By E Kay
Sometimes we make plans, plans that seem perfect at first but as we execute it, well, we find ourselves with the fact that nothing can really be perfect. And that was exactly what happened on one of our travels. Our journey to a very beautiful destination, Darjeeling. And who else to play spoilsport but mother nature. But anyways, as travellers that's just a minor hiccup that we got rid of.
Well, Darjeeling is a hill station situated about 70 kilometres from one of the commercial hubs of West Bengal, Siliguri. Getting there is simple enough given the fact that it is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the eastern part of India. We made our way to darjeeling from the New Jalpaiguri station. Our route was a little different, as in we first went to Mirik, halted there for a day and night and then proceeded to Darjeeling. There are a number of shared cabs to Darjeeling from the NJP station. However to get to Mirik, we were told that it was easier to get a shared cab from Siliguri Junction, so that was our starting point. Of course, for those booking an entire cab, there's nothing more convenient.
As mentioned, our starting point for Darjeeling was Mirik. There are numerous shared cabs for Darjeeling from there too. We got a cab as early as 6:30 in the morning, that too, right outside our hotel. The cab we got was a little slow as the driver transports milk from mirik to darjeeling, so he made a number of halts along the way, but nonetheless it was an interesting ride. His timing coincides with school timings so he picked up a number of school children on the way. These kids would get in the cab at various points and get off at their respective schools. He must have taken about 20 school kids throughout the route. Some paid him, others didn't. And he didn't bother if they paid him or not.
And he does that daily. So like that, with a number of halts, we reached the tiny bustling town of Darjeeling at around 9 in the morning. It took us about two and a half hours to traverse the 50 odd kilometres from Mirik. About 30 minutes was spent just getting into the town, thanks to the terrible traffic. We got off at the sumo stand and made our way to the Chowk Bazaar, the busiest area of Darjeeling. We found a small shop that was open and had a delicious plate of rice and fish curry. We were not prepared for rice at that time but that was all on the menu then. Soon we were on our way to our hotel, and boy what a hassle it was. We had booked our hotel through the Oyo app. This was the second time we faced such a bad experience with Oyo. A number of hotels these days don't accept Oyo payments, and we find that out only after reaching the hotel. So we booked a room at summer palace. And when we reached there, we were told that they were not ready to check us in. To top it all, the person at the reception was downright rude, so we left the place and went looking for a hotel. Thankfully we found a decent hotel nearby and settled for that for one night.
The first day was too exhausting and the weather was pretty bad, so we ended up only visiting the shopping areas at mall road in the evening.
Our initial plan was to also to go see the sunrise at Tiger Hill but again because of the bad weather, we were advised not to go. This was my second visit to darjeeling so I was not too disappointed. The first time, we were in a huge group so the traveling was rather easy and convenient. We had booked a cab and travelled there at 4 am. And like expected, the sunrise was absolutely beautiful.
Coming back to this trip, we found a nice hotel on our way to the railway station on the second day. One reason