“Flowers are everywhere. The days are cold and the sun almost seems to play hide and seek with us”. – Rabindranath Tagore, poet , nobel laureate writing on darjeeling.
Since I got married (which I think is not long back!!) we decided to spend our Durga Puja ( the most biggest festival for Bengalis!!) at our husband’s native place in West Bengal and to make our trip more interesting, we decided that we would combine it with a small trip to any tourist destination/interesting sight- seeing nearby. This year, my in laws gave me 2 destinations to choose from – Digha (a spectacular beach in Bay of Bengal) or Darjeeling (one of the most famous hill stations in India). After much thinking, I chose Darjeeling…reasons being, firstly, I love hills & mountains much more than beaches. Then, Digha will have been jam-packed with Bengalis in the festive season, not that Darjeeling would be free from them, but I think they would be better scattered out on a hill station than on a beach!! 😀
Darjeeling is a fabulous hill station located in North Bengal, very popular with both indian and international tourists. It’s the gateway to the more famous destinations in India such as Shillong, Sikkim and also to the neighbouring countries of Nepal & Bhutan.It took us one and half days to reach Darjeeling, it was a convenient journey though a bit tiring because of the time taken….however, as we drove upwards from Siliguri (which is the base for travelling to Darjeeling), amidst tea gardens, forests, lush vegetations, through the hilly roads…..it was worth all the effort!!……The moment the tea gardens started, we all could feel the change in the air…the smell, the freshness and the clarity!!!…All along the drive, we could see the rail tracks of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways next to the road and I was wondering how could any train run on such a narrow gauge…..moreover, it was also very close to the settlements and people were going about their daily activities right on the track, a guy keeping his newly shined shoes to dry on the tracks, one woman cleaning utensils from the stream running adjacent to the track, sitting on it!! So on and so forth, it was as if the tracks and the DHR was such an integral part of their lives….
We reached Darjeeling around 11 in the morning and after quick refreshment, decided to check out the town….and of course the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways or the toy train!! The Darjeeling Himalayan Railways is a UNESCO world heritage site and is a favourite with all tourists.It was a sunny day and the town was bustling with tourists and natives…I clicked a lot of pics of the cloud formations, they were so lovely!! We got down to the Darjeeling railway station and after much effort, confirmed our seats for the toy train ride in the afternoon. (You see, my hubby thankfully somehow had the far sight to book advance online tickets of joy ride of DHR toy train, which is basically a 40 minute ride from Darjeeling to Ghum, as the ride was full for the 3 days that we were there!!). While we were in the process of confirming our tickets, the toy train rolled in and what a quaint thing it was!!!….spewing steam & whistling along as it come to a halt at the station….there was a sudden rush of curiosity & excitement all around…..i think except the railway staff at the station (who were like a miniscule number compared to the tourists) everyone was taking an active interest in the train, taking pictures, trying to check out how it was working!!…..Our joyride was scheduled in the afternoon, so we had some time for lunch, but all of us were so excited about it that we chose to just hang around the town a bit, checking out the tea shops. Soon, it was time for our joyride, we took our seats inside the trains, clicked a lot of pics and not only us , all the co-passengers, young & old..had turned into children in that train…..getting in and out of the train, clicking pics from different angles…most excited was my dad in law who insisted that I take his solo pics from various angles!! When the train started to move, it was such a funny experience, as it was moving at a maximum speed of 10 km per hour!!..but it was interesting too….at certain places, the houses and shops were so near to the rail track that I felt that could reach out my hand and grab the stuff displayed on the shop!!…the train’s whistling and billowing out white smoke at intervals was such an different experience, we felt transported back to the 1800s!!….Chugging slowly, we reached Batasia loop, where the railtrack laid like a oval loop along a hillock and the kanchenjunga can seen very clearly on sunny days….the loop is part of the UNESCO heritage site and has been preserved very beautifully, with rows of flowering plants, a memorial to gorkha soldiers and street furnitures. Unfortunately, as we reached in the later part of noon, Kanchenjunga was covered with clouds and was not at all visible, the train master told us to visit the loop in the morning when the view is crystal clear!!After the loop, we reached Ghum station, which is 7140 ft from sea level, is the highest railway station in the world. The train stopped for half an hour there and we spent our time in the Ghum rail museum, educating ourselves on the origin of the DHR, how much effort and time it took the british & indians to actually make this railway line and keep it running till the present day!!!…well, with new found respect, we came chugging back to Darjeeling!!!
The evening was spent having the famous teas of darjeeling and sampling the various street foods – momos, chowmein, tibetian breads, etc etc.Next morning, we got up really early..in fact, we woke up before dawn, got ready hurridly and drove around one and half our in pitch darkness to reach tiger hill. There were around 300 odd people gathered there, waiting to watch the most famous offering of darjeeling…the sunrise at tiger hill!!….
It was simply an amazing experience for me!!….and as i have already spoken about it in another post, ill just leave the pics for you all to enjoy!!….
After watching the sunrise tiger hill, since we had the whole morning to ourselves (well it was just 7 in the morning!!) we went to batasia loop again and this time we were very fortunate, we got the magnificient Mt. kanchenjunga view ..it was majestic and calm , if a mountain can ever be that!!
We also visited Ghum monastry, which is around 150 years old and has a maitree buddha statue….it was a nice experience watching young, children monks go about their morning duties, i think their life is not much different from average school kids!!
We came back to main town centre and went to a lovely cafe for our breakfast, after which we strolled around the mall road….the mall road of darjeeling is quite clean and there are pony rides, whcih we dint try!! All the important administrative, religious and social buildings are located along or near the mall road including a very old victorian church.
After the healthy stroll, we went back to our hotel and had a long nap, since we were quite tired by this time having woken up at around 3 in the morning!!!!
In the evening, me n mum in law went for some serious shopping sans our respective better halves and bought some real good shoes n bags!!….and later in the evening we attened a program of folk dance organized by gorkha hill council, followed by a lovely dinner at a tibetian restaurant.
The next morning, we decided to drive down mirik, which is where most of the tea gardens are…the drive was pleasant, with some lovely views of tea gardens, mt. kanchenjunga and river teesta. We also visited a lovely lake in mirik and set foot on nepal territory, as mirik & nepal are just adjacent to each other.
Well, the lovely drive down mirik was our good bye to darjeeling and this trip, the end was as lovely as the beginning!!!
Darjeeling was much more than what i dreamed it would be!!…
Read here fellow traveler’s account on another North Eastern gem – Arunachal Pradesh.