A last hurrah for the relics?
Darjeeling: It is a catch 22 situation for the 42 vintage Land Rovers that ferry passengers and goods to Sandakphu at an altitude of 12,000 feet - the highest point of the state. The state government is mulling with the idea of phasing out these more than 50 year old fighting-fit war horses.
Maneybhanjyang, a hamlet at the Indo-Nepal border, 28 km from Darjeeling could be the only place on this planet where the residents are dependent on a fleet of vintage vehicles both as a daily necessity as well as livelihood. The hamlet boasts of 42 fighting fit Land Rovers, more than 50 years old.
These are the only vehicles that are used to ferry both passengers as well as goods to the famous trekking spot of Sandakphu and also the numerous villages enroute. The residents of these villages are dependent on these Land Rovers for the transportation of nearly everything, from construction material to essential commodities including LPG cylinders and food supply.
The Land Rovers of Maneybhanjyang have been manufactured before 1957. As spare parts are not available, the vehicles have undergone heavy modifications.
"The vehicles do not have permits to ply at present. Though they are very hardy vehicles, they are very old. Finally, we will ultimately have to phase them out as they do not meet any Government specifications and norms to ply as taxis. The owners can obtain subsidized loans under the State Government's Gatidhara scheme and procure four wheelers, which can ply on this route," stated Joyoshi Das Gupta, District Magistrate, Darjeeling. An alternative plan is being worked out for the land Rovers. "A heritage tourism circuit with a 1940 imagery can be created on a flat terrain or road like Mirik or Darjeeling where these Land Rovers can offer heritage rides instead of plying on difficult and steep gradient, which is very risky for these age old vehicles," suggested the DM.
When contacted, Anil Tamang, Coordinator of the Singhalila Land Rover Association stated: "Nothing official regarding this decision has come to us from the Government. However, as and when it happens we will definitely meet the State Government representatives and explain our problems. We are sure that something can be worked out amicably so that our livelihood is not hampered."
He stated that tourists do not hire services throughout the year. "Business is not good always. Under such conditions, it is already difficult for us to make both ends meet. How will we pay the high taxes and insurances stipulated for taxi vehicles even if we manage to buy new vehicles with the Government loans?" questioned Tamang.