Darjeeling, India: Your First and Last Love
Darjeeling is perhaps the only hill station where one can reminisce about days lost while sitting in peace, sipping coffee and catching a glimpse of the magnificent Kanchenjunga. It is like your first love, always at the back of your mind providing soothing memories of idle pleasures while you are lost amid the chaotic hustle bustle of your mindless existence. Darjeeling is not only the first love of tourists, it is also the last love of travellers.
In my case, it is both my first and last love. Packing my bags and setting off for Darjeeling has almost become a part of my quarterly habits.
This time it was the month of June, and I was off to catch the glorious beauty of the hills in the rains. I took a train from the Sealdah station at night and woke up at New Jalpaiguri (NJP). From there, Darjeeling was almost a four-hour car ride and I boarded the first shuttle jeep available, too excited to meet my love!
The ride was just as I had remembered; serene and soothing to both the soul and the eyes. The leaves had a freshly-washed green glow and the landscape was all green with a backdrop of black clouds gathering. Living in a city hardly gives one a chance to witness so much of greenery in one place!
The wind was cool and there were sudden bursts of rainfall on our way, which refreshed the plants as well as helped me capture some terrific shots of rain. It took a little longer than usual to reach Darjeeling, but after crossing Tung, Sonada and Ghum, we were able to reach there by three in the afternoon.
The hotel room was booked and I was damn hungry, so I ordered a plate of steaming rice and chicken curry and a plate of green salad. The food, the weather and the fact that I was once again in the lap of my love made me feel lucky to be alive. Chicken curry had never tasted this good before!
I didn’t want to rest as it wasn’t raining at that moment and I wanted to make use of this opportunity. So I started walking towards the Mall, which was five minutes from the hotel, and was not surprised to find less tourists than in other seasons. The wooden benches were all wet, so I just strolled around while watching the horses and the little kids playing.
Darjeeling is not just a hill station, it is an emotion. It might not be as clean as it should be, or it might be a little less happening than the other hill stations of India, but it has that old world charm, that vintage ambiance that you won’t be able to shrug off.T
I decide to go to the Glenary’s, which was three minutes from the Mall, for a hot coffee and their special desserts – but mostly for a seat. There were a significant number of tourists from outside India, sitting there and enjoying themselves. One can usually catch a view of the mountains from this place, but not today, as it was cloudy. I sat there for long, but didn’t feel like going to the pub downstairs as I was much engrossed in a book. On my way back, I bought some momos and thukpa from the little Tibetan shacks for dinner.
The next morning I was greeted by a delicious, soft sunshine and the chirping of birds, and I woke up to find a clear day! The mountains can really surprise you, you see. I didn’t want to let go of this chance of catching a glimpse of the majestic Kanchenjunga, so I got dressed as soon as I could after freshening up and headed towards Keventer’s, the best place for a view while you enjoy your breakfast.
As soon as I reached the terrace of the open-air restaurant, I was mesmerized once again by the beauty and the sheer magnificence of the peak. It was even more enthralling as I had not expected such a view in the monsoon month of June. I gazed and gazed for long while having the best-poached eggs and chicken sausages of my life!
After breakfast, I headed towards the zoo on foot while enjoying the scenic beauty and charm of the small town. I was going for the red pandas, the mighty Royal Bengal tigers and the numerous tall pine trees on the road, although there are several other animals like the snow leopards, the Himalayan wolves, the black bear, colourful birds, Himalayan salamanders, snakes and monkeys among others.
On my way back, I visited the Happy Valley tea estate and spent a quiet evening in the midst of the tea plants and the valleys while the little lights in the houses on the opposite hills started to shine one by one, keeping pace with the stars that started to twinkle overhead.
That night I decided to have some Chinese food as I was craving something spicy. So I had Schezwan chicken and mixed fried rice at Shangri-la for an early dinner, and it was the most delicious Chinese I have ever had. I headed to the Glenary’s pub after that to enjoy some chilled beer and a smoke or two as it was only seven.
I spent an hour and then went for a stroll in the Mall. It had not rained much that day, and the place had a larger crowd than the previous day. Tourists were busy buying souvenirs from the numerous small stalls selling different knick-knacks.
I was watching all this while preparing myself for the return the next day. I had already been to Darjeeling a number of times before, so I had decided to skip the sight-seeing as there wasn’t much time. The next morning I bid farewell to my love yet again, but with a promise to return.
Darjeeling is not just a hill station, it is an emotion. It might not be as clean as it should be, or it might be a little less happening than the other hill stations of India, but it has that old world charm, that vintage ambiance that you won’t be able to shrug off. So yes, take your time visitors, and let Darjeeling seep into your soul and into your blood so that it becomes a part of yourself.