In a burst of seasonal exuberance, tourists embraced the season’s first snowfall at Sandakphu, the highest point of West Bengal, engaging in playful snowball fights that painted the landscape with colourful moments against the majestic backdrop of the Kanchenjunga mountain range.
As temperatures dipped in the higher reaches of Darjeeling district, the Meteorological Department anticipates a decrease of three to five degrees Celsius in minimum temperatures across eastern India over the next three days.
News of the first snowfall in Sandakphu and Tonglu prompted tourists to flock to the elevated regions of the district.
Situated at an elevation of 11,930 feet on the Singalila ridge in the Himalayas, Sandakphu stands as the highest point in West Bengal, offering panoramic views of the Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, and the Kanchenjunga peaks.
In the 24 hours till Friday morning, Darjeeling town, often referred to as the "queen of the hills," recorded a minimum temperature of 6.6 degrees Celsius and received 4.8 mm of rainfall, according to the weather office.
The snowfall has become somewhat regular since 2018, with the hills experiencing snowfall at periodic intervals during the winter seasons of 2021 and 2022. In 2018, the region received snowfall after a hiatus of nearly a decade, as noted by local tour operators.
Amid the snowy spectacle, tourists were spotted relishing the winter wonderland at Sandakphu, engaging in moments of joy and delight.
Raj Basu, the convenor of the Siliguri-based Association for Conservation of Tourism, revealed an upsurge in inquiries from across India after reports of the first snowfall in the Darjeeling hills.
He emphasised that the initial snowfall marks the commencement of the winter tourism season in the region encompassing North Bengal and Sikkim.
"The first snowfall acts as a kickstart for the winter season for tourism in the region, encompassing north Bengal and Sikkim," he told PTI.
Anil Punjabi, a national committee member of the Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI), reported nearly full occupancy in hotels and homestays.
He expressed optimism that "the occupancy, currently at around 90 per cent, would reach full capacity in the coming days", attributing the high demand to increased queries and escalated rates for various accommodations.
Ajay Guha, a tourist from Kolkata, shared his elation at witnessing the snowfall, recalling his last visit to Darjeeling in 2014.
"The last time I visited Darjeeling was in 2014. For the past few years, we have read about snowfall in the hills, but we didn't expect snowfall at this time. It is a really memorable trip,” he said.
Darjeeling, historically marked by statehood agitations since 1980, is home to thriving tea, timber, and tourism industries.
The Meteorological Department, noting the dissipation of cyclonic storm 'Michaung,' which brought light to moderate rain to South Bengal, predicts a further decline in minimum temperatures across the region.
Kolkata, registering a minimum temperature of 19.8 degrees Celsius and 26.2 mm of rainfall in the past 24 hours till 8:30 am on Friday, reflects the changing weather patterns in the wake of the recent cyclonic activity.
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