done so.
“We have information that some tourists have dropped their plans to come to north Bengal in the coming months in the wake of the bandh calls. This is a bad omen for the industry that has been experiencing a rise in tourist flow for the past two-three years after a long period of bad business because of the strife in the hills,” said Sadhan Roy, the secretary of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association.
Raj Basu, a veteran in the tourism industry in eastern and north-eastern India, explained the impact the strike would have on the economy.
“There are around 700 home stays in the hills and the Dooars. The home stay owners will suffer losses if tourists shun the region in the summer. We have already submitted a letter to minister Gautam Deb requesting him to declare the tourism sector an emergency service so that it could be given exemption during the bandhs,” said Basu.
The season from March to mid-June accounts for 40-60 per cent of the annual tourist footfall in north Bengal.
The UK’s foreign and Commonwealth office in a travel advisory today requested the Britons to consult travel operators before going to Darjeeling and Sikkim.
“There are frequent and sudden strikes called by the Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha in Darjeeling and the surrounding hills in North Bengal. This results in severe transport disruption, shortage of drinking water, suspension of waste removal and closure of shops and government services in the region. If you intend to visit the region, consult your local tour operator or hotel before travelling to the region. Any disruption will also affect visitors to Sikkim as roads to the state run through the hill area,” the advisory read.
Around 40,000 foreigners had visited north Bengal in 2012.