Land Rover vehicles from the long-gone era hit the roads of Darjeeling as they moved in a single file in an event organised by the Gorkhaland Territorial Association (GTA), along with different tourism stakeholders, as part of programmes to mark World Tourism Day today.
Land Rovers of the mid1950s’ make is one of the several things that the ‘Queen of Hills’ is known for.
“World Tourism Day is celebrated every year in a grand manner, but this time we held a small programme of a Land Rover and mountain bike rally along with a seminar. The tourism sector is one of the worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Through this programme today, we want to reintroduce tourism here again,” said Suraj Sharma, the GTA Assistant Tourism Director, who added that Land Rover vehicles were a heritage of this area.
There are around 45 such vehicles that are still being used as taxis in Darjeeling presently by the Singallila Land Rovers’ Association (SLRA) from the Manebhanjyang route to tourist destinations like Sandakhpu, which stands at a height of 11,600 feet, along with its upper reaches at Phalut standing at a height of 11,811 feet.
Speaking about the vehicles, SLRA member Dawa Tshering Tamang said, “The oldest Land Rover we have here, and which is still running, is from the year 1954. Some parts of this vehicle are available and maintenance is possible, but for those parts that are not available, we use modified ones. Around 50 percent of the vehicles in our association have modified parts.”
The Land Rover rally today traversed a distance of 30 km from Manebhenjyang to Darjeeling, along with a mountain bicycle rally.
Speaking on the effect of Covid-19 on tourism, Mr Tamang said, “Around 80 percent of the people here are dependent on tourism. No tourists have come to the Sandakhpu area since March this year, with the last good earnings we saw being in the last tourism season on December. We are surviving with the income generated then, along with the free food stuff we got from the government and relief provided by our association. We feel that tourism should open by following safety protocols.”
According to the secretary of the Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents, Pradip Lama, a lot of enquiries have been coming in from tourists, but that they had not started taking bookings. “However, we hope that tourists will start visiting us after October,” he said.