Kalimpong, Sept. 23: Visitors seeking to raft through the rapids of the Teesta in the hills will be disappointed as the inflated boats continue to remain off the waters even though the autumn tourism season has begun.
Rafting on the river was suspended by the DGHC in May end following an accident in which four persons drowned after a raft on a search mission capsized near Reang, about 7km downstream Teesta village. The victims were from Teesta Bazaar.
The DGHC has refused to lift the ban as the rafts are “shoddy” and the families of the accident victims want stricter rules to make the sport safer.
There are 45-50 rafts at Teesta and Melli, two hamlets along the river, giving employment to around 350 people.
Tashi Sherpa, secretary of the DGHC’s tourism department, said the entire rafting system had to be made flawless before the suspension was revoked.
“The rafts are shoddy and the operators and river guides accompanying the tourists need to be trained properly. Besides, there is so much opposition from the families of the victims in the May mishap and other villagers to the rafting. I had a meeting with raft owners and the victims’ families a few days ago. I advised both the groups to sit together and solve the problems after discussions as they were from the same area,” he said.
The raft owners said they were all for streamlining of operations to make the water ride as safe as possible. “Rafting is our bread and butter. We have told the DGHC authorities that we will abide by whatever rules they frame to make the rafting safe and sustainable. We are also willing to provide our river guides with the best possible training as suggested by the tourism department,” said a member of the Teesta-Rangit Raft Owners’ Association.
However, with an end to the stalemate nowhere in sight, the raft operators have begun to count their losses. “The tourism season has begun and we have been receiving enquiries daily from rafting enthusiasts, but what to do? Not just the owners, many families in Teesta and Melli are solely dependent on rafting for their living,” said another rafter owner.
Sukbir Lama, a vice-president of the association, has said Teesta and Melli have together 45 to 50 rafts. “The rafting provides direct employment to about 150 people, while another 200 villagers indirectly depend on the sport for income,” he said.