Tourists visiting Darjeeling will have to forego two of the town’s major attractions – joyride of the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the cable car ride on the Rangeet Valley ropeway – at least for now.
Both the railway and ropeway authorities are yet to resume their services because of various reasons brought about mainly by the 104-day strike and the vagaries of nature. Both the services, which are a major draw with the tourists, had to be closed because of the long statehood shutdown in the hills which began on June 15 and ended on the night of September 26.
According to DHR sources, the train services continue to remain suspended because of landslides and wild growths along the rail tracks that need to be cleared.
“We want to start by resuming the joyride between Darjeeling station and Ghoom, but because of small landslides at two different spots on the 8km route, we are unable to do so. It should take another four to five days before we can resume operation,” said a source.
The ropeway operation will take a little longer to resume. “We will have to carry out various technical tests and check the entire cable system. It should take about a fortnight at the earliest before we can resume services,” said an official of the Rangeet Valley Cable Car.
While the DHR used to run as many as 10 trains during the peak tourist season, the ropeway used to cater for almost 500 thrill-seekers daily. The DHR charges Rs 1310 for a joyride on the steam engine-powered train and about Rs 800 on diesel engines. The five-kilometre to and fro ride on the cable car costs Rs 175.
Officials of both the rail and ropeways said they had been receiving enquiries from tourists almost daily since the strike was called off. “People wait in a queue for a long time to take the cable car ride even though it is only a short ride from Singamari to Tukvar. We will be happy to serve the tourists once our entire system is in place,” said the ropeway official.
However, the tourist arrival since the end of the strike has been very low. Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, which is another must-see for visiting tourists, has had very little footfall in the past few days compared to the same period last year. “We used to get between 5,000 and 6,000 visitors per day in the peak season. The footfall in the last few days has been in the hundreds,” said Pyar Chand, the director of the zoo.
Tour operators aren’t very confident of a major improvement in the tourist footfall in the remainder of the season.
“We have been getting inquiries (from tourists) but not in the volume of last year…We at best hope to get about 40 per cent occupancy in hotels during the Diwali period when tourists from Maharashtra and Gujarat come,” said Pradip Lama, secretary of Darjeeling Associations of Travel Agents.