Darjeeling : The series of earthquakes that turned South Asia’s favourite tourist destination, Nepal, into heaps of rubble, and an extraordinarily hot summer across India has resulted in windfall gains for tourism in Darjeeling and Sikkim.
The earthquakes hit Nepal in the middle of the tourist season upsetting the summer holiday plans of lakhs of people. Tourists cancelled their bookings en mass in Kathmandu, Pokhra and other Nepalese destinations. Tourist infrastructure across Nepal is in ruins. For disappointed Indian tourists, Darjeeling and Sikkim were among the best alternatives.
Then came the unusual heat wave in May when people died of sunstroke in many States. Those who could afford, took vacations to cool climes. Tourism officials in North Bengal and tour operators in the Darjeeling-Sikkim region say there was a spike in tourist arrivals into the region in May.
“There was at least a 10-15 per cent hike in arrivals in Darjeeling this year,” Samrat Sanyal, working president of Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators Association, told BusinessLine.
He attributed a part of the increase in arrivals to the Nepal disaster. The heat wave drove people to the Himalayan region. A major section of visitors to Darjeeling was those from Kolkata and southern Bengal which reeled under the heat. However, there was a drop in new bookings, Sanyal noted. Sikkim has seen an upsurge in tourist arrivals over the past 10 years as the State is being discovered as a great Himalayan destination. Tour operators say that visitors are now increasingly asking for a Darjeeling-Sikkim package.
Tourist infrastructure had tremendously increased and new tour destinations within the State were being opened. Tour operators say the Nepal earthquake, which forced Indian tourists to re-route their travel plans, diverted them to Sikkim. They hoped the Darjeeling-Sikkim package would be more in demand next year.
While huge crowds, choked roads and scarcity of water make residents of Darjeeling town scowl, environmental groups are deeply worried over the long-term impact of tourism on the entire Darjeeling district.
Sikkim, they fear, may go the Darjeeling way in a few years if the kind of tourist arrivals it has seen this year continues.