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India’s one of the most charming and sought after hill stations, Darjeeling is now buzzing with talks about football. Prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, this week, the queen of hills is surrounded by flags as it has been seen as a great opportunity to celebrate the spirit of the city, attract more tourists and forget the violence of the previous year.

Last year, due to prolonged violence, protests and strikes that led to the death of 13 people, had affected the tourism industry here in Darjeeling. The hotel industry, tea industry, banking services and local business were severely hit and they suffered huge losses.

Photo: Rajorshi Das| LBN

This year, some non-government organizations (NGOs) and Darjeeling’s famous St Joseph and North Point schools have taken up an initiative to paint and decorate the flags of 32 countries participating in the FIFA World Cup. Apart from the superlative beauty of this place, the roads leading to Darjeeling mall now looks vibrant and you will come across many football crazy faces.

Over the years, football has been more popular than cricket here, and therefore this year Darjeeling will celebrate it in an extravagant manner. This year, a month-long programme has been organized to keep the zeal and fervor of the football alive.

LifeBeyondNumbers got in touch with a group of school children, who were taking a break from their monotonous routine by holding paint brushes instead of books. Talking about their favorite teams- Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, one of them said, “We see these carnivals happening in Goa and Kolkata and we haven’t witnessed something this grand here before, so we are happy to be a part of the event.

Being a taxi driver in the morning and a tourist guide by evening, Kapil Rai (35) says, “football fever is so high here that people have already started betting among themselves regarding their favorite teams.  There is no doubt that football always has, always will rule this city.

School Children in Darjeeling. Photo: Rajorshi Das| LBN

A survey conducted by the Integrated Counseling and Testing Centre (ICTC) in 2011, Darjeeling counted 359 people with HIV/AIDS, while 25,644 persons had undergone tests for the disease. Further in 2014, another survey by the West Bengal State AIDS Control Society (WBSACS) detected around 40,000 people who are living with HIV/AIDS in the state. Darjeeling is vulnerable to this disease because of lack of awareness among people and also due to poverty.

Thus, a fundraising event called Positive Haat was also organized from June 2-3 to support families living with HIV in Darjeeling. People are celebrating football fever in the hill station, so it was a huge opportunity to raise funds for a noble cause, said 19-year old Gaurav Chhetri, a college student to LifeBeyondNumbers.

In a press statement, Darjeeling North Point School Alumni Association (DNPSAA) President Dev Gurung said, “We owe everything to this place and the herculean task at hand is to establish to the rest of the world that peace and normalcy have returned to the Queen of the Hills. The future of the town in different respects including tourism and education depends on this. We chose to use the World Cup football tournament for this as football is favorite sports of Darjeeling. We are transforming Darjeeling to a World Cup Town from June 2.