So here we were, Poonam Didi and me (on the right, big specs!), having finally haggled with the rickshaw puller to take us to the ‘Jeep Stand’ for 10 bucks from near ‘Kaku’s Dukaan’. After initial turmoil, thanks to my mercurial stomach which was rather pissed at the onslaught of ‘Rasogullas’ and ‘Ghee’ that it was faced with during Pritam Dada’s marriage affair, we were rollicking on our way to Darjeeling !
Cheers to the Musketeers !
Having found ourselves seat no. 1 and 2 in the Jeep which proclaimed to be the first in queue to leave for Darjeeling, Didi and I were busy discussing our plans as we had only a few hours to spend. A Tata Sumo that carries 10 or 11 people, excluding the driver ( in either 3-4-4 or a 2-4-4 formation) is the most popular means of transport from Siliguri to the Himalayan hills. Always a thrilling ride, even if the faces here do not say so!
There are 3 ways of getting to the hills – the long and safe road (read boring), the ‘Pankhabari’ (roughly fan like road, one over the other) and the mean of the two called the ‘Rohini road’. The average road was closed for construction and the jeep was in a hurry, so naturally we were headed for the dreaded ‘Pankhabari’. You know what it is only when you see what it is ! The hills can be seen far off and the trees are glad to wave us goodbye.
Here we come!
Cool breeze, respite from the treacherous scorching July heat, nice grassy mountains, easy going and gay hill folks, the tracks for the ‘Heritage Toy Train’, the jeeps and a little bit of sunshine creeping out from beyond the mixture of fog and cloud. We have entered the hill finally !
Home is where the heart is.
The best thing about roads in the mountains according to me are the cement barricades, however small and insignificant they may be. It gives me a sort of assurance that the vehicle i am in wont topple over. Because, that’s a constant thing going on in my head – “Crap! we are going to fall!”.
Thank God for road constructors!
I was insisting my sister to go on the toy train. But, apparently in the time that the train takes to reach, we would have been back to our home in Siliguri. Built by the British, it is a heritage thing. It chugs along using a lot of coal and puffing a lot of smoke. The tracks scare me because i doubt they are maintained and they are so small – Like 2 feet wide- how can a train run on it. I had to see one to believe it. At places it was supported on just wood! That scared the crap out of me.
Through a ‘Jeepy carriage’ ?
Next pit stop – Ghum. Why is it famous? At 2226m, it is the highest railway station in all of India. Pretty nondescript at that. Idyllic place with a lot of people looking for place to sit in the jeep to go upto ‘Kurseong’ or ‘Darjeeling’. They keep pestering the driver to adjust somehow when there is no possible way to fit in another person! The famous adage of ‘Adjust karo’ does not wane with altitude!
Aao nacho ghumo ?
For those of you who wonder how a ‘Toy train station nameplate’ would look like.
A bogey of the Toy train. See the little ‘Gorkhey’ written on it. Well that’s the pride of ‘Gurkha’s’ who inhabit this place and have been fighting for a state – Freedom anyone ? I doubt it.
Proud to be one of them!
Destination Darjeeling reached. The main town though is a little farther from the Station. See the fog? Brrrr. It was just the perfect weather back there back then.
Finally, we were on foot and headed towards the Rink Mall, which was previously The rink Cinema, where my father used to go to watch movies during his hey-days. A Domino’s outlet had recently opened therein. The same road leads onto the heart of Darjeeling and then onward to the ‘Chowrasta’. Met Rewat kaku, who works at Axis bank there and went to a shop to have the famous ‘Aloo Dum’ of Darjeeling (opposite to something called the ‘Benny’s’. It is basically A potato gravy that is made to look red in color by adding artificial color, usually ‘Kashmere Mirch’ (chilly). This gravy is then pampered with local chips and ‘Bhujiya’. The icing though is the selection of having it put into a packet of chips of your choice. I and Didi choose ‘Cheeseballs’ while Kaku choose ‘Lays american’. Extremely delicious and i have water coming out of my mouth even as I write this. As I was to find out, people here loved potatoes – gravy or fried or anyhow. And I love potatoes too. So it was natural that I loved them!
“Jab tak darjeeling me hai Aloo … ” (Oho!)
The agitation for a ‘Gorkhaland’ (land of the Gurkhas) is something very close to the hearts of many (rather all) Indian Nepalese because it is like a dream or a vision- it is a quest for identity and for respect. But, is it worth the vagaries and vexes of strike or of loosing the lives of temperamental youths or of dirty politics that fiddles with the emotions of the people? I do not know. But i think it would for our entire community to stand up to the world and broaden their perspective on life and get on with doing things instead of living a sedate life in the hills asking for a state. It is time that young Indian Nepalese came to the forefront in various fields and show the world what they are made of. Saying so, having a Gorkhaland would go a long way in this regard.
Jai maa Kali, Ayo Gorkhali!
