Tiny hamlet Sittong, once seen as the orange basket of Darjeeling hills, has emerged as a new tourist destination in recent years.
Known for its idyllic locale, Sittong now has several homestay accommodations and good tourist footfall.
The presence of birds of various species is drawing birdwatchers to the site.
“Our area was earlier known to be an orange hub but over the years, as production of the fruit declined because of various reasons, we thought of moving into tourism and started opening homestays. The idea clicked and many of us have found an alternative source of employment through rural tourism in Sittong,” said Bikram Rai, the president of the United Sittong Homestay Welfare Society.
Some 52km from Siliguri in Kurseong subdivision of Darjeeling, Sittong was famed for oranges. Around 10 years back, many orange orchards across Sittong were affected by a fungal attack.
This forced many orange farmers to think of an alternative. They took up the onus of opening homestays. Over the past decade, the hamlet has become a popular tourist hub.
To augment tourist footfall and showcase the famous Darjeeling orange, Sittong residents have planned to host an orange festival for the first time on December 16.
“We aim to highlight the newly developed tourism infrastructure and beautiful serene locations. Simultaneously, we want to exhibit the hill orange as in recent years, the state government and the GTA have been taking steps to increase production of the fruit here,” said Rai.
Sources said over 100 homestay facilities have come up in Sittong-I, II and III panchayats and can house close to 700 tourists.
“Tourists visit homestays around the year, especially during winters. These days, occupancy rate in our area is around 80 per cent,” said Bhupal Thapa, a homestay owner.
The rural tourist spot is also popular among birders and ornithologists.
“The area and its surroundings have an attractive avian population. It has other attractions like the Lepcha monastery established in 1831. Endangered species salamander can be seen at Namthang Lake,” said Debasish Chakraborty, a tourism stakeholder.