Durga Puja has started early for tourism in Darjeeling and the rest of north Bengal as train tickets, flight seats and hotel rooms fly offline and online. The Puja boost and a bountiful tourism summer follow an anaemic 2017, during which the 104-day statehood agitation in the hills left businesses bleeding and scared off tourists, a large number of them from Calcutta. The sizzle has returned this summer, reflecting in the surge of tourists to the hills and nearby destinations, including Sikkim. “It has been a good season and we believe the run will extend till the middle of July. For the Durga Puja and Diwali season, the prospects seem good since tickets for travel by most trains during the holiday dates have sold out within a few days of bookings starting. Flight fares for that period have also started ascending,” said Sandipan Ghosh, the general secretary of the Eastern Himalaya Travel & Tour Operators’ Association. Travel agents in Siliguri and in the hills said tickets for travel by most north Bengal-bound trains from Calcutta during the festival period were gobbled up in a matter of days. Ditto for trains going to the Northeast via north Bengal from various parts of the country. “The waiting lists for the second week of October are long. This is a clear signal that tourist inflow will be good this festival season,” said the owner of a travel agency. A hotelier with properties in Darjeeling and Sikkim said bookings were “quite high”, particularly in the mid-range. “Reservations for Durga Puja and Diwali holidays have started in hotels where the tariffs are between Rs 2,000 and Rs 5,000 a day for a room. Train reservations for Diwali have yet to open, but people from various states are already booking accommodation,” he said. Tour operator Samrat Sanyal said the festival season could be just what tourism in north Bengal needs.
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