You of course! Didi with her 4 beautiful eyes! (:-)) Waiting for ‘momos’ to be served. A little lunch break before going for a long hike to the zoo. We waited for around 20 minutes for 8 pieces of Vegetable Momos which cost us around 40 bucks. In the land of Momos ? We got a seriously rotten deal. But the Momos were soft and well steamed, if that was some consolation.
Well that’s just me at the same restaurant, looking thinner than usual and cursing the waitress for starving us like that.
May be that’s why i looked thinner?
Bhanubhakta Acharya the great poet who translated The Ramayana from Sanskrit to Nepali. Although born and raised in Nepal, the nepalese in Darjeeling and Sikkim revere him as ‘Nepal’s Original Poet’ (Nepalko Adikavi) and celebrate ‘Bhanubhakta Jayanti’ (Birthday) on July 13th, which is coincidentally today !
Happy Birthday Bhanubhakta Acharya Ji !
Originally the famous Loreto College famous for its dames. The name has changed to Southfield, but the fame ? Who knows?
Certainly a great place to use your head!
An imposing structure, still under construction, whose purpose deluded my small brain. As is with huge structures, it awes you with its presence, specially at a place so high up in the hills. Made of white marble, it has a Stone statue of Lord Saraswati (God of knowledge), playing tranquilly on her Veena.
I keep wondering what they will do in it.
Set of pictures from ‘Kanchenjunga view point’, which we almost missed as the sign board was hidden behind a pine tree. Awesome view, unrestricted by tall mountains and untainted by roads or houses, they gave a nice view of snow capped mountains. However, there were no telescopes, which should have been placed for the tourists and there was no one to tell you which of the mountain was actually Kanchenjunga. Just a bunch of hapless young lovers and a lot of cloud cover. So probably even if someone was out there, the peak would not have been visible.
What a waste of a view!
Well, dogs are supposed to be loyal, aren’t they? But this one went out of its way to save the animals of the zoo from poachers and was martyred in the process. And thus he got a well deserved tombstone and a permanent place in a world which is no longer its abode!
First up inside the zoo, having relieved my bladder of excess fluid, i came face to face with the shy, cute and tender Red Panda, indigenous to the Himalayas. According to Didi, they usually climb trees or hide their faces in their rears so that the tourists have a hard time seeing their faces. But on that fateful day, all the Pandas had become bold and were roaming around with a ‘you-don’t-mess-with-me’ attitude. Really cute and adorable. I was thinking of taking one off as a pet, but was reminded that i would be put in Jail for that. (‘would’, not ‘could’).
Does the Red one also know Kung- fu ?
I felt really sad for this creature- a giant Himalayan Bear enclosed in a not-so-giant enclosure. It was visibly miffed as it kept walking up and down the same patch of road deeply engrossed in its thought. Probably scheming an escape? Who knows. If i could, i would have just taken him out and told him to go enjoy the forests. Sadly I can not. Strangely, the only thing that kept it from escape was a trench dug all around its place. Are they afraid to jump ? I do not know.
Fear binds even the strongest !
The celebrity mountain sheep. It was perched on the top most point and surveying the entire place like a cartographer. No clue as to why. He was probably missing the views from mountain tops. Poor fellow. But he was the shutterbugs delight in the absolute way. If he could stand on two legs and flourish out a sword, he could probably charge the entire zoo folks for a revolutions against the tyrannical Homo sapiens, conspicuously missing from the enclosures in the zoo.
Nay! He cant wield a sword. Only He-man can!
One of my favorite animal – the leopard. Sleek-strong-sensuous and thus sexy. Elegantly designed by the designer. I wonder how it survives in such a small enclosure. Men are really cruel. But then, in the open they would be killed by poachers. Men again! Sigh!
The better of two worses.
No. Not Saurav Ganguly. Just another tiger suffering from Jungle-sickness. It kept pacing around the same patch over and over again. Such a fine structure and an even finer coat.
A tiger is made to hunt, not to be fed.
Just what it says. Would certainly like to come here sometime when i have nothing else to do and take a course on mountain climbing and probably go trekking. Dearest life I hope you are hearing and will comply.
‘From peak to peak, you may move in your life’
Me with Sir Edmund Hillary who climbed the Everest along with the Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, who apart from getting to the summit, also carried the luggage. Yet he is no ‘Sir’, after all he belonged to the land of slaves, didn’t he?
Here’s to History, which sometimes discriminates.
As our trip closed to an end and we were hurrying back to catch a Jeep in time, i could not but miss this view – civilization sprawling over nature on all fours and eating into its heart and clawing away until all that remains is dust. At once the view is magnificent and at once dreadful. Magnificent because it points to the flexibility and adaptability of us humans and also because of its’s aesthetic beauty. Dreadful because it is the future of all such mountains, which will eventually be stripped of its foliage and civilized.
Live your life fast,
while the beauty of it still lasts!
And thus ended the trip to Darjeeling. An exciting affair. My first blog too. At least on such a scale. It was a great experience to recall the moments of the trip as i wrote about it. The pics were not taken with the idea of creating a blog. So i hope to do better next time around.