Hundreds of Kolkatans, who had been confined to their homes for months, found a reason to cheer. The long weekend — courtesy back-to-back lockdowns followed by a Sunday — gave them the breather they were looking for all these months. The state has withdrawn Saturday’s lockdown but there is hardly anyone who has changed his/her plan. By Thursday evening, most of them left for their favourite weekend destinations by the sea, on the mountains as well as in the plains.
With most hotels and resorts in Digha, Mandarmani, Diamond Harbour, Raichak, Bolpur and even some homestays and hotels in Darjeeling (which opened for tourists this week) being booked to capacity, hoteliers believed this would be the most crowded weekend. They felt this would be on a par with the Independence Day weekend, when the tourist hubs had registered record bookings for the first time during the pandemic.
“Tourists started driving in from Thursday afternoon to spend the weekend. All hotels have stocked up to ensure patrons do not face any trouble and do not have to go outside on locked-down Friday,” said Bipradas Chatterjee of Digha Hoteliers’ Association.
The rush at Mandarmani is even more with several tourists heading for the beach even without prior bookings. Many claimed they had trouble getting rooms with all major hotels being packed to capacity. “It was a late decision on our part to come over to the beach for the weekend and we were turned down by at least three hotels in Mandarmani before we managed to get two rooms in a hotel where we hadn’t stayed earlier,” said Aritra Saha, a Beliaghata resident, who reached Mandarmani with friends on Thursday evening.
Along with budget hotels, fancy resorts across multiple weekend destinations were sold out. “Both our resorts in Raichak — Ganga Kutir and Amaya Kutir — are sold out for the weekend,” said Nitin Kohli, director Ambuja Neotia Hospitality. Raju Singh, the manager at Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge, too, said while most of the rooms had been booked, many tourists without booking drove in late on Thursday.
The rush of the people driving out of the city was evident with the snarls on both sides of the second Hooghly bridge. Motorists claimed it took them more than an hour to reach NH-6 from Park Circus crossing in the afternoon.
With most flights to Bagdogra packed, tour operators in Darjeeling and Kalimpong said they were hopeful of tourism picking up after over two months. “We shall be able to serve better once all our staffers return,” said Pradip Lama, secretary of Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents.