Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BANDH NIGHTMARE FOR TOURISTS Exodus of tourists continue from Sikkim, Darjeeling

GANGTOK/SILIGURI, June 10: The indefinite bandh called by the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) from today in the Darjeeling Hills has severely affected normal life in Sikkim.
Panic-stricken tourists, who were unable to leave the State yesterday, thronged the motor stands in the Capital today hoping for some respite.
The fact that the GJMM has not left the National Highway 31A connecting Sikkim with the rest of the country out of the purview of the bandh, has made matters worse for the tourists.
Hundreds of passengers heading towards Sikkim stranded at SNT bus stand in Siliguri as well. More than 300 hapless passengers had no choice but to wait for hours with the hope of getting some alternative way to head towards Sikkim.
Among the stranded passengers, majority of them were students who had come for admissions in Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology and Sikkim Manipal Institute of Medical Sciences.
“I have been waiting since 8:30am and now it is nearly 12 hours but there is no sign of the situation changing,” said Arindam Bhardwraj, a student from Assam who had come to Sikkim to seek admission at SMIT.
“The National Highway 31 A should have been kept away from the bandh purview,” a group of stranded passengers said.
“We support the demand of GJMM but Sikkim should not have been affected by the bandh,” added Mahindra Gurung, a local businessman.
Frustrated passengers criticised the lackadaisical attitude of the State Police and the State administration in dealing with the crisis stating that some alternative steps should have been taken to overcome the difficulties faced by them.
In Gangtok, the confusion amongst the tourists prevailed for the second day today as stranded tourists continued to gather at the SNT bus stand hoping for some way out of the situation. “We have been waiting for the State Government to at least arrange some transportation for us to leave Gangtok. But nothing has been done so far,” S. Srivastava, a tourist from New Delhi said.
“We have been waiting for the past 45 minutes standing in the long queue at the SNT ticket counter in order to purchase the tickets till Siliguri but the there is no one in the counter,” added a tourist from Kolkata.
The bandh has also delayed the journey of many visitors. “We had already paid for the return tickets but we are stranded due to the strike,” complained Bijoy Gupta from Haryana, who is in Sikkim along with his family of six.
In the late afternoon today, relief came for some of the tourists when the GJMM lifted the strike for three hours. The GJMM lifted the bandh for tourists having air, train and bus tickets from Sikkim from 4 pm today. After this, no vehicles were permitted to ply on NH 31 A except in emergency cases, GJMM announced today.
Reeling under severe criticism for not being responsible enough towards the visitors during the time of crisis, the Secretary, State Tourism Department, SBS Bhadauria tried to pacify the situation by saying that the Department was doing everything it could. “We are making instant arrangements to transport the passengers with the help of Army and SNT buses and as well as by helicopters. We are fully aware of the situation and according to the availability of the vehicles, we had made arrangements for them, he added.
While talking with SIKKIM EXPRESS over the phone this evening, the District Collector, East, Vishal Chauhan said many SNT buses haven been sent with the tourists up to Siliguri. “The SNT buses will then accommodate some of the stranded passengers from Siliguri up to Gangtok,” he said.
More than 300 tourists in five SNT buses and 22 small vehicles left from Sikkim this evening. GJMM picketers were seen checking tickets from all the passengers at Rangpo, after which the tourists were authorized to ply towards Siliguri, informs our Rangpo Correspondent. The exodus continued till the wee hours of today morning.
The members of Sikkim Hoteliers and Restaurant Association (SHRA) evacuated nearly 300 tourists yesterday from various hotels in the Capital.
“The tourists were being sent back to Siliguri till midnight with the help of drivers and hoteliers,” informed Karma Yenten Chankapa of SHRA.
The association has also appealed all the hoteliers to give a discount for the tourists who will be staying in Gangtok until the bandh is called off.
Meanwhile, tourists are informed to contact Paljor Moktan at 9733005262 and Karma Yenten Chankapa at 9434031283 for all possible assistance and help.
Reports coming in from Rangpo also inform that the industrial units in the State, especially in Rangpo have also been badly hit by the strike. These industrial units have to depend on Siliguri for raw materials and marketing of its manufactured goods. Moreover, in the stretch from Sikkim to Siliguri, 70km road falls under Darjeeling region, which has aggravated the problem.
At the time of filing this report, news came in that all small vehicles including private buses from Sikkim were returned back from Lohapool in West Bengal. Only five SNT buses with Police escort were allowed to ply, which later reached Siliguri safely. One small vehicle managed to squeeze through the danger zone. In the event, two vehicles from Kalimpong were reportedly attacked at Lohapool.
The State Tourism industry is already feeling the pinch. “The bandh has been called by a political outfit which has nothing to do with Sikkim. Every time a bandh is called in the Darjeeling Hills, we inevitably get dragged into the situation. This is the peak tourist season. The losses we have suffered, both in terms of business and goodwill is enormous,” a tour operator from Gangtok told SIKKIM EXPRESS.