Darjeeling, Sept. 25: The Darjeeling administration will organise a tourist festival here in December, keeping with the spirit of the times when the government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha have settled for an autonomous set-up to end the three-year-long agitation in the hills.

The district administration, which will fund the 16-day festival, will be helped by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the DGHC, a district official said.

Raju Pradhan, the assistant secretary of the Morcha, has been made the working president of the festival committee.

“The Darjeeling Tea and tourism festival will start from December 20 and will go on till January 5, 2012. We are yet to decide on the name of the fest,” said Pradhan, who was selected the working president at the first meeting of the committee held in Darjeeling yesterday.

“Besides cultural shows, we will also hold indoor and outdoor games, adventure sports, cross-country runs, mountain biking, body building competition, felicitation of celebrities, and various exhibitions,” said Pradhan. “The festival will be held in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Mirik simultaneously.”

The administration had last organized such a fest — Darjeeling Tea Tourism — in 2000.

Later, for three consecutive years starting 2004, the citizens of Darjeeling had organised a highly successful festival across the hills, which they called the Darjeeling Carnival.

Jazz artiste Louis Banks, among others, had participated in the carnival. But it was stopped from 2007 on when the statehood agitation was renewed and tourism took a beating because of bandhs and highway blockades.

This time, the October season was promising but the September 18 earthquake, which devastated Sikkim, has had a ripple effect on Darjeeling. This is largely because tourists usually come on a Darjeeling-Sikkim package trip.

Pradip Tamang, the secretary of the Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents, said: “The October season looked very good this year but following the earthquake in Sikkim, I think we will lose about 20 per cent of the bookings. Many tour operators are trying to sell the Darjeeling-Dooars or Darjeeling-Kalimpong circuit but North Sikkim, which has been cut off this time, had always been a huge attraction,” said Tamang.

Around 3.5 lakh domestic tourists visit the Darjeeling hills annually. Half of this number usually come during the peak October-November season. Before the Sikkim earthquake, the hotels in Darjeeling were completely full for about the first 20 days of the season.

The administration is now banking on the festival to extend the season.

“Winter tourism is not much of a hit in Darjeeling. We now hope that the tourism festival will help extend the season right up to January,” said a district official.

The Darjeeling Carnival, too, used to be held in December with the aim of extending the season.

While many travel agents have welcomed the initiative, Tamang felt the administration should also look at improving the infrastructure.

“Only the tourism festival will not help if the infrastructure is bad. The administration must prioritise issues like upgrading roads across the hills,” said Tamang.

Source: The Telegraph