The prolonged agitation in the Darjeeling Hills in West Bengal since June over a separate Gorkhaland state has badly hit the tourism industry of Sikkim.
According to the data made available by the tourism department, the landlocked Northeast state received a lowly 1,000 foreign tourists and 8,931 domestic visitors in July this year.
The month of August was no better with only 1,043 foreign and 12,680 domestic tourists visiting the hill state, which is known for its picturesque locales such as Nathu-la Pass bordering China and Gurudongmar Lake.
Before the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) declared an indefinite shutdown in Darjeeling Hills on June 15, Sikkim was flush with tourists – both foreign and domestic.
The state had received a record 11.70 lakh tourists, including 25,585 foreigners, in the first six months of 2017.
But after the agitation began in Darjeeling in June and incidents of violence were reported, tourists cancelled their hotel bookings in Sikkim.
To reach Sikkim by road, rail or air, a tourist has to pass through Darjeeling Hills. The state is yet to be in the air or rail map of India.
Sikkim Hotel and Restaurant Association president Pema Lamtha said 70-80 per cent tourists cancelled their hotel bookings since July after violence broke out in Darjeeling.
The GJM suspended the 104-day-long shutdown in Darjeeling Hills on September 27 but the situation was far from being rosy as yet. “Booking stands at almost nil for winter months (October to December),” she said.
Sonam Norgay Lachungpa, the regional coordinator (North East) of Tour and Travel Agents Association of Sikkim (TASS), urged the State and Central Governments to find a way out to delink the hill State’s tourism activities with issues of another State.
He, however, exuded optimism that if Darjeeling remained peaceful over the next couple of months, the tourism industry in Sikkim might return to near normal.