NEW DELHI, March 2 (IANS): The Sikkim government has taken a number of steps to strengthen infrastructure and improve facilities to attract tourists to the Kanchenjunga, India's highest peak in the Himalayas, state tourism minister said.
According to Sikkim Tourism Minister Bhim Dhungel, around eight lakh tourists visit the state annually to have a glimpse of five sacred peaks of Kanchenjunga and the number is likely to go up to 15 lakh in next five years.
The minister said the government has taken a number of steps to improve infrastructure and ensure modern tourism facilities, with a view to attract higher number of visitors.
�The government has started 15 minutes' helicopter service from state capital Gangtok to provide visitors breathtaking views of the pristine beauty of sacred peaks, which assume different colours during different times of the day,� Dhungel said in a statement here.
The helicopter service is available round the year on demand. Last year, 400 such mountain flights were organised and the government intends to increase the frequency of Kanchenjunga flights to 1,000 a year in next five years.
Located at 28,169 feet (8,586 metres) from sea level, the Kanchenjunga is the highest Himalayan peak in India and the third tallest in the world. It can be viewed from most part of Sikkim and attracts a large number of domestic as well as international tourists.
The Kanchenjunga is considered a sacred mountain by the natives of Sikkim and is the guardian deity of the Sikkimese people.
Dhungel said Sikkim has the potential to become the Switzerland of the East and the government is taking all possible steps to capitalise on the state's natural beauty.
Tourism is a key contributor to Sikkim's economy. The government is focusing on attracting new segments of tourists and trying hard to provide more options for the adventure tourists who constitute about 70 percent of the market.
�We will strengthen the tourism infrastructure at vintage points at Rabong, Kaluk, Mangan and Pelling by providing various incentives and facilities to hospitality sector for setting up new home stay units, village resorts and yatri niwas (tourist inns) to provide additional accommodation facilities for visiting tourists,� said the minister.
He said the government would also provide modern facilities at Kaluk, Tashi view point, Mangan and Pangthang base points from where clear view of all 28 snow capped peaks can be seen.