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16 Jun 2017

Darjeeling stares at bleak, empty season

Jayanta Gupta & Deep Gazmer | Jun 16, 2017,DARJEELING: The owner of a well-known restaurant close to the Darjeeling Municipality watched the street outside from the first-floor landing.His employees were whiling away their time inside watching Pakistan play England in the ICC Champions Trophy on Wednesday. Barely 10 days ago, the street was teeming with tourists and his establishment is considered one of the best in the area by those who have to been Darjeeling earlier.
"That is why they say that one shouldn't count their chickens before they hatch. With the plains getting warmer, it was leading to be a bumper year for tourism in Darjeeling this year. Barely a week ago, tourists waited here during lunch time for a table. Today, all we are getting are local patrons. The few tourists who remain aren't the biggest of spenders," he said.
On Thursday, after the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's bandh call, he hadn't dared to open the restaurant and even the local patrons and budget tourists had stayed away.
"A similar thing had happened in 2013 when the GJM launched a similar agitation.The number of tourists fell and it was very difficult for all of us. People always think of the tour operators and hoteliers who could survive a lean season. They don't think of the people down the line who lead ahand to mouth existence. The tourist season means a lot to them. They take whatever they earn now to their villages and live on that for the next 2-3 months before returning for the Pujas. This year, it doesn't seem that the Pujas will bring in too many tourists," the owner of a hotel on Robertson Road said. According to the Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA)'s own statistics, the total number of tourists that visited Darjeeling fell in 2013 as compared to 2012. While 4,47,954 tourists visited Darjeeling in 2012, the number fell to 3,78,902 in 2013. In 2014, the figure rose to 6,09,455. Only 24,967 international tourists visited Darjeeling in 2013 and 2014.
"It brings to mind the turbulent GNLF years. This will be a bad year. I wonder what our politicians think," the owner of another well-known establishment on Mall said.
Even organisations like the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) are worried. "On June 9, we escorted 24 tourists from Darjeeling to Bagdogra at 2.30 am. The problem was with organizing vehicles for the tourists who had freaked out. Fortunately , there was a lot of security on the roads on that day. We are now worried about Puja bookings," an official said.




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