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9 Jun 2017

Darjeeling turmoil leaves tourists stranded - No vehicles for visitors to leave hills

An NBSTC bus in flames at the Motor Stand; 
AVIJIT SINHA, TT, Siliguri, June 8: Around 10,000 tourists were left stranded in Darjeeling town today following the clash between police and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters who set law enforcers' vehicles on fire, blocked roads and called a dawn-to-dusk shutdown across the hills tomorrow.
The visitors who were confined to hotels after the flare-up were asked to leave the hills before 6am or after 6pm tomorrow by the Morcha. The shutdown is from 6am to 6pm.
The hotels are not sure if their food stock is enough to serve the tourists who are staying back.
Stakeholders of the tourism industry have said around 2,500 tourists are in the town any day during the ongoing season. "However, these days, the number is more than triple. Thousands of them are stranded in different areas of the town," a tour operator in Siliguri said.
A hotelier in Darjeeling said: "We are yet to check the stock of food grains, vegetables and other items. We have no idea whether the stock is adequate to serve food to tourists, a section of whom might stay back tomorrow due to the strike."
Ashish Patel from Asansol was lucky enough to catch a cab and move out of Darjeeling in the midst of the violence.
Morcha supporters hurl stones near Gorkha Rangmanch Bhavan in Darjeeling
on Thursday. Pictures by Passang Yolmo
"I have been staying in Darjeeling for the past three days, enjoying the chill. I had seen protest marches by the Morcha and even a torch rally yesterday. I was a bit perturbed, seeing the consistent demonstrations over the past three days. However, situation took a different turn this afternoon," Patel, a realtor, said over the phone as he was descending to Siliguri this evening.
Around 12pm, Patel went out of his hotel for a walk and saw Morcha supporters heading to Gorkha Rangmanch Bhavan for a demonstration.
"Gradually, the demonstration intensified. There were several policemen on the other side. Soon, pelting of stones started and the Mall area wore a deserted look. Shopkeepers hurriedly downed their shutters. The entire area turned into a battlefield. I returned to the hotel and started calling up the tour operator to arrange a car for me. I was lucky to get one," he said.
Patel was supposed to come down tomorrow and take an afternoon flight to Calcutta. But he preferred to return today because of the Morcha's call for strike.
Ashok Das, a banker from Behala in Calcutta, had reached Darjeeling with his family.
"We would have left for Gangtok tomorrow morning. But after today's incident, we want to leave Darjeeling as early as possible. We have approached the hotel manager and visited the local motor stand. There are only a few vehicles which are ready to go to Gangtok if we pay them Rs 10,000. We really don't know what to do," Das said.
The strike tomorrow is set to aggravate the situation for the tourists.
Tourists collect their luggage in Siliguri after their return from Darjeeling
on Thursday. Picture by Passang Yolmo
"Those who have to catch a train or flight tomorrow should leave early in the morning. Otherwise, they can go down the hills after 6pm," said Amrit Yonzon, the spokesperson for the Gorkha Janmukti Yuva Morcha.
From the state government's side, sources said, a number of steps had been taken to ease the tourists' plight.
"NBSTC will operate additional buses from Siliguri to Calcutta tomorrow. Police and administration have been asked to ensure safety of each tourist in the hills," an official said.
The Bagdogra airport will open at 5am tomorrow so that refreshment and other facilities will be available for tourists. The airport generally open after 7 in the morning.

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