The 6.8 magnitude quake has shaken the anticipation of a great tourist season this October in the Sikkim and Darjeeling Hills. With Sikkim and Darjeeling being the worst effected, anxious queries are being made by the tourists who have already planned their holidays in this region.
The quake affecting North Sikkim, West Sikkim and Darjeeling - favourite haunts of the Himalayan travelers, is expected to cast a long shadow on the tourism sector this season.
A number of tourists have already started to leave Darjeeling following Sunday's quake. "I was scheduled to stay in Darjeeling for the next few days. With the quake my wife is under great mental stress. She is traumatized. We are leaving today" stated Arun Arumugam from Tamil Nadu.
"We had four rooms checking out. The guests were slated to visit Pelling from Darjeeling. However with the quake they decided to head back home. There have been a number of queries from the guests who are scheduled to arrive in the next few days. They have been enquiring whether it is safe to visit the Hills " stated Vishal, Front Office Manager of a Hotel.
In Sikkim the Travel Agents Association of Sikkim (TAAS) is working with other agencies for the evacuation of stranded tourists "We have formed help teams and trying to evacuate the stranded tourists. There are around 1800 tourists stranded in Gangtok at present. Many of them are in a traumatized frame of mind. Earthquakes are but natural calamities and cannot be prevented. It is a part of life. Just because of an earthquake people should not cancel their scheduled holidays. If the roads are open then there will not be any other problems for the tourists" feels Jitendra Lama, Chairman, Tours and Hospitality division, TAAS.
With peace finally returning back to the Hills following the signing of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) agreement, a tourist rush had been projected. "We had packed bookings from the first week of October till mid November. However with the quake many are reluctant to visit" stated a hotelier from Darjeeling.
Every year around 25000 foreign tourists and 3 lakh domestic tourists visit the Darjeeling Hills. In the foreign sector the footfall is less than half a percent of the annual footfalls of foreign tourists visiting India.
"I am in Delhi at present trying to convince other tour operators that Darjeeling and Gangtok are both safe destinations" stated Suresh Periwal, Director of Clubside Tours and Travels, the oldest travel agency in Darjeeling (since 1948) dealing mainly in foreign clientele.
"If it's not politics then it is nature which has to play spoil sport" remarked Tashi, a driver. With the separate state agitation resulting in a cash strapped Hills for the past three years, many are banking on the return of peace and the October tourist season to make a comeback.