The country is known as a summer and winter sports paradise. It hosts cosmopolitan cities like Geneva, Zurich, Basel, as well as several enchanting towns. The major airport of Switzerland is at Zurich, main railway connections are to Geneva ,Zurich and Basel. Tourism began with British mountaineers climbing the main peaks of the Bernese Alps in the early 19th century, Jungfrau in 1811 and Finsteraarhornin in 1812. The Alpine Club in London was founded in 1857. Since then the flow of tourists continued in Switzerland.
The same story occurred in Darjeeling also which may be called the ‘Queen of the Hills’. Tiger Hill situated at an altitude of 2590 meters providing the view of Mount Everest, the Batasia Loop providing a view of the Kanchen Junga range, rock garden and May park giving the view of natural waterfalls, the oldest Botanical Garden named as Lloyd Botanical Garden with varieties of flora and two living fossils, the Rangit valley cable car, Senchal Lake, Happy Valley Tea Garden, zoological parks and monasteries make Darjeeling an ever attractive tourist spot.
It was the biggest Kolkata joke that Mamata Banerjee will make Kolkata London, give Sunderbans the exotic experience of African safaris and make Darjeeling Switzerland. Unfazed by such jokes of her enemies, Mamata is undertaking a bigger plan of exploring the tourism potential of Darjeeling. Of late, Mamata reiterated her promise during the swearing-in of the members of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration last week to make Darjeeling Switzerland and she looked quite serious.
There are many in the state to take potshots on Mamata Banerjee by saying that Switzerland is not one city and the entire hills had to be developed if her dream of turning Darjeeling into the European country is to be realised. Darjeeling alone cannot be Switzerland. But there is no denying that Darjeeling is Indian counterpart of Switzerland. It is a gem in the crown of the Himalayas.
Located in the cozy land inviting lap of the Kanchen Junga, Darjeeling is the dramatic land which is amazingly blessed with the superb beauty of nature, fantastic sightseeing places, ornamental monasteries, mystic hills, alluring tea gardens, refreshing and healthy climatic condition and warm hospitality. Travelling in Darjeeling is also like walking along the memory lanes during the time of the British Raj. It is in a true sense a paradise on earth as the showers of blessing from the heaven are poured in the form of idyllic beauty, blissful ambience and cool weather conditions, which keep this scenic hill town pure and pristine all the year round.
Tourism in Darjeeling as in Switzerland has great potential for it supports medical tourism, eco tourism, and bio tourism. The area can be developed as Switzerland if various (tourism) hubs in the region are developed. The NH55 should remain open throughout the year. There is a big need to improve railways and air connectivity in the region and specific projects like beautifying the Mirik lake and the ropeway are to be undertaken. In a word, the possibilities and potentials are tremendous. The point is to translate the dream into reality by conceiving concrete projects. Eco-tourism policy for Darjeeling is ready. The master plan for tourism development is underway, and once completed and implemented, the region will literally turn into Switzerland.
All this will be done under the 'Destination Darjeeling' project. Under the project, everything from installing street lamps and sign ages on roads, to sanitary development and garbage disposal will be done. Six railway projects have been unveiled, including a modern printing press and basic training centre at the neighbouring hill town Kurseong, a filter manufacturing plant and a multi-functional complex building at Siliguri in the plains. A new line has been set from siligury to Kalimpong via Batasia loop and Ghum. A tourist information centre (TIC) will shortly be set up in the picturesque Mall, the tourist hub of Darjeeling town. A tea tourism festival and an orange festival will also be held, with the former being organised from Dec 20 to Jan 5. Besides, Rs.28 crore parking lot and a Rs.3 crore stadium will be set up.
Air-conditioned buses will soon connect Darjeeling to various important centres. Rs. 56 crore will be provided for developing drinking water facilities in the region and establish 100 primary and upper-primary schools. The government will also upgrade hospitals and health centres in the area. An international research centre named after Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and a Nepali academy named after poet Bhanubhakta will also come up at Kalimpong's Mongpu.
In addition to the beautification of stations, tourist lodges will be renovated and upgraded. A trekking route will be created from Moniganj to Sandakphu. With private participation, four ropeways would also be installed. The other areas adjacent to Darjeeling should also be developed simultaneously as attractive tourist spots. Natural beauty is there and the only thing that is needed is care and a sense of beauty. Development has become the main mantra now in the hills. “The state government is there with you.” said the elated Chief Minister of West Bengal during the swearing-in ceremony of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM). The CPI(M) is visibly in the most uncomfortable position as during the Left rule in West Bengal, the Plains-Hills fight reached an ugly nadir, and bandhs, strikes, and killings made the country concerned. The separatist thoughts got a boost. The earlier Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya didn't dare to go to the hills. But Mamata Banerjee came, saw and conquered. It is another feather in the crown of Mamata Banerjee. Now people are hopeful that tourism will be boosted in Darjeeling as it happened once in Switzerland.
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