Not Digha, make Siliguri the Goa of Bengal

Opinion Honda Activa ad 2

By bappaditya paul

IN JULY Honda Motorcycle released a television commercial for its Activa 3G scooter. The still is from the one minute ad, filmed by the Indian arm of international Japanese advertising company Dentsu Marcom.

The ad kicks off with a group of people singing the retro hit Jhum jhum kauwa bhi dholak bajayacheel cheel chillaake…arey wah wah wah in a moving train that is passing through a picturesque hill terrain.

It is then that a singer spots the new Activa 3G passing by with a father-daughter duo on ride and the jingle is instantly twisted to Activah Vaah Vaah. The Activa and the train move together for a while amidst greenery and then bid adieu while crossing another Activa with a couple waving with joy.

Now, you must be thinking why the hell this article is spoiling your leisure by narrating a TV commercial! More so when many have seen the advertisement umpteen times.

For those who don’t know yet, the advertisement has been shot at the Siliguri end of Kurseong hill and the train is heritage Toy Train of Darjeeling. The places it shows include Garidhura, Dudhia, Tindharia and Sukna, which is barely 11 km from Siliguri town.

But then that’s not a big deal! Several Hindi movies have been shot in the past in Darjeeling. The last famous one was Barfi in 2012.

Those of you who have been to Goa, every now and then discover in TV ads and Hindi movies that several of them have been shot in Goa, in places like Fontainhas, Calangute beach, Fort Aguada and so on.

Compare the scale of ad or film shoots in Goa vis-à-vis Siliguri-Darjeeling and you will figure out, the beach capital of India is far ahead.

One simple reason for this is Goa’s proximity to Mumbai (Bollywood) ~ it is 609 km by road and an hour by flight. Siliguri on the other hand is located 2,246 km away. Going by the economy of film production, a film crew thus is unlikely to choose Siliguri over Mumbai.

There is another reason though. The pro-film shoot infrastructure and environment that Goa offers is unparalleled in India. Be it the large number of hotels, resorts, all-weather roads, a clean city and above all, a friendly people and political culture.

Compare this to the grater Siliguri. Despite a few star-rated hotels coming up off late, it till date will not be able to host high-class accommodation to 500 people at a time.

Most of the arterial roads such as Hill Cart Road, Bidhan Road and Sevoke Road remain chock-a-block for most of the times. Last week’s addition to this was massive water-logging ~ at least 20 per cent of which was the result of poor conservancy service.

Then, there are political rallies and protests every now and then that make commuting in Siliguri a real hazard. Sometimes, the Siliguri plains also compete with the ever restive Darjeeling Hills in calling snap bandhs.

Now the obvious question is: should Siliguri give up its political consciousness, bury the voice of dissent, throw away small-time vendors and transport operators from its streets so to make way for film shoots or song and dance, as many would love to call it?

The reply is: no. Just regulate all of them to make Siliguri a better place to live in and visit.

To begin with, in the short-run, earmark fixed stoppages for city-autos which are a major cause for traffic snarl and the noise they generate make one feel running away from Siliguri.

For the long-run, phase out the city-autos by placing an embargo on new permits. Do not wait for a Calcutta High Court to do this as it had been in the case of pushing out diesel-petro auto-rickshaws from Kolkata.

More small buses for city service, similar to the ones introduced with JnNURM funds in the past two-three years, will be a good replacement for city-autos.

A blanket ban on manual rickshaws from entering S F Road, Kachari Road, Hill Cart Road, Bidhan Road and Sevoke Road is another step needed to decongest Siliguri. Believe you me, people in developed cities will find it absurd on seeing that Siligurians want a rickshaw to commute within a half km radius of Bidhan Markat and Seth Srilal Market!

To compensate the rickshaws, reassign them to internal and para routes where people struggle to get one now. There will be hiccups initially, but one can stay assured by looking at the example in Kolkata that poor rickshaw pullers will not be robbed of livelihood

Next, earmark a centralised venue in the town for all sorts of protests, instead of hitting the Hill Cart Road and Hashmi Chowk that are a hot favourite for such manifestations in Siliguri as is Esplanade in Kolkata.

For example, Bagha Jatin ground can serve as the central venue for all demonstrations and protest gatherings. Given the spurt in media and the corresponding need for news, politicians and civil society groups can rest assured that reporters and cameras will hunt them even there.  

Next comes the issue of improving and creating infrastructure that can en-cash on Siliguri’s superb geographic position. It is such a lovely place where, if you are apprehensive of being booked for traffic violation now; a 10-minute drive later to the northeast direction, you should be careful of bumping on wild elephants!

Bengal government has taken two key steps towards this: the Gazaldoba Tourism Hub (about 20 km from Siliguri) and the Animal Safari Park at Shorea on the outskirts of Siliguri at an estimated cost of Rs 225 crore.

These two projects, if implemented as planned, will offer high-class accommodation to visitors and open up a new window for wildlife and leisure tourism in Siliguri.

They have the potential to draw ad and film shoots from Tollygunge film industry in a more organised and frequent manner. This is possible only if all stake holders, especially the local politicians, administration and hospitality industry work hand-in-hand.

From this point of view, instead of Digha as Mamata Banerjee desires, Siliguri has all the potential to become the Goa of Bengal. Surely, this is not too much to wish for on World Tourism Day!

(Bappaditya Paul is editor of NEWSMEN, West Bengal, India. This article first appeared on www.newsmen.in on 27 September 2015.) 

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