East Himalaya

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), demands your voice of concern...

The whistling steam probably does not catch our imagination or touch our lives anymore.  The demand for DHR is probably declining as there are hardly any voices for its closure for the past more than 01 year. 100s of rail fanatics have returned with broken hearts, compromising for the Toy Train, Joy Ride between Darjeeling-Ghoom-Darjeeling like the leisure tourists. 23rd August, 2011, the people of Tindharia celebrated the ‘130 Smriti Diwas’, 130 years of the inauguration of the first stretch of DHR between Siliguri Town Station to Kurseong, the then Viceroy himself being the passenger at Smritiban, the 20th Mile Loop. The steam engine had not taken off for more than a year and on that day when the steam was sent for the program, it arrived only after everything was over (as the same had broken down on way).
As far as my knowledge goes, this is probably the first time that the entire stretch of DHR continuity has been in a broken condition for such a long time. The silence is like the ‘God will take care syndrome’. The main Road, i.e. the Hillcart Road or the NH 55 presently is the reason, as this has gone down in the landslide, and for more than an year as no one takes care of the same, the DHR alignment is also beyond repair. Remember, this again is the National Highway (NH), where is the priority. The people of Tindharia pays Rs.100 per person in a jeep through the Gidda alignment to Kurseong. Today, the communities have started the repairing of the same through volunteering. Our World Heritage Site, DHR communities in Mahanadi and around, they have to take a 02 hours detour to reach Siliguri, which they could have reached in 01 hour for their daily needs. Imagine the money they have to spend. Again the ‘God will take care syndrome’. 
The DHR (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway), the only World Heritage Site of North Bengal and Sikkim, the tourism icon of Railway Heritage for the world, with more than 5000 domestic and international member patrons through the DHR Society-UK, DHRSA-Australia and other India born associations, how is it that DHR is not fully functional in full strength. If we see the trend towards the beginning, most of the inauguration, more than a century ago took place in the monsoon months. This showed the importance of DHR in those days, when this region was difficult to negotiate during fair weather, forget the monsoons. Is there some way we are not giving enough importance to our great grandfather, a World Heritage Site, DHR. I think the time has arrived, when from global to local, we should raise our voice to confirm immediate running of DHR through the entire route.
Let us not forget that ‘all of us who live along the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, between Siliguri to Darjeeling, are a part of the World Heritage Site community’ and we have to keep this DHR Heritage Living.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Darjeeling Festival Package



The journey begins from the foothills at Siliguri and as one enters the kingdom of the clouds in an hours time, the cold and peace of the Darjeeling Hills touches the mind and body. On the 15th of August, 2011, when the country was celebrating the 65th Independence day, Help Tourism, a responsible travel organization on its 21st Foundation Day was busy putting together a few places of the Darjeeling Hills together for the world to experience the 'Best of Darjeeling'. The package would include the 'Old English Charm' of Darjeeling Town, good food, lots of shopping and exploring the Heritage of Darjeeling. Another part would include discovery of the 'Natural Wonders' of the Darjeeling hills at the Kolakham Mountain Village in Kalimpong Division. Adjoining the Neora Valley National Park, one can wonder through the forests or the village for authentic experience and light of The East Himalaya.
Considering the Independence Day of India and Foundation Day of Help Tourism, followed by the Festival of Eid-Ul-Fitar after the Ramadan month, 5th September-Teacher's Day, 21st September-The International Day of Peace and 27th september-World Tourism Day, a subsidised Festival Package for Darjeeling has been launched by Help Tourism yesterday, 15th August, 2011, which will remain valid till 30th September, 2011. The week-long package which is valid for all nationals would include complimentary transport pick-up and drop: Chengrabandha, Phuentsholing, Kakkarvitta and Siliguri, all accommodation, all breakfast and dinner, transport from Darjeeling to Kolakham (in Kalimpong Division near Lava) and surprise gifts.
Details can be enquired at info@helptourism.com
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Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Bandhs of North Bengal and the Tourism Industry

8th of August, 2011 was being celebrated as Baishe Sraban (the day of Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore’s  Mahaparinirvana) in the whole of the world with special mention of the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Miss.Mamata Banerjee, who had declared this day as a state holiday with celebrations throughout the state. North of West Bengal, popularly and officially known as North Bengal was also prepared to celebrate the day in Darjeeling Hills, Dooars and Terai. Several poets, singers, novelists and visitors from across the country were invited to the celebrations of North Bengal.
A sudden Bandh which was called made most of these people flee the region on 8th itself or 9th before dawn, highly stressed and promising never to come back. From Bagdogra Airport to Rajabhatkhawa railway station, saw stranded tourists/visitors everywhere in Terai and Dooars. This is not the first time that this had pattern of Bandhs have started in North Bengal. Infact this has become a culture for all small and big political parties of North Bengal. The memories of the past three and a half years from the hills is fresh in the minds of the travel industry and now they are afraid that the same trend may start in Dooars and Terai.
The 02 major industries of the past century, timber has already died and tea has seized to grow. Tourism, a self developed industry of this region, the growth of which started 02 decades ago, is not only a green industry, but also an industry without boundaries. Unlike other industries of North Bengal, this has grown mainly with more private initiative than Government involvement. Small, isolated and under-developed areas have started becoming tourism destinations. For generations where land had just to be occupied for residence and later a politically initiated ‘patta’ to be issued, today sees land value not less than Rs.5 lakhs (five hundred thousand) per acre. Many hill and forest areas, where there is scarcity of agricultural land and where settlers were mainly dependent on forest produce and live below the poverty line, today private tourism initiatives have shown them light. 20 years ago the tourism destinations in the whole of North Bengal and Sikkim was mainly restricted to Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Gangtok and Jaldapara, today you cannot count them on your fingers. The local initiatives have brought investors in tourism from all over the country, without the formal and hyped invitation of the Government. The development of the tourism industry in the North Bengal and Sikkim region has been silent, without the sight of big industry walls and smoking chimneys. It has not only brought economy, ownership and employment to the local people, but several responsible tourism initiatives have developed educational, medical and other social infrastructure developments. This complimentary livelihood and income source has brought good amount of foreign exchange, tax revenue and other economic benefits for the Government. Even several Government Departments, other than tourism has resorted to tourism activities for their income generation, with the Forest Department taking the lead.

All these above development, which is still in the increase, boosting grass-root level economy, confirming social stability and peace, is being crushed at the bud with continuous ‘BANDHS’. The visitors mainly come to this region for the natural and cultural heritage, which is there in many parts of this country. We must understand that tourists/visitors contribute immensely to this region economically, socially and ecologically by sharing the existing infrastructure that we have. Any development which is done for them is beneficial to the local residential population, be it roads, drinking water, medical and other facilities. In the present situation, all the small and micro investment that has taken place has not colonised and isolated locally, but have integrated with the local population, thereby enhancing the local capacity. In case of tourism, products do not walk to the user, but the user walks to the tourist destination/tourism product. The tourism industry services do not have any shelf-life and cannot be stored or used later, and hence a day lost is the total loss of the services produced for the day. For other industries, the production is used immediately after the completion of Bandh, but for tourism the losses continue for quite some time before and after the Bandhs.
Recently, with the initiative of EHTTOA (Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association), a Federation of 14 travel associations from Sikkim and North Bengal, FAST (Forum of Associates and Stakeholders in Tourism) has been formed, specially to plea all political parties to consider keeping tourism out of the purview of Bandhs and lobby with the Government to declare tourism as an emergency service like that of Milk and Medical.