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22 May 2018

Plea to extend shop time .... Request to Darjeeling traders for tourists' convenience

Tourists at Chowrastha in Darjeeling on Monday
Vivek Chhetri, TT, May 22, 2018, Darjeeling: Police have requested business establishments in the hill town to keep shutters open till 9.30pm at a time Darjeeling is witnessing a sudden rush of tourists.

The appeal was made to make sure that minimum inconvenience was caused to visitors who wouldn't otherwise find even a proper dining space after 9.30pm.

For many years, the hill town has been sleeping early with most shops closing after 7.30pm.

The tourist flow that started from May 18 is the biggest the hills see after the 104-day shutdown for Gorkhaland last year kept visitors away.

Amarnath K, the superintendent of police (operations), Darjeeling, requested shops and other business establishments to extend their opening hours from 7.30pm to 9.30pm during a meeting attended by representatives of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, transporters and the police here on Saturday.

"We have made the request. We will increase patrolling every evening," Amarnath said on Monday.

Prior to the violent Gorkhaland agitation in 1986, cinema theatres in Darjeeling used to screen the last show after 9pm. Things, however, changed later.

A section of traders said they were ready to keep the shops open for more hours provided there was proper security.

The plea from the police has come amid the spike in the tourist footfall in the hills.

Samir Singhal, the treasurer of the Janmukti Hotel Owners' Association, on Monday said: "We have seen a huge rush from May 18 and most hotels have registered 100 per cent occupancy."

The hotelier said the occupancy would be high till mid-June. "The tourist rush will be there till mid-June. We are, however, hopeful that the good run will extend till July as we are getting enquiries from travellers in north India," said Singhal.

This largely means that travellers coming to Darjeeling without hotel bookings might face problems in finding proper accommodation at the moment.

The tourist season in the hills usually starts from mid-March and extends till June every year. However, after the 104-day shutdown last year, the confidence among travellers was not as high.

"Tourists were coming but there was no such rush until a few days back," said another hotelier. "We had to face huge losses because of the strike. With no money rolling, even travel agents who book with us were not in a position to clear dues."

Pradip Lama, the secretary of the Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents (DATA), said: "There is a sudden rush now. There are more tourists than local people at Chowrastha now. However, vehicle drivers have started charging exorbitant fares. Tourists travelling with families are not in a position to bargain with drivers."

Binay Tamang, the chairperson of the board of administrators of the GTA, called upon the hill people to start "loving" their place. "We need to love, not just like, our place. Once we start loving our place, our region will be beautiful and many problems will be solved," said Tamang.

On an average, it is roughly estimated that 3.5 lakh domestic tourists visit the hills, apart from 40,000 foreigners, a year.

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