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Darjeeling unrest, a boon for Sikkim tourism

PTI | Gangtok |

The unrest in Darjeeling in the peak tourist season has come as a boon for Sikkim with tourists thronging the neighbouring hill state instead of Darjeeling in view of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha agitation.

"The tension in Darjeeling has led to a sudden boom in the tourism industry here," Secretary, Sikkim Tourism, C Zangpo said.

The GJM agitation in Darjeeling led to the cancellation of bookings by domestic and foreign tourists in the 'Queen of hill stations' and make travel arrangements in Sikkim, he said.

"Tourism related establishments in Gangtok are currently packed with customers and have full bookings in the coming days as well," Zangpo states.

The Sikkim Tourism secretary said that almost all the tourists who are now visiting Sikkim were supposed to visit Darjeeling on the second leg of their journey or had been there before reaching Sikkim.

Travel operators, however, are worried as it is difficult to manage so many tourists at a time, and the secretary also echoed similar views.

"We have asked travel operators and hotels to try and accommodate as many tourists as they can without compromising on the service standards as any mismanagement at this time could give a bad name to the tourism industry," Zangpo said.

Hotels presently have bookings upto mid-July and they have now started cancelling new booking enquiries, one of the travel operators said.

Santanu Bose, a tourist from Kolkata, said, "We had been in Darjeeling for holidaying when all this happened. Our travel agent immediately contacted operators in Sikkim and we were lucky to get reservations."

Many tourists, however, had to cut short their visit and return, Bose said at the Mall here.

"We spent only one night in Darjeeling. We are enjoying our stay here now," he said.

As the tourists from Sikkim were now being provided Sikkim Nationalised Transport buses every day with security, they are feeling secure that they will not get stuck in the hills because of the ongoing bandh.

Since June 8, Darjeeling has witnessed clashes between GJM activists and police over the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state.

Sikkim government sources they had requested their West Bengal counterpart on Sunday to provide security to vehicles passing through NH 31A in Darjeeling district in view of the agitation.

The West Bengal government had assured them that security would be provided to Sikkim-bound vehicles and the police would carry out extensive patrolling on the highway.

The 92 km long NH 31A connects Sevoke in Darjeeling district to Gangtok and is considered the lifeline of Sikkim.

Around 30 km of the highway passes through West Bengal.