Friday, May 06, 2011

No tourist vehicle after 11 a.m to Tsomgo and Nathula allowed

GANGTOK, 05 May: The unreliability of the Jawaharlal Nehru Road [JNR] to Tsomgo and Nathula has proved a major setback for everyone involved in the tourism sector here. Frequent breakdowns in the connectivity status has led to stranded tourists requiring elaborate, and often dangerous, evacuation efforts. Now, the tourism stakeholders and BRO officials have agreed on a timing regime to streamline traffic on this axis to ensure better monitoring for everyone’s convenience.
Vehicles headed for Tsomgo and Nathula are now required to be on their way up by 11 a.m., after which no tourist vehicle will be allowed through the check-post above Gangtok. These vehicles will now have to start the return journey from Tsomgo latest by 3 p.m.
With JN Road blocked at two major trouble spots at 9th Mile and 13th Mile, the road has remained closed for the past three days. With 112 vehicles packed with tourists stranded on the wrong side of the slides on 2 May eventually evacuated, a meeting between all concerned authorities and stakeholders has thought it necessary to streamline responses to such situations.

Even earlier, on the night of 30 April around 90 vehicles packed with tourists had to be rescued, which explains the necessity to amend timings and let the BRO who have been entrusted the job of double- laning, expedite back-cutting works on a “faster-pace”.
At present, an average of 240 tourist vehicles ply from Gangtok to Tsomgo Baba Mandir and another 75 vehicles upto Nathula which is expected to rise to more than 500 vehicles by mid- May, when “season” sets in it is learnt.
All vehicles plying tourists to these most sort-after tourist destinations will be moving along JN Road as per a new time schedule starting tomorrow, Friday.
All tourist and private vehicles will be required to cross over to the destinations by 11am which shall be manned by the security personnel posted at 3 Mile police check-post [the first entry point towards Nathula] and will have to leave Tsomgo Lake at 3pm.
The new rule was decided today at a meeting held between various tourism stake-holders in Gangtok- the Travel Agents Association of Sikkim, JN Road Taxi drivers association, officials of the Border Roads Organisation [BRO] and officials of the police check-posts.
The meeting was attended by the outgoing tourism Secretary, SBS Bhadauria, the new Secretary N.Yethenpa, the Chief Engineer of the BRO’s Project Swastik Brigadier Rajeev Sahani and the TAAS president Lukendra Rasaily.
According to the TAAS President, the “high level” meeting, which is the first of its kind to be organized here informed that the new timings will not only streamline the movement of the tourist vehicles on this road but will also allow the BRO to deploy more manpower and machines to facilitate convenient vehicular traffic, predominantly during the monsoon season which brings landslides along JN Road.
The TAAS president added that a strict adherence to the new time schedule will prevent incidents of the tourists getting stranded due to inclement weather to a large extent.
“A rescue operation orchestrated by additional director, Tourism, Nima Choden, PI. Checkposts, Savatri Pradhan and SI.check-posts, Choley Bhutia on the night of 30 April which evacuated 90 vehicles filled with tourists was commendable and thus we needed to discuss these problems since the road is very unpredictable because of the inclement weather”, informed the TAAS president .
It may be informed that the BRO Chief Engineer after hearing the tribulations during the meeting directed that JCB Excavators will be stationed at three locations between 7th and 17th Mile along the road for immediate clearance of passage. The CE also directed that manpower/ road-gangs along the road will be increased keeping in view the change in timings for entry and exit into JN Road.
The BRO CE, assured that different areas along the road which have now become difficult, for drivers to negotiate because of the heavy slush caused by back cutting works shall also be cleared within six days.
It was also decided that all tourism stakeholders including travel and tour operators strictly adhere to the timings. Vehicles won’t be allowed passage after the specified timings. Further, it was also urged that the operators ensure sensitizing tourists about the change in timings to avoid unforeseen inconveniences.
Representatives of the Police check-posts while sharing their views on the change in timings said that the development would prove to be beneficial during evacuation times since vehicles will move while there was daylight which would help in mobilizing efficient operations. It was also decided that the check-post shall provide permits through advance bookings as well.
The meeting also emphasized on regular and enhanced coordination between all agencies involved for effective rescue operations.

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