December 9th 2015:
1:00am-While I was packing my stuff listening to Mumford&Sons, I received a text from the Indian Railways that the train Mahananda Express from Delhi to New Jalpaiguri has been cancelled. My dear friend, the whole train was cancelled; what on earth were people supposed to do now? We don’t know. We were just supposed to be content by IRCTC’s ‘Sorry for the inconvenience’.
The whole night and the whole of the next day we were trying our best to make some way out. Well, all’s well that ends well. We managed to get a tatkal in Rajdhani for the 10th of December. So folks, when a Mahananda ditches you,Rajdhani comes to the rescue. And off I was at 9:15 am with three of my friends. (Ayu, Swaroop and Minzur). Rajdhani, offers you four meals a day, and its edible. Yeah! Edible, thats it.
We reached Siliguri on 11th December at around 3 pm and hired a taxi till Darjeeling. The journey indeed became lengthy but I didn’t mind because once we left behind the mayhem of city, further climb reminded me of home. The roads, the beautiful hills covered with yellow flowers and the adorable people, of course.
We reached Darjeeling town at around 7.The town to my surprise is too crowded for a hill station. So many cars and so much of chaos. But it had a beauty of its kind. After reaching Swaroop’s house, we freshened up, met his folks, his aunts and had a good Nepali meal while sitting in front of the bonfire. A little chat here and there, a little laugh on our faces, sharing of some more stories, we finally went to bed.
Swaroop says he has a surprise for us; we hired a taxi and went along this road called the Mungpoo Road, amidst the hills. At one point we stopped the car and walked, absorbing the smell of morning wind (which is much needed for someone coming from the not-so-great air of Delhi). We spent almost 15 minutes searching for some waterfall which according to Swaroop is a must see; turns out we had crossed that spot 2 times already.
We then we headed towards the ‘Breeding Center’ and saw Red Pandas, Sikkim’s state animal (I would have been happier if there were Giant Pandas as well).
Our next destination was one of the Yiga Chholing old Monastery Ghoom established in 1850. We had our lunch in a Tibetan food joint run by a family. We then loitered around the famous Darjeeling market and to Ayu’s surprise and disappointment (as we were told or maybe we assumed how cheap the market is) the clothes were a bit expensive.
For the love of God! I hate waking up early in the morning but it surprises my entire being how, while I am travelling, I instantly turn into a ninja from a lazy panda. So we woke up at 4:30 am to witness the sunrise and view of the Kanchenjunga and the Mount Everest from the Tiger hill. We had to trek upwards to the hill because car parking was way down; again to my surprise Tiger hill which I thought would be a small cosy spot, was FILLED with tourists, some taking selfies while other drinking tea from the local women tea sellers who climb up to this place at around 3 in the morning.
The mighty Kanchenjunga finally ose through the fog and clouds; but the Everest still hiding behind winters’ cloak. We were not lucky enough to see its glimpse.
After catching up up with Swaroop’s school friends we walked Darjeeling’s dainty, foggy and mystical roads and had our Breakfast at the famous Keventers.
Content with these mainstream touristy things, I decided to loiter around the town by myself. I had three hours. So I started going upwards the Chowrasta and asked a man for directions to some nearby monasteries. Well, that man was very welcoming and heart-warming and offered to take me around. Mingma Bhutia, an ancestor of Tibet but born and in India, took me firstly to a Tibetan monastery where a ceremony was going on and I was offered with a cup of Tibetan Tea (almost same as the Kashmiri noon chai) and some snack. We then started walking towards the Bhutia Basti, and while on the road Mingma Uncle and I shared our life stories.
He is a 48 years old bachelor living alone and he hasn’t married yet because he doesn’t have a settled job (well story of every Indian son,isn’t it?).. Also he doesnt know his mother language and sometimes feels ashamed of this fact
.On reaching the Bhutia Basti, he made me meet some of his friend and then we went to the Sikkimese Monastery where on knowing that I am from Kashmir, the caretakers got a little uncomfortable and scared. Not offended, I found it pretty funny but Mingma uncle thinking otherwise started to make me feel comfortable by sharing stories of secular nature of Darjeeling.
On our way back to Chowrasta he treated me with Wai Wai and Aloo Dum, something you might find in every local shop. We had an early lunch of Thukpa and Beef Momos before this kind stranger who knew nothing about me but shared his time and stories, said his goodbye.
Again on the streets of Darjeeling, walking and wandering without any destination I came across a Kashmiri handicrafts shop and decided to have a little chat with my fellow state man. Zahoor Ahmed, the owner of the shop told me when and how he came to Darjeeling, which is the peak season when most of his products are sold and how every year in February he goes back to Kashmir for a month. He invited me to have a lunch of paalak maaz (Mutton and Spinach) at his house two streets away.
Finally, I was reunited with my travel companions and we roamed around the same streets again until evening, had food and drinks, before we set off to home.
Oh well, before coming to Darjeeling Swaroop had made a full itinerary for us, and NOT to my surprise we didn’t follow it, rather We did much interesting stuff… how I like it to be.. totally spontaneous and missing out on the mainstream tourist attractions.
The next day we needed a car to drive to Mirik, Swaroop managed to find one whose owner he didn’t know of, we didnot have the car papers and the car looked as if it was breathing its last days.
The drive to Mirik through the Sukhia forest was, as Maulana Rumi has said, there was light and wine and sweethearts all around the beautiful pine trees. This was my encounter with ‘its the journey not the end’ in reality. Really, the Mirik lake is just like any other lake you’ll find in Kashmir, or Nainital, but the road to Mirik; Pine Trees and Tea Estates conversing, the fresh winds of India and Nepal making love, the sun rays spreading their positive vibe; all made me think of the beautiful time and beautiful people in my life.
While on our way we stopped at the Gopaldhara Tea Estate and had a conversation with the women there who get Rs. 120 per month as their wage.
During this time my phone did a funny thing and went on international roaming because Nepal was just a few steps away from there.
Lets get back to the shady car, shall we? (the car in the above picture)The princess stopped thrice on our way back and started making some very uncomfortable noise. But to the grace of the almighty, and skills of Swaroop and his friends, we reached home.
On 15th, after having our usual bed tea and biscuits served to us by Swaroop everyday, we continued to explore the left out places in the town. Our first destination was St. Joseph’s school after which we walked around the “Lovers’ Road” and finally stopped at Sonam’s Kitchen for the Breakfast (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOOD JOINT).
Our next plan was to trek downhill to Swaroop’s ancestral place Pulbazar. Everyone, literally everybody told us that we (Ayu and I) are too delicate to do this, well we accepted the challenge. Filled our backpacks with enough supply of food and chocolates we started our journey through the hills covered with tea gardens and villages filled with love and happiness.
We reached Pulbazar in 3 hours and had an early delicious dinner , sat a little under the fresh starry sky and went off to sleep.
The next day we hit the road for Sikkim………. (to be continued)
(The Author is a student of International Relations at the South Asian University. She is a passionate traveler, blogger and photographer. For the original piece Click Here )