VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, Darjeeling, April 17: Tourists in Darjeeling are visiting parks and spots that are in a shambles as tour operators are doing little to warn them what to expect.
The Rock Garden and Gangamaya Park are examples of sites that have nothing to offer in terms of sights but which are still getting tourists who are paying out nearly Rs 700 for a car ride there.
The garden and the park, constructed by the DGHC in the mid-90s, were among the top tourist hotspots in Darjeeling till they were devastated by Cyclone Aila in 2009.
A beautiful garden set up among the rocks of the Gangamaya falls — known as the Rock Garden — and the adjacent Gangamaya Park with an artificial lake are in a shambles with no initiative being taken by the DGHC to restore the sites.
Tourists used to enjoy boating in the lake and most of them would spend half-a-day at the location.
The ride to the point, about 12km from Darjeeling, though slightly steep in gradient, offered a picturesque and panoramic view of the hills as one passes through the lush green Orange Valley tea garden. The road, too, is in a total mess now.
Hundreds of unsuspecting tourists are still being ferried to the spot and none are returning with pleasant memories.
A tour operator said even now nearly 100 people visit the park and garden in the peak tourist season.
Tapan Pal from Kadamtala, Howrah, said: “We are very disappointed after visiting the place. The road is very scary and we couldn’t enjoy much. There is nothing to see there.”
Most of the tourists said neither the hoteliers nor travel agents or even drivers cautioned them against visiting the place.
“We had heard a lot about Rock Garden and Gangamaya Park and they simply told us that they would charge us Rs 700 per vehicle. We should have been cautioned by someone,” said Pal.
The interactions with the visitors are more than enough to suggest that those involved in the tourism industry in Darjeeling “are only interested in making quick bucks”.
Pradip Lama, the secretary of the Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents, admitted that tourists were being taken for a ride.
“I admit that Rock Garden and Gangamaya Park are in ruins and still, tourists are taken there. When tourists approach drivers asking for suggestions on sight-seeing, they never tell the guests about the spot to avoid.”
Lama, however, said he always tried his best to stop tourists from visiting the place. “Yet, some insist on going to the Rock Garden as they have heard a lot about the place. If there are tourists aged above 60, I would ensure that they do not go to the spot as the road is in a bad condition.”
The association secretary said if he had to send tourists to Rock Garden and Gangamaya, he combined the tour with a visit to Peace Pagoda.
“We tell them that the garden is in a shambles but they will get a panoramic view of the hills while driving to the place. The tourists at least enjoy the ride,” said Lama.
A driver, who did not want to be named, said after visiting Rock Garden and Gangamaya Park, tourists invariably told them that they would never go there again.
The tourists seem to be unimpressed with the entire state of affairs in Darjeeling.
Anusua Dasgupta from Agartala said: “I had always wanted to come to Darjeeling but the visit has disappointed me. The road to Rock Garden is non-existent. We have just returned from Sikkim which is much better than Darjeeling. The tourist points are well kept, roads are better, the place is cleaner and traffic is smooth. I wonder whether there is any writ of administration in Darjeeling. Everyone is interested in quick bucks.”
The DGHC administrator, Anil Verma, said there were no immediate plans to renovate the garden and the park. “The devastation is massive and a huge investment would be required for the repair. We are not in a position to fund the renovation at the moment. Maybe, it can be taken up later,” said Verma.