Memoirs From Darjeeling
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet; this is not done by jostling in the street.” (William Blake). These words of this magnificent poet, resonates in the mind of every adventure-seeking mountain-lover. When the towering buildings of the city become a blister to the eyes, the daily humdrum of the city-life becomes a heavy cross to bear; you know that you need to float “on high o’er vales and hills” like a ‘cloud’.
I’ve got to confess, being a professional writer; I was undergoing a severe writer’s block, most probably because I needed an escape from the daily humdrum. Therefore, last May I had to pack my bags and get to my beloved Kanchendzunga. I booked my flight, packed my bags and two days later, was waiting for my aircraft to land upon Bagdogra Airport. My flight reached 6:30 am in the morning. Having de-boarded the aircraft, and after having collected my baggage; I got myself a jeep; thanks to Tej Bahadoor. And all of a sudden, we were meandering up through the mountainous roads, up unto the beautiful elegant city of Darjeeling.
Nestled quietly upon the foothills of the Kanchendzunga, Darjeeling is the pass way to Kurseong, Kalimpong and the mountain state of Sikkim. Being endowed with the magnificence of natural beauty and Victorian cottages, Darjeeling; is where 21st century mingles into the glorious 18th century. That being said, as long as Calcutta had been the capital of British India, Darjeeling had been the summer-residences of most of the high-ranking British officials, from Lord Curzon to Wellesly. On the other hand, Sikkim was a part of the Chogyal Kingdom. Being close to Darjeeling, it too bore the characteristic Tibetan Buddhist religion, blended with Hindoo methods of worship.
Now, coming back to my trip, I reached mall road upon which, I had a small hotel booked for myself. Of course, that was only to spend the night! Da… I wouldn’t just stay inside the room now, would I? So I unloaded my stuff, freshened up; took my backpack and my camera, set out to explore the pretty little hamlet. And soon, the light of the day faded away into the mountainous bosom of the west; the sky decked itself as a beautiful maiden would deck her hair with flowers, with countless stars and as an Indian housewife decks her forehead with a ‘bindi’, the sky decked itself with a glistening silver moon. The Bells at a local Church rang, mingled with the bells ringing in the temples and the chants of the Buddhist Monks, all together created such a spiritual atmosphere, that the day’s tiresomeness vanished as if a sickness had been cured by a miraculous oriental medicine. Walking through the streets of the elegantly lit Mall Road, you could see the shoppers selling and buyers buying, from woolen clothes to the Thukpas (steamed Tibetan Dumplings). I spent half the evening on the Mall Road, and the other half in an old book shop named Oxford Book and Stationery Co. which was founded in the mid-60’s. the bookshop consisted of rare selections of classical literature, which being a writer, naturally attracted me. The short trip ended with dinner at the Victorian restaurant, Glennary’s Bakery Restaurant & Pub. I savored some delicious chicken sizzler, and sipped in some Antiquity whiskey from the Buzz Bar, located at its basement.
Early the next morning, I went up to the Tiger Hill, to watch the Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) dispelling the darkness of the eastern Sky. While climbing down the hill, I came across a beautiful family of three, Mr. Banerjee, his wife Mrs. Chandra Banerjee and their little daughter Sneha. Since they had a plan to visit Kalimpong and Kurseong, we decided to travel together. After a short breakfast, we hopped into a jeep and leaving behind the busy city, travelled to the sleepy hamlets of Kalimpong and Kurseong. The little girl kept us pretty busy by bombarding us with questions to whether the hills were green or brown. O the way she collected a whole bunch of wild lilies, orchids and tulips; and gifted a bunch to me. That certainly was an amazing gift. That sure made my day! Finally, we reached Kurseong.
Land of the white lilies as the name means in Tibetan, is a quiet and beautiful little hamlet, situated at an altitude of 4658 ft. and is a haven for adventure and nature lovers. The hamlet is famed for it being home to the famous white lilies.
So…we reached Kurseong at 12 noon. Since I had cottage, which belonged to me, I did not have to unload in a hotel. Although, I had invited Mr. Banerjee and his family to stay at my cottage, they had to stay in the nearby Kurseong Tourist Lodge, run by the West Bengal State Government; since they had reserved it prior to their trip. However, they come for the dinner by the bonfire. Ramu Kaka (the caretaker of my cottage had prepared some delicious Dishi Murgir Jhol (curry prepared of jungle fowl meat with potatoes, cooked with typical Bengali ingredients) and white rice. This certainly served as sumptuous meal. With stories and songs, the music ended well.
The next morning, while Mrs. Banerjee and little Sneha went to pay a visit to the white orchid garden, Mr. Banerjee and I, decided that we should go for a short walk through the tea garden and through the lush green Cryptomaria Japonica forest to the nearby village, for a cup of Chai (tea) in earthen pots. After that, we met up with Mrs. Banerjee and Sneha and decided to go on a ride on the hot-air balloon. Once in the air, little Sneha was mesmerized by the beauty she beheld, of the land below, from the air balloon.
Our day ended with a visit to a local 19th century Church and then with dinner at White Orchid Restaurant where we ate delicious continental dishes. We had to go to bed early; since next morning, we’d be going to Kalimpong.
We woke up early next morning,( Ramu Kaka had already packed us a delicious breakfast) we boarded Tej Bahadoor’s jeep and set out for Kalimpong.
The sleepy little town is blissfully located on an altitude of 3998 ft above the sea-level and is some 50 kms away from Darjeeling and used to be a part of the Old Silk Route. The hamlet once belonged to the Bhutanese minister, as its name suggests in Tibetan Tongue. The hamlet is home to some of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in India.
Coming back to my trip, we reached Kalimpong at 2 in the afternoon, and since Mr. Banerjee had already pre-booked a room for me in the Cochrane Palace. After having freshened up we paid a visit to the local monastery, during which time a huge lot of questions were shot upon Mr. Banerjee and I , by our little Sneha. It was actually fun answering her questions. Then the calm of the night drew nigh, and after dinner, we went to bed.
Next, morning three of us went for the Mass at the local Catholic Church, then for a game of golf at the Army Golf Club. Then after breakfast, we went to the oldest monastery located in Cockety. After some local site-seeing we came back to our hotel. As the day ended, so did our trip.
Next morning, we bid farewell to this beautiful hamlet, and Tej Bahadoor drove us down through the lush green valleys, back to Bagdogra Airport. As the Banerjees and I, parted our ways; with tearful eyes, a lot remains in our memories.
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