Caravan stuck in jam

The Telegraph

Darjeeling, July 28: Cruising in a caravan to soak in the ambience of a typical hilly village is still a distant dream for travellers visiting Darjeeling despite the Union ministry of tourism unveiling plans to introduce caravan rides across India in a big way.

Plans by tour operators to start the caravan rides have hit a roadblock because of the state government’s 2005 order stopping the Darjeeling district administration from issuing permits to commercial vehicles in the municipality areas of Darjeeling and Siliguri.

Tashi Sherpa, additional district magistrate, Darjeeling, said: “We cannot issue permits for commercial vehicles carrying passengers in Darjeeling and Siliguri municipality areas.”

Permits are denied to stop congestion in the two towns.

The decision has annoyed Darjeeling-based tour operators who are constantly trying to shrug off stiff competition from Sikkim.

“On the one hand, the government says the industry should not merely rely on it to promote tourism and to create better infrastructure. On the other hand, they do not even facilitate the implementation of the new concept by the industry,” said Suresh Periwal, chairman, Indian Association of Tour Operators, north Bengal and Sikkim chapter.

Periwal who runs Clubside Tours and Travel, one of the few firms allowed to conduct adventure tourism in the state, had drawn up a plan to start caravan services in Darjeeling and the Northeast. “We wanted to procure three air-conditioned super deluxe buses to start caravan tourism in Darjeeling and the Northeast,” said Periwal.

Although Periwal’s plan is not as exhaustive as the rides in other states, where vehicles are equipped with modern facilities like home theatre and chemical toilets, the Darjeeling based tour operator had wanted to make a beginning. “We were planning to carry separate tents for kitchen, dinning, sleeping and toilet purposes and to camp as we cruise to various locations,” said Periwal.

The caravan ride is a big draw among niche European clients.

An official of the Regional Transport Authority said their hands were tied because of the notification. “We can only give permits to commercial vehicles if they don’t enter Darjeeling and Siliguri municipality areas. Commercial vehicles to be used for carrying loads can obtain permits. As far as passenger carriers are concerned, we can only transfer a permit which has already been issued for an old vehicle to a new one,” said the official.

Vehicles operating without valid documents can be fined up to Rs 2,000 and more importantly, would not be able to avail of insurance coverage in case of accidents. “Sometime back, a bus met with an accident in Kurseong and since the vehicle’s papers were not in order, the passengers could not avail of insurance,” said the official.

States like Madhya Pradesh are actively encouraging the new concept by setting up Caravan Parks. Some of the routes for the caravan rides in the country include Delhi-Jaipur-Agra, Delhi-Jaipur-Ajmer-Pushkar and Delhi-Sariska-Ranthambor.

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