Land Rover owners in Darjeeling hills are planning to approach the state government to conserve these vehicles that are around 70 years old and still transport people, including trekkers and tourists, to Bengal's highest point Sandakphu.
Anil Tamang, the coordinator of Land Rover and Bolero Welfare Association, said as of now, 30-odd Land Rovers run between a scenic transit town, Manebhanjan (also called Maney Bhanjyang), and Sandakphu, which is perched at 11,930 feet. These vehicles carry people and goods along rugged mountain terrains, covering 32km in four hours.
“These vehicles were made between 1954 and 1957, and even today, some 30 of them run. We believe that in India, we are the only service providers to use Land Rovers as commercial vehicles on a local route. Many trekkers visit Sandakphu just to take a ride in our vehicles. As these are antique now, we are planning to seek the state government's help urgently in conserving them,” said Tamang.
He said that over the years, they retained old models and didn’t carry out any new fabrication. Maintenance of these vehicles was, however, done locally.
“Five years back, there were 70 vehicles. Today, the number has reduced to 30. That's why we are all worried. We believe Land Rovers need to be conserved in consultation with experts so that travel enthusiasts and those who love adventure sports can enjoy these vintage models in the coming days too,” said a Land Rover owner in Manebhanjan.
Before 2020, the owners planned to meet chief minister Mamata Banerjee in Calcutta in this regard. But because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the meeting couldn’t be held. “Later, during the chief minister’s visit to the hills, we requested her to visit Manebhanjan, but that did not happen,” Tamang said.
Veterans of the tourism industry in north Bengal said that just like the century-old toy train of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the old Land Rovers too, draw tourists who want to experience a ride.
“The old Land Rovers are yet a unique mode of transport to operate in the Darjeeling hills just like the DHR toy train. Steps should be taken to conserve these decades-old vehicles,” said Raj Basu, a tourism industry veteran and the head of the sub-committee on eco-tourism under Bengal tourism task force.