Chuikhim: where soccer meets tourism – Village made alcohol-free

The Telegraph

Chuikhim (Kalimpong), Sept. 28: Nar Bahadur Bhandari and his team from Pemling Basti were all in smiles. They had lifted the Share Cup for the second year running, this time beating 31 teams who had been playing soccer from September 1 to reach the final.

The organisers, Support Himalayan Agro-Rural Enterprises (Share), were also happy. The final, held every year to coincide with World Tourism Day (September 27), had gone off well, despite the torrential rain that hit this mountain village, 54km northeast of Siliguri in the Kalimpong subdivision, yesterday.

When the tournament first started four years ago, there were only 18 teams. Since then, a junior-level competition has also been added, in which 16 teams — from 26 villages in the area — took part this year. “All this is part of an effort to involve the communities here in healthy pastimes,” said Prasanta Mallik, the Share group leader.

The former Kathmandu-based marketing executive had stumbled upon Chuikhim during one of his trekking holidays about four years ago. “The scenic surroundings and the name of the place somehow drew me to it.” Then, when he got to know that its beauty was marred by alcoholism by most of the male population, he took up a challenge.

“In 2003, there was less of education and more of alcohol among the 150 families here,” recalled Tikaram Chhetri, a resident of Chuikhim.

Prasanta met the village leaders and convinced them about the dangers of alcoholism posed. A village committee was formed, which got immense support from the women.

“When we heard his proposal to make the village alcohol-free, we said it was impossible,” said Naresh Gurung, a member of the Pablingtar panchayat. “It took one-and-a half years. With a lot of counselling, the drinkers started reducing their intakes little by little. Now, for a little over two years, Chuikhim has been alcohol-free,” claimed Mallik.

He has also started village tourism, wherein visitors stay with the residents, take in the fresh air and the scenery and get to know about local customs. Today, there are 10 homes that are open to guests. Along with football, an annual competition is held for the best home-stay family.

Helpline launched

The Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association launched a 24-hour helpline on World Tourism Day.

Tourists can call up the helpline number, 94348-91066, for information and help during their visit to the region.

“Considering the rush of tourists from next week, we decided to stand by them in case they face any inconvenience,” said Samrat Sanyal, the Association general secretary. “It is not that the number will be operational only during tourist seasons. The service will be available throughout the year.”

The Association also released pamphlets, containing details of “responsible tourism” or the codes of conduct for tourists, travel operators, drivers and other stakeholders. These would be distributed on a regular basis.

The members had yesterday also cleaned the New Jalpaiguri station campus to mark the World Tourism Day.

On its part, the state tourism department took around 30 orphan children on a toy train ride to Smritiban, close to Tindharia, from Siliguri.

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