DARJEELING: The current Gorkhaland agitation in Darjeeling against the imposition of Bangla in West Bengal's schools has hit tourism the hardest. it's the backbone of the hill station, billed as the Queen of the Hills.
Tourist worries soared after the leader of the agitation, Bimal Gurung of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) warned haolidaymakers to stay away. “Things are getting worse, and I think tourists should leave Darjeeling so that they do not face inconvenience in the coming days,” he had said.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee pilloried him for the statement: "Asking tourists to keep away from the hills is like kicking Goddess Lakshmi out,” she said.
Gurung's warning forced the West Bengal government to run emergency services to evacuate 10,000 tourists, mostly from south Bengal, who were stranded in the hills. Free buses were plied between Siliguri and Darjeeling, while private airlines were asked to operate more flights between Bagdogra and Kolkata airports.
The blow to the tourist industry has also hit the hospitality and transport sectors, on which many residents depend for sustenance through the lean months.
“Though the indefinite bandh called by GJM exempted hotels, Gurung’s call for tourists to leave the hills has suddenly brought our business to a standstill. The bandh has brought back the days of 2007-08, when the statehood agitation was at its peak,” said hotel owner Biren Gurung (name changed) on the telephione from Darjeeling.
Many tourists who had booked their return tickets beforehand and could not visit Darjeeling had to make different plans. “The agitation became violent the day after we reached Darjeeling. So, we had to leave the town early the next morning and instead went to Hasimara and Jaldapara wildlife sanctuaries in Dooars,” said Anjan Bhowmick, who returned home with his family to Kolkata on Monday morning.
“The whimsical GJM has destroyed the Queen of Hills. But commoners helped us a lot in Darjeeling by providing food and water,” tourist Prasenjit Banerjee said.