|Photograph - Anirban Saha | www.anirbansaha.com|
It has been quite some time since I visited the hills, the last destination being Gangtok and adjoining areas of Sikkim. So when Anirban da asked me to join him on a short Darjeeling trip, I was thrilled. Twenty seven gruelling hours on a super-late bus to Siliguri, earthquakes, reports of landslides and a three hour drive later, I had actual reason to be thrilled.
The atmosphere at Darjeeling was magical. The mist, the gentle rain, the wind all combined to engulf us in a welcoming envelope of happiness. Taking a break from the sultry climate of Kolkata, it was exhilarating to feel the cold breeze brushing across my face. The scenery, of course, was breathtaking, with the hills at a distance partly shrouded in fog, and the sun occasionally breaking through the clouds.
We stayed at a hotel very close to the Mall, the heart of Darjeeling town. It is surprising that the Mall, which I had heard so much about, is now also adorned with KFC, Pizza Hut and CCD outlets. Nevertheless, it is an unimaginably beautiful place, offering a view and an atmosphere to die for. We walked on the winding hillroads leading away from the mall, not knowing where we were going. Our travel led us to a little cabin, just like one out of a movie. Sipping hot coffee, with Billy Joel on the speakers, and an unparalleled view outside, we literally felt like we were on top of the world.
|The Mall. Photograph - Anirban Saha | www.anirbansaha.com|
Going on further, there is a stunning view from this place just beside the Governor’s house, called the Jawahar Point. A little more walking takes you to St. Joseph’s Church, passing by the Zoological Gardens and a beautifully situated Buddhist temple. With occasional drizzles, and the mysterious mist following us everywhere, it was quite the experience. Every nook and corner offered a spectacular view, making Darjeeling the undisputed Queen of the hills. We missed the Ropeway ride, as it was closed temporarily for an inspection. However, that was more than made up by the iconic Darjeeling Toy Train.
|The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Toy Train. Photograph - Anirban Saha | www.anirbansaha.com|
I doubt if there is anybody in east India who has not heard of the Toy Train. It has been rechristened the “Joy Ride” on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. It is a two-hour ride that takes you from Darjeeling station to Ghum ( the highest station in the world) via the famous Batasia Loop, and back to Darjeeling. The train tracks run alongside the road, so you can actually sit on the train and watch cars go by right past you. The Joy Ride comes in two types of engines – the diesel engines, and the steam engines. The steam engine ride is significantly more expensive but gives a certain old-world charm that diesel just cannot provide. Chugging along the hilly streets and into the wilderness, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway offers you a picturesque view of the typical hill station. With the fog all around and the smoke emanating from the steam engine fusing together to form a blanket of thick air, the ride was a portal back in the ages. Two hours later, we had had an experience of a lifetime.
|Ghum, the most elevated train station in the world. Photograph - Anirban Saha | www.anirbansaha.com|
One huge aspect of this Darjeeling trip being as memorable as it is, was the delicious food all the way through. Be it the clichéd hot chocolate at Keventer’s, or the momo at Fiesta on the Mall, or the little-known thukpa in a small, homely restaurant called “Mejhor”, it was a treat totally worth its name. In this context, I simply must mention a small Tibetan restaurant called “Kunga”, located just opposite Keventer’s. We would probably never even had known this place existed, had it not been for Poorna di’s suggestion. That, friends, is why you must have an accomplished food blogger friend! Here’s a tip – next time you visit Darjeeling, make sure you step in to Kunga. Order the Cheese Chicken Momo – it’s not displayed on the menu, but they’ll make it for you. Taste it, and thank me later. Cheese Chicken Momo was heavenly, one of the best things I’ve tasted. We also dug in to fried eggs, bacon and sausages and pork sandwiches at Glenary’s, and lots and lots (and lots) of chocolates – mint, coconut, liquor, rum and raisins, you name it. To cap it all off, there was a pot of the quintessential Darjeeling tea.
|Chicken Momo at Fiesta, the Mall, Darjeeling. Photograph - Anirban Saha | www.anirbansaha.com|
The hills seem to fall asleep very early. By 7:30 PM, almost all the roads are empty, and stores are shut down. There is an eerie silence as the evening rolls into night. When we took a stroll at around 10 PM there was absolutely no one in sight. Eventually we did meet one or two people, but that was it. We tried light trail photography, and came up with a pretty decent result.
|The Mall, close to midnight.|
All in all, this was a truly liberating short trip. The hills have a magical charm about them, and I had never before been to a hill station during the monsoons, which made the misty affair all the more enchanting. The memories I made will be cherished for a long, long time.
|The absolutely heavenly road to St. Joseph's Church, Darjeeling. Photograph - Anirban Saha | www.anirbansaha.com|