Holiday To J&K Turns Into Nightmare For Bengal Tourists

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Forces personnel wearing protective face mask stand guard on a deserted street in Jammu (PTI Photo)

Jammu-  A 14-member group from West Bengal, on a trip to Jammu and Kashmir, has been stuck at a hotel here for over a month now due to the lockdown and are surviving on contributions from locals, police and NGOs after running out of money.

The group, comprising members of an extended family, including six women and four children, reached Jammu on its maiden trip to the Union territory on March 15 and were scheduled to return by train on March 30.

But hopes of a memorable holiday quickly turned into a nightmare when the central government put the country under lockdown on March 25 to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Resources exhausted, the group now desperately wants to be evacuated at the earliest.

“The announcement by the Centre to allow movement of stranded persons came as a big relief for us. We have been stranded here for a long time now and need to be evacuated to our homes without any further delay,” Arijit Das (48), a resident of Nabapally Barasat in North 24 Parganas, told PTI here.

Das, a private tutor, said two days have passed since the government made the announcement but “we do not know how to get shifted from here to our home state”.

He appreciated the residents of Jammu for their hospitality and philanthropic approach towards them. “They ensured that we stay alive!”

“We have exhausted all our money and are living on the contributions from various persons over the past one month,” Das said.

The family appealed to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to come to its rescue.

“The Jammu and Kashmir government has come out with detailed information about the evacuation of its citizens stranded in other parts of the country. We are also looking towards ‘Didi’ (WB CM) so that we can reach our homes,” Tapan Das, another member of the group, said.

He said they had planned the trip to cover various areas of Jammu and Kashmir with hopes of a memorable experience.

“The trip kicked off on a positive note with a visit to the Vaishno Devi Shrine, where we offered our prayers soon after our arrival in Jammu on March 15. After visiting various temples and other places of interest here, we started for Srinagar on March 17 and had a bad experience when we were left stranded on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway for two days due to a landslide,” Tapan Das recalled.

He said they reached Srinagar to experience curfew-like restrictions imposed by the local administration to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“The pandemic not only marred our trip but also left us high and dry with no immediate end to our miseries in sight. We had planned to visit the famous tourist resorts of Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg in the Valley but were not allowed by police,” Arijit Das said.

Arijit, who is accompanied by his parents, sisters and brothers-in-law, said they enjoyed sightseeing at the Dal Lake and visited the Mughal Gardens in Srinagar before returning to Jammu on the night of March 22.

“We booked a hotel next to the historic Raghunath Mandir in Hari Market and all our money got exhausted by April 1 after getting caught in the lockdown. The hotel owner is a very nice person who handed over his kitchen to us to prepare our meals.

“After coming to know about us, the local residents came forward with rice, biscuits and tea and the NGOs, social groups, police and others helped fulfil our daily needs. We are thankful to the people for their gesture,” he said.

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