Darjeeling, Kalimpong open for tourists, Sikkim to follow suit in October
Every year more than 10 lakh tourists visit Sikkim and the North Bengal hills that include Darjeeling and Kalimpong.
After remaining shut for almost six months due to the Covid-9 pandemic, the popular hills stations of Darjeeling and Kalimpong in West Bengal have opened their gates for tourists. The neighbouring Himalayan state of Sikkim is expected to follow suit from October.
Every year more than 10 lakh tourists visit the region. This year, however, because of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, the hill stations were totally shut since March. Sikkim was among the first states to ban the entry of tourists from March 16.
On September 5, the West Bengal government had permitted hotels in Darjeeling and Kalimpong to resume their services following social distancing norms and maintaining hygiene. Those within containment zones, however, would have to remain shut.
“Now that the hotels have opened up we are optimistic that tourists would start arriving and the tourism industry would roll back to normal in a phased manner. We are expecting tourists soon,” Sangey Tshering Bhutia, president of Darjeeling Hotel Owners’ Association.
Tourism is one of the important economic activities in the hills with almost 15% of the population dependent on it for their livelihoods.
Both Kalimpong and Darjeeling have low cases of Covid-19. On September 8, Kalimpong which has the second lowest number of Covid-9 cases among the districts of West Bengal after Jhargram, had only 64 active cases compared to 4,067 in Kolkata.
Hoteliers said that they have drawn up plans on how to sanitise hotels and maintain hygiene when tourists start flocking in.
“Once a guest checks out of the room it would be sanitized and would be kept vacant for at least three days before allotting to another guest. There would be no buffet system, body temperature of guests would be checked when they check in and all hotel staff would be wearing masks and gloves. The entire hotel would be sanitized regularly,” said Diamond Oberoi, managing director of a prominent hotel.
Public transport connecting New Jalpaiguri and Siliguri with the hills stations of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and other places have already started.
“As many tourists prefer to take shared jeeps and buses to the hills from Siliguri bus stand and NJP railway station the drivers would maintain social distance among the tourists while ferrying them to their destination. They would be taking only half the passengers they used to take during pre-Covid times,” S N Pradhan, president of Himalayan Transport Coordination Committee
So far around seven long distance trains are running via New Jalpaiguri railway station including Agartala-Delhi Rajdhani Express, Brahmaputra Mail and Padatik Express.
Subhanan Chanda, chief public relations officer of North East Frontier Railway said that more trains are expected to ply from September 12.
In Sikkim, the state tourism department has come up with a draft proposal to open the state for tourists from October. The proposal says domestic tourists with pre-booked or package tours would be allowed initially and they need to produce valid Covid-19 negative certificates at the border check posts.