Millions of tourists visit Darjeeling every year. Ilam is not far away from Darjeeling, nor is it any less beautiful, according to visitors. However, lack of immigration department in the border keeps them from making the pristine location their next destination, locals feel.
“I was aware of Ilam’s beauty while I was still in my country. I knew it was breathtakingly beautiful. But, I was disappointed that it was not easy to enter Ilam from India through the border,” said a German national Thomas Adron who was on a visit to Darjeeling with a group. “Tourists traveling to Darjelling cannot enter Nepal through the border. Lack of such facility hindered us from visiting Nepal and I think similar must be the cases for others like us,” he added. Pashupatinagar is around 50 kilometers away from Darjeeling.
In lack of government office to handle immigration in Ilam’s headquarters Pashupatinagar, tourists either return from the Indian soil or get into Nepal through Kakadbhitta border. Few take hassles to reach out to Ilam while many travel to Kathmandu or Pokhara. And this is a huge setback for Ilam’s tourism development and prosperity, tourism entrepreneur claim.
“Darjeeling is ever full of tourists. Just kilometers away, there’s Ilam which has no less tourism potential. However, where there’s no direct way to come here, people hesitate,” said Milan Chhetri, a local businessman.
While the lack of the facility of direct entry to Ilam discourages other tourists, Indians however do come to Pashupatinagar and other parts of Ilam, Chhetri informed. He added that ‘half an hour of Nepal visit’ is in fact normally in ‘Darjeeling visit’ package of the tourists and Indians use the opportunity to shop around. “As they get to buy things in NC, they are excited. For Indians, visa is no problem,” he said. “But tourists from other nations that require visa to enter Nepal have to return without witnessing Ilam’s beauty.”
Chhetri claimed that Ilam would not have to depend on other resources for prosperity, even if it is able to attract only a few of the tourists that Darjeeling receives. Every single local in Ilam would be busy in one or the other kind of job related to tourism, he claims.
“A huge number of tourists visit Darjeeling every year. We would not have to do anything else if only few of them could be brought here. Unfortunately, our own inability in paving way for them to enter Nepal has kept the tourists away and deprived our tourism industry of huge business source,” he said. “Tourism would boom dramatically if we had immigration facility here in Pashupatinagar,” he added.
A few months ago, a jumbo team consisting of tourism entrepreneurs, businessmen and local political leaders from Ilam had reached out to Kolkota of India to launch ‘Chalo Ilam’ (Let’s visit Ilam) campaign, he informed. “However, the campaigners, we came to know later, were advertising that entry to Ilam is through Kakdabhitta. They should have told it’s through Pashupatinagar,” Chhetri shared, adding that Pashupatinagar is still quite in shadow.
Sandakpur, the tallest mountain in Ilam, is a popular tourist destination for its offer of special view, including a great view of the Mount Everest. Millions of tourists land on the Indian side of Sandakpur every year. Tourism related organizations even organize ‘Cycle race competition’ annually here. However, foreigners who come so near to Nepal can’t make it into Nepal due to unavailability of visa facilities at Pashupatinagar.
“If we have immigration office in Pashupatinagar, foreigners who come to Sandakpur would find it easy to come to Nepal. They would love to visit Ilam, Maimjhuwa, Mabu and Jamuna, which is famous for Red Panda and other wildlife species,” explained Rularam Gurung, a local of Mamjhuwa village. “Tourists want to visit Ilam and we want welcome them, but the government is not facilitating. This has been incurring huge loss to us and the whole nation.” he added.
Tourist Information Center in Jhapa – Ilam border states that around 16,000 tourists visit Ilam annually. This is the data of registered names. District Develop Committee of Ilam believes that the number is way higher than that if internal tourists and Indians are counted. “No wonder, millions come here to visit different places. However, it would make huge difference to the development of Ilam if we could target foreigners. Only if we could bring in 5 percent of tourists visiting Darjeeling, Ilam would be a different place in little time,” stated Keshab Dhaurali, executive director of Tourism Development Committee of Ilam.