Road connectivity to north Sikkim was restored on Thursday, one-and-a-half months after a glacier lake outburst flood (GLOF) had cut off the region, with the Trishakti Corps and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) erecting a Bailey bridge.
The connectivity has come as a major relief for local people but tourism, which is the mainstay of the Himalayan state’s economy, is unlikely to be restored soon.
A 200ft-long Bailey bridge over the Teesta river at Chungthang, situated about 94km from the state capital Gangtok, was inaugurated on Thursday by Samdup Lepcha, Sikkim minister of road and bridges, in the presence of officials of the army and the local administration.
“The bridge will now pave the way for seamless movement of vehicles and provision of relief material to the flood-affected areas,” said Lt. Col. Mahendra Rawat, the public relations officer of the army.
North Sikkim was cut off following the GLOF in the South Lonark Lake on the intervening night of October 3 and 4.
Chungthang, a gateway town to major portions of north Sikkim, was completely cut off with bridges being washed away. The lower portion of the town, which has a population of 10,000, was also submerged.
“It is good news for everyone, for local people and even us in the tourism industry but let us be honest that tourism is in tatters in the state and is expected to remain so for some time,” said a tourism stakeholder from Sikkim.
Beyond Chungthang lie popular tourist destinations like Lachen, Lachung, Yumthang Valley and the famous Gurudongmar Lake which is situated at 17,000ft.
“North Sikkim is a major attraction that even drives tourism in Gangtok, which is a stopover for those visiting other places in the state,” the stakeholder said.
When the GLOF hit the area, around 1,900 tourists were stuck beyond Chungthang.
Prospective tourists are still reluctant to visit Sikkim because NH10 which connects the Himalayan state with the rest of the country has not been fully restored.
Officials said that even though repairs were being carried out, it would take some time to restore two-way traffic on a stretch of more than 50km on NH10.
In 2019, around 16 lakh tourists had visited Sikkim, which was more than nearly double the figure of Darjeeling, said a source.
“Right now, we are stressed even to realise the annual lease amount. Many lessees are currently negotiating with lessors to reduce the rate,” said a lessee in Gangtok.
The majority of the hotels in Gangtok are on lease.
The situation in Sikkim has hit the tourism in Darjeeling also.
“Even though Darjeeling is faring much better than Sikkim, the flood in the neighbouring state did hit us as those planning a circuit of the region either cancelled or postponed their visits,” said a hotelier.