New group to save rafting- Rafters fear NHPC projects may change Teesta course

Malli (Kalimpong), Feb. 22: The thrill of rafting down the torrid waters of the Teesta can well be a thing of the past once the projects of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) on the river become operational.

This is what the private rafting units on the Teesta apprehend, and alarmed by the possibility of losing their source of livelihood, the raft owners have come together to form an association.

Not to be left behind, river guides, too, are ready to form their organisation platform.

The NHPC authorities, however, beg to differ. According to them, the dams constructed on the river will not affect the current of the water.

“We earn something between Rs 200 and 250 per day. Once the dams make the river unsuitable for rafting, we will become jobless,” said Sanjog Gupta, a river guide, who manoeuvres the rafts. “If that happens, the rafts might as well be used as boats in Mirik Lake,” said Max Rai, half jokingly. Rai is a driver who ferries rafting enthusiasts to this place from Darjeeling.

The nondescript hamlet of Malli, 18 km from Kalimpong town, has found its way to the tourist map due to river rafting, which started in the early nineties. “Earlier, there was only one rafting unit of the DGHC operating from Chitrey near here. Now there are 10 private players working here,” said Sukbir Tamang, owner of Action Adventure and Rescue Group.

A raft carries at least five persons from here to 29th Mile, which is about 10 km downhill. The ride costs Rs 350 per person. “This stretch does not have many rapids, which is why it is ideal for amateur rafters,” said Tamang.

The rafts, each costing Rs 1.2 lakh, are mostly brought from Kathmandu in Nepal. “We have been doing reasonably well until now, but the future looks very uncertain owing to the NHPC projects,” he added.

Raft owners and guides are not just the only ones who stand to lose if the Teesta becomes unsuitable for rafting.

A number of eateries and shops selling snacks have come up over the past decade in the area. Even those owners will feel the pinch once the rafters lose their business.

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