For generations it has been known as a capital of love. Honeymooners and couples, real and on-screen, have long headed to Darjeeling for its cool air and romantic vistas. Every evening, couples can be spotted enjoying easy strolls along roads such as the Mall, built back in days of British rule.
But such a reputation may be coming to an end. Gorkha separatists fighting for their own state, who control the Darjeeling area in north-east India, are carrying out "moral policing" to stop couples kissing in public or engaging in other behaviour deemed inappropriate.
This week, members of a self-styled police force who are now carrying out some of the duties once performed by regular officers, harangued a couple simply for taking a saunter while holding hands. "Do we have to get your permission even to procreate?" the couple reportedly retorted.
The staff-wielding moral vigilantes, dressed in green and yellow tracksuits, go by the name of the Gorkhaland Personnel (GLP), an organisation of young people initially established by the separatists to direct traffic and provide security at political meetings. But as the grip of the separatists has become increasingly firm since they formed a new party, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), two years ago, the activities of the security squads have grown and become more controversial.
Locals said that while they tolerated the squads seizing illicit liquor being smuggled in from neighbouring Sikkhim, the latest activity was completely unacceptable.
"They are gradually turning into another Bajrang Dal, Sri Ram Sena or a Shiv Sena [all right-wing Hindu nationalist groups] for the colourful, fun-loving youth here," one Darjeeling resident told The Telegraph of Calcutta .
The GJM, which wants to create a state of Gorkhaland while remaining part of India, now effectively controls the Darjeeling hills, famous around the world for its delicate-tasting teas. The GJM says the West Bengal state government, located in Kolkata, has long ignored the Darjeeling area, leaving it underdeveloped and with inadequate infrastructure.
A senior leader, Roshan Giri, denied that the GLP had been acting in such a way and said the reported incidents were "a misunderstanding".
However, Colonel Ramesh Allay, head of the GLP, confirmed that a young couple had been approached. He said they had been kissing in public, not simply holding hands.
"We are a very free, happy-go-lucky society, but at the same time kissing is not allowed in public," he said. "It's not our tradition."Reuse content