Darjeeling, Aug. 23: Tourists today blamed travel agents for failing to inform them about the situation in the hills even as 40 of the nearly 100 visitors managed to leave a rain-lashed Darjeeling town in the first bus.
Two more buses were provided late in the evening by Darjeeling police, who claimed that most visitors have left the hill station.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which has called an indefinite shutdown in the hills after Nickole Tamang disappeared from Pintail Village, refused to issue any “passes” this time. The Morcha has demanded that Nickole, a central committee member of the party and a prime suspect in the Madan Tamang murder case, be produced alive. It has alleged that the police are trying to hide that he died in custody.
Groups of tourists stood at the Darjeeling motor stand with their luggage as local drivers refused to bring out their vehicles without a written permission from the Morcha.
Ishamani Pakhrin, the president of the Morcha’s Darjeeling town committee, said “permits” would not be issued this time. “We request the hoteliers to convey to their boarders (tourists) to stay in the hotels as we are not providing any permits this time around.”
Many tourists also lined up before the office of the Darjeeling traffic police from 7.30am. But with the entire town closed, there was not even a cup of tea or a quick bite available.
In the past, the Morcha had issued “passes” to ferry tourists during the strike. This probably made hoteliers underestimate the gravity of the situation.
S. Chatterjee, a resident of Calcutta who had a train to board this evening, said: “I was not completely aware of the situation. I was told that one could get a vehicle to reach Siliguri as in previous strikes such arrangements had been made for tourists.”
Even though the Darjeeling police did finally manage to get one of their buses to take 40 visitors to Siliguri in the morning, it came late for people like Sasha from Poland and Melloine from France, who could board the vehicle, but were sure to miss their 2pm flight. The bus started from Darjeeling around 11am and at least three hours would be needed to reach Siliguri. “Even though we will miss our flights, we are happy to get out of the town,” said Sasha.
N.K. Dhangar, a resident of Patna, who had to board Capital Express at 2pm, was at a loss, as he along with 60-odd people, could not manage a place in the first bus.
Dhangar alleged that his hotel had not apprised him of the gravity of the situation. “We were told about the strike around 3pm yesterday. It was already late to leave town,” Dhangar said. However, had the hotelier impressed upon Dhangar a clearer picture, he could have taken a chance. The Morcha had allowed vehicles to ply till 6pm yesterday, five hours after the strike had been enforced.
A hotelier, on condition of anonymity, did not rule out the possibility of some hotel owners suppressing information so that they had the boarders for an extra day or two. “As soon as I got to know about the strike, I immediately asked the tourists to leave the place. There is every possibility of some hoteliers suppressing information thinking that permits would be issued by the party anyhow,” the hotelier added.
Low budget hotels do not take the burden of arranging vehicles for tourists. During the season, the hills have around 10,000 visitors at any point of time. In monsoon, the figure comes down to as low as 100, but even then, nothing prompt could be done about their transport.
District magistrate Surendra Gupta said the administration would ensure that all tourists left town. “Since there is a strike it is taking time to arrange for vehicles, but we will definitely escort all the tourists out of Darjeeling,” he said. Late in the evening, the Darjeeling police said two more buses with tourists left the hill station. “We are sure that most of the tourists have now left,” a police officer said.