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18 Jun 2017

Darjeeling unrest: Holiday turns into nightmare for tourists

DarjeelingPramod Giri, HT, 18 June 2017: For Rahul Roy, an engineering student from Delhi, the last leg of a holiday in the Queen of the Hills, had been reduced to a frantic wait for a vehicle that could take him and his friends to Siliguri, the nearest town in the plains 80km away.
Life in the hill town has been hit by turbulence ever since Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) started agitating in support of a Gorkhaland state. And, this has thrown travel plans out of gear for not only tourists but local people as well. Since the situation appeared to be moving towards a stalemate, at least for the time being, thousands of tourists have been asked to leave Darjeeling and surrounding areas. Police and paramilitary forces are escorting them to safer zones.
However, those who could not be evacuated till Friday are in a fix. Neither these tourists nor the administration handling the situation know when all the visitors can safely make it to Siliguri. The uncertainly was escalated by Saturday’s violence. Rahul and his friends reached Darjeeling six days ago. They have been desperately trying to move out ever since trouble started.
“We tried to leave immediately after the bandh was announced. We waited for vehicles for more than seven hours. Hundreds of tourists who were already in queues outside the traffic police office near motor stand could make it in a few buses arranged by the district administration. We were not so lucky,” he said.
Talking to HT on Saturday, Rahul said, “Till yesterday we had some hope of escaping because the administration was providing vehicles. But now the situation has got worse.”
Rajen Sundas, the regional transport officer overseeing the evacuation, said: “We could not send even a single bus or a single tourist to Siliguri on Saturday. Whereas, on Thursday and Friday, about 3,500 tourists were taken to Siliguri.”
Requesting anonymity, a senior police officer said: “We cannot take the risk of evacuating tourists in our vehicles because nobody can predict what will happen on the way. A government bus, too, was set on fire at Damaigaon near Paglajhora, Kurseong on Thursday.”

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