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12 Jun 2017

Tourists leave after warning

Tourists in Darjeeling on Sunday. Picture by Passang Yolmo
AVIJIT SINHA and VIVEK CHHETRI, TT, June 11: A majority of tourists who had decided to stay back in the hills despite last week's flare-up today scurried to descend downhill to Siliguri, hours after Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung said "the situation can deteriorate any time".
"We are into a movement and the situation can deteriorate any time. It is better for the tourists to leave the hills. Anything can happen," Gurung said this morning.
There was already an air of uncertainty among the tourists and in the tourism industry since last evening when the Morcha announced its "indefinite agitation".
"We have our return tickets on Tuesday and thought of staying back in the hills as hotels and transport were kept out of the purview of the agitation. We had also managed to withdraw cash from the ATM," said Bipul Bhattacharya, a resident of Sonarpur on the outskirts of Calcutta.
But within hours of Gurung's warning this morning, Bipul, travelling with his and his friend's families, took little time in hiring a car to reach Siliguri. After arriving in Siliguri, Bipul and the two families headed to Lataguri in the Dooars.
Priyanshu Agarwal, who works with an IT company in Ahmedabad, also cut his trip short.
"We had heard about the violence and still reached Darjeeling late on Friday evening. We saw army and police personnel on the roads but we were confident that there would be no problems during the trip," he said.
Priyanshu said he and his friends felt it "safer" to spend the rest of their vacation in the plains in the wake of Gurung's remarks.
Tour operators, who have already been worried about the possible impact on the tourism sector in the aftermath of the June 8 violence, said Gurung's warning had worsened the situation.
"Tourists are worried, they are either coming down to Siliguri or heading to Sikkim. We are busy restructuring their itineraries. We are also informing those who are scheduled to arrive tomorrow and onwards about the recent developments and offering them a trip directly to Sikkim or the Dooars," said Samrat Sanyal, the president of Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators' Association.
Gurung's warning, which comes a day after Mamata Banerjee assured the tourists that everything was under control in the hills, is yet another attempt to prove the Morcha's "pre-eminence" over the state government in the region, political observers said.
The observer said the Morcha chief had failed to realise is that by issuing the warning, he had possibly invited the displeasure of all those associated with the tourism industry.

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