TOURISM: Rafts back on Teesta – strict rules in place yet to avoid further disasters ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Kalimpong, Nov. 5: Rafting on the Teesta resumed yesterday after five months with over 60 tourists taking the adventure sail down the green waters of the river.
The water sport on the Teesta had been suspended since May when four persons, all local people, had drowned after a raft on a search mission capsized near Reang, about 7km downstream from Teesta Bazar. Following the incident, the family members of the victims had refused to allow rafting in the river till those responsible for the mishap were brought to book and strict rules put in place for operating rafting units.
Yesterday, only 12 rafts operated after an understanding was reached between the tourism department of the DGHC and owners of the 24 rafting units of Melli and Teesta Bazar. Only rafts in excellent condition under experienced river guides will be allowed to operate to avoid any mishap.
“Keeping in view that a number of local youths were employed as river guides and helpers in rafting units and to attract tourists to the area, the aggrieved families relented. Consequently, the tourism department has allowed the resumption of rafting under its supervision. Only rafts in good condition and with experienced guides will be allowed to operate,” said Sukbir Lama, the vice-president of the Teesta-Rangit Raft Owners’ Association.
Lama said the tourism department and the raft owners had also agreed to provide expert training to river guides in January. “Experts from the National Institute of Water Sports will conduct the training and give licences to the river guides.”
The two highway hamlets of Teesta and Melli have 24 private rafting units with 45 to 50 rafts. According to Lama, rafting units provide direct employment to about 150 people and more than 200 people from the two villages benefit indirectly. The rafting season lasts for about nine months from September to May. (depending very much on the vagaries of the weather upstream – any EWS monitoring on that ?!!)
The rafting begins at Labarbote, near Melli, and culminates at two different points. The shorter trip of about seven kilometres is till Ravi Jhora and the longer trip ends a further three kilometres downstream at Baluakhani in 29 Mile. “We charge Rs 350 per head for the shorter trip and Rs 450 per head for the longer one,” Lama said.