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9 Jun 2017

Calcuttans feel the Darjeeling heat

Deborima Ganguly, from t 2, is vacationing in Darj and beyond. She was caught in the “jhamela”. This is what she WhatsApped after managing to leave the trouble zone
We left our hotel in Darjeeling by 10am in order to reach our next destination — Takdah — by lunch time. At the Motor Vehicle Stand on Hill Cart Road, we were told that the bus would leave at 1.30pm instead of 11am because of “Mamata Banerjee jhamela”.
We entered a nearby restaurant for lunch. It was only when we stepped out an hour later that we realised the gravity of the “jhamela”, which was much larger in scale compared with the couple of protests we had witnessed in our four-day stay in Darjeeling.
Men and women carrying black flags and shouting slogans marched down the crowded road. We could not make much of the slogans except for the “Go back” and “We want Gorkhaland”. The police and protesters were facing off and the cries around were getting louder by the minute.
Around an hour later we asked the bus driver whether there was any hope of the situation getting better. He did not sound hopeful.
Soon, we heard a couple of what sounded like gunshots. “Tear gas”, “bus” and “aag” were the words the locals shouted. We heard some vehicles had been set on fire. The road in front of the bus stand was still chock-a-block. Cars, jeeps and buses stood in a queue. 
Someone flung a brick at the rear window of a blue bus with JNNURM written on it. Another person smashed the side windows with rocks. People immediately started dispersing. 
A few protesters stopped in front of our bus to find out whether it was a government vehicle. The conductor asked us to sit quietly. In the distance, we could see the traffic beginning to move.
Our bus finally pulled out at 4.30pm. We saw the blue bus that had been attacked lying in ruins. Moments later we turned around and saw black smoke rising from the spot. The locals on the bus asked us not to take any pictures.
The teacher rued that a vacation planned months in advance had been ruined. She and her family had reached Darjeeling on Wednesday and spent a lazy Thursday morning lounging around the Mall before heading back to their hotel for lunch.
“As we were having lunch we heard explosions and saw policemen running. Thick black smoke was rising in the distance. That was the beginning,” Banerjee recounted over the phone.

Confined to the hotel since, she learnt from relatives back in Calcutta about the clashes between protesters and police.
“The violence has left us shaken. They have called a strike tomorrow. Our flight is on Sunday but we are planning to shift to Siliguri on Saturday. A vacation planned months in advance has been ruined,” she said.

Aditya Ganguly, 46, a management professor, Brainware University 
Aditya Ganguly has tickets booked on GoAir’s 2.30pm flight to Calcutta on Friday but till late on Thursday he was clueless whether they would be able to make it to Bagdogra in time. He hasn’t yet cancelled the tickets, hoping to get some transport on Friday morning.
Ganguly and his wife, children and friends were to leave Darjeeling at noon on Thursday but couldn’t because of the trouble. “I called the driver, he said he couldn’t take us down today. I heard from other tourists that cars were demanding Rs 12,000, instead of the usual Rs 2,500 or Rs 3,000, for a one-way trip to NJP,” the professor said. 
The group has put up at Darjeeling Tourist Lodge, which is near Bhanu Bhavan, the epicentre of Thursday’s trouble. There were about 90 other tourists in the lodge.

Tathagatha Samanta, 25, a tea trader
The Samantas reached Darjeeling from Gangtok on Thursday afternoon. Out on the Mall for a pre-lunch recce, Tathagatha found Glenary’s, Keventers and all other restaurants closed. “We now have to depend on the hotel for food. This may continue even tomorrow,” Tathagatha told Metro while buying bottled water to stock up for an impending crisis.  
On their way to Darjeeling, the driver of their vehicle learned from other drivers about the chaos. “The driver avoided the usual route and we reached here quite late,” the Tallah Park resident said. “The hotel authorities have advised us against stepping out. We went to the terrace and could see flames at a distance.”

Sandeep Mukherjee, a resident of Darjeeling associated with the tea industry, and his wife were returning home to Jalapahar after a visit to Calcutta when trouble broke out. This is what he told us.
We heard about the trouble soon after our flight had landed at Bagdogra at 2.15pm. We decided to skip lunch and set out immediately, fearing a bandh might be called. As we approached Rohini Road, the police stopped our car and diverted us towards Pankhabari.
Other cars were diverted, too. Before reaching Kurseong, a friend called me and said the police had burst tear gas shells and resorted to lathicharge. 
There were only a few people on the road and fewer vehicles. Only a handful of vehicles were coming down the hills and most had Morcha flags atop them. The driver of a vehicle signalled our driver to stop and told him that 
police vehicles had been set on fire. At Jorebungalow, about 10km from Darjeeling town, we took a detour through the army cantonment and reached Jalapahar avoiding the troubled area.

Tejash Doshi, 41, businessman 
Tejash Doshi and his large group left Darjeeling at 7pm on Thursday because he was not sure whether drivers would defy the Morcha bandh and ferry tourists to NJP or Siliguri on Friday. The businessman, who was visiting Darjeeling with family and friends, had hired five cars, each of which took Rs 6,000, about twice the usual fare.
Priyanjan Majumder, 43, a government employee from Dum Dum
The day had started on a cheerful note for Priyanjan Majumder, who is visiting the hills with his wife, daughter, and a colleague, his wife and son. The group met chief minister Mamata Banerjee on their way to the zoo in the morning. “Didi asked us if we were tourists. She wished us a good trip. ‘Bhalo kore ghurben’ she told us. Little did we know what was in store,” Majumder said. 
Around noon, they had barely stepped out of the hotel when a police officer stopped them. “He said there was trouble and curfew was on. We were told to stay indoor,” said Majumder. To make matters worse, the hotel ran out of water. 
“Relatives have been calling up from Calcutta. There is panic everywhere. Our return is scheduled for Saturday but we will leave the hills tomorrow, even if it means shelling out a few thousands more,” said Majumdar.

Partha Das, 26, part of a five-member group on a biking trip 
Partha and his friends heard a series of explosions on their way back to the town from Rock Garden on Hill Cart Road, in a hired car. “We heard at least three explosions after which our driver stopped the car,” recounted the resident of Kanchrapara. The driver told them to stay inside the car and lock all the doors properly. “We started after waiting for two hours,” Partha said. 

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