The state government’s decision to keep tourists away from reserve forests have put tourism stakeholders of the Dooars in a fix at a time booking enquiries for the Puja holidays have flooded hotels and homestays of the region.
From Wednesday, Bengal Safari Park near Siliguri, Padma Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling and South Khayerbari Nature Park, which is a rescue and rehabilitation centre for felines in Alipurduar district, opened their gates for tourists.
However, the Dooars, which comprises part of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts, is famed for sanctuaries and national parks that are out of bounds for tourists. The Dooars boasts of Jaldapara National Park, Gorumara National Park, Chapramari wildlife sanctuary, Buxa Tiger Reserve and Chilapata forest.
The Chilapata forest has an elephant corridor between Jaldapara National Park and Buxa Tiger Reserve. Jungle safari on elephants is popular in Jaldapara.
These are the real attractions for tourists.
Tourism stakeholders are in a dilemma on whether to accept bookings from tourists as the major attraction of the region is still out of bounds for travellers.
Rajendra Jakhar, chief conservator of forest wildlife (north), said: “No order has been communicated till afternoon regarding entry inside reserve forests.”
Biswajit Saha, secretary of the Madarihat Lodge Owners’ Association, said: “Unless forests are opened, we will have very few visitors in the region as people would not want to visit the Dooars just to visit the rescue centre.”
“The present (Covid-19-induced) restrictions have been extended till September 30 and but with the Pujas round the corner, most of the tourists have started making their travel plans. However, with uncertainty prevailing over forest visits, we are in a dilemma as we can’t give tourists confirmation about anything,” said Saha, adding they were flooded with enquiries from tourists.
Apart from the tea industry, tourism is a mainstay of the economy in the Dooars.
“Most youths are dependent on tourism. They run lodges and homestays, work as tour operators and guides. Many are involved in the transport sector,” said Saha.
Many tour operators hoped that restriction on forests would be lifted.
“The (state government’s) Duare Sarkar camps are attracting thousands, many without masks, people are travelling without social distancing, markets are crowded, vistadome coaches have been introduced for tourists, but surprisingly there is a problem when tourists want to enter the forests,” said another tour operator.
“We are confident that the state government will look into our concerns.”