Darjeeling tourist spots, hotels open amid questions over safety
All hotels in the Darjeeling hills and the Dooars region of north Bengal opened on Wednesday – the first hill station in the country to welcome tourists, albeit with some restrictions – amid concerns over the safety of locals and visitors because of the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
Darjeeling district has reported 518 Covid-19 positive cases and 11 deaths to date, but the district headquarter has not recorded a single fatality due to the viral outbreak. Most of the Covid-19 positive cases have been reported from Siliguri, a sub-division of Darjeeling district and the biggest town in north Bengal.
Tourists would have to carry fitness certificates to visit the Darjeeling hills. They would also be screened for Covid-19 symptoms before entering the hills, the officials said.
Suraj Sharma, assistant director of the autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration’s (GTA) tourism department, said, “It takes three to four months to prepare the ground and send a message to tourists that they can plan their visit to Darjeeling hills. The tourist spots have been opened to send a positive vibe. Tourists will have to carry fitness certificates with them.”
Tourist spots, safari parks and hotels were shut after the nationwide lockdown restrictions were enforced from March 25 to contain the spread of the viral outbreak.
Though July, August and September are considered to be the lean season for tourism because of the monsoon fury, the West Bengal government and the GTA authorities are hopeful that some tourists from the plains are likely to visit the hills.
Industry stakeholders said the opening the tourism sector might not boost business immediately but at least prepare them to draw tourists during the upcoming peak season of October and November.
“Murti and Jaldapara in the Dooars received some tourists on Wednesday,” said Tanmoy Goswami, a Siliguri-based tour operator, as he hailed the decision as a key step to revive tourism in the region.
Raj Basu, convenor, Association for Conservation and Tourism (ACT), said, “The tourism business will take time to be back on track. The stakeholders can expect some business in October. We have already lost the business in the March-April season. We need to move ahead with a positive mindset, as the livelihood of thousands of people are involved.”
Representatives of political parties and hotel owners, however, said they are not sure how community-based surveillance committees would treat tourists since all people coming from outside the region are made to stay in home quarantine for 14 days.
Even local people, travelling from Siliguri town, or the neighbouring Kalimpong district, are not exempted. There have been instances, when homes of some families were locked from outside by the surveillance committees. GTA officials have convened a meeting in Darjeeling on Thursday to discuss this issue.
Amar Lama, a senior leader of the local Jan Andolan Party (JAP), questioned the GTA authorities’ move.
“It is quite unbelievable that tourists are being allowed to travel to the hills, when even local people, travelling from one village to another, are being asked by surveillance committees to stay in quarantine,” Lama said.