The Times Of India
RITES, that has drawn up the first blueprint for Darjeeling tourism, will make its first presentation during the meeting in the Hills. Based on the blueprint, implementation of a planned tourism activity for the Queen of Hills will begin. RITES, under the aegis of the railways which was formerly under Mamata, offers consultancy services and was appointed to draw up the tourism master plan for a fee of Rs 64 lakh. The company has explored several potential niches in Darjeeling district over the past few months and interviewed individuals from across the Hills to seek their opinions.
The meeting comes at a crucial time with the chief minister trying to send out clear messages to Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) that Darjeeling was indeed in “our heart“. The chief minister had used the expression during her May visit to the Hills, when the GJM was showing much restlessness on matters relating to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA).
“The chief minister had made elaborate tourism plans for Darjeeling even before she was voted to power. We must respect this sense of priority and get the job started as soon as possible,” state tourism minister Krishnendu Narayan Chowdhury said. Both the GJM and the state government are in a hurry to start some development projects in the region.
Vikram Sen, secretary, state tourism department, said: “We have fixed a five-year time frame for implementation of the master plan. Our department has already chalked out several attractive projects, which will be integrated with the master plan.” The tourism department has allocated Rs 15 crore for developing the trekking route to Sandakphu, which begins in Darjeeling and proceeds through Maneybhaniyang, Tonglu, Sandakphu, ending in Phalut. Fifty per cent of the funds has been handed over to GTA, the tourism secretary said, adding that PWD has been asked to develop the hilly trail. A detailed plan on eateries, washroom and cottages e route has been draw up.
PWD has also been asked to repair the road to Neo Valley National Park, at an altitude of 1,868 km at Kalimpong’s Kolakham village. An elaborate renovation has also been chalked out for Dello, which had been used by GJM during its agitation. A golf resort is being planned for Sinchen, just before Tiger Hill. “Cottages will come up at Sinchen. Cottages are in because most tourists want private space even if they are holidaying with family,” said Sen.
The other major input from the state tourism department will be developing resorts and cottages on the PPP with locals in the Hills. Residents will also been trained to set up home-stay hotels so that hospitality could emerge as the main source of revenue for the people of Darjeeling. On the cards is an eco-tourism centre at Alagarh in the Kalimpong subdivision.
The chief minister, it is clear, is keeping Darjeeling on her list of priorities. There has been a dip in tourist flow in March and April because the GJM had announced a series of bandhs which were later called off. When Mamata had visited the Hills in January, there was tension over the Telengana issue and the GJM leadership was under pressure to press for statehood. Tension eased when Mamata visited again in Darjeeling. “But the best way to maintain peace is to flood the Hills with development,” a senior official said, adding, “The GJM wants a total control in the Hills. But it has realised that it would find it difficult the demands of the people without the state government’s backing.”