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Agonising winter wonderland

Agonising winter wonderland
The quaint hills of Darjeeling have been the perfect respite for residents of West Bengal and beyond. The view of the snow-clad mountains, the winding roads, the misty mountain air and the hot chocolate of Glenary's have attracted many a traveller from across the country. Yet, the violence that ripped the hill district earlier this year has decimated tourism, the primary source of bread and butter for those making a living in the cold of the Kanchenjunga. The Gorkha agitation which erupted in the summer of this year has poisoned the merry and mirth of the mountains, bringing the economy to a complete standstill. With no visitors willing to risk their lives during the holiday season, the hills are now looking at a loss of something close to Rs 55 crores, in the winter season alone. Since the 105-day strike began, the mountains saw a most violent side of human fury, with gunshots being fired, weapons discovered, mass agitations, clashes with the police and authorities, houses and vehicles burnt down and rampant cases of death and injury. The flipside of the fight for power and an independent state ultimately befell on the citizens who make their living by attending to the tourists who flock to the mountains religiously. Darjeeling receives close to four lakh tourists each year with a complete 100 per cent hotel booking across the winter season. Compared to the usual approximately Rs 60 crore income that is accrued during this season, the estimate this year stands at a meagre Rs 7.5 crore. It has been three months since the strike ended and the violence was put to rest, yet civilians of the plains remain apprehensive about visiting the mountains that were once a favourite holiday destination. It will be an uphill task for the government and businessmen to recuperate from the loss of this entire season and also ensure that the next year witnesses a change. To protect the livelihood of the hill dwellers, the government must take initiatives to propagate the hills as a tourist destination, yet again. This loss, in the long-run, will prove to be detrimental for the entire Bengal economy, particularly for the hill districts. For those with warming memories of Darjeeling, the unfortunate episode of violence has hindered the idea of reliving holidays in the hills. Concentrated initiatives have to be undertaken now to not only sell Darjeeling as a safe tourist destination but also ensure that the hills do remain safe, away from the gushes of bullets and agitations.
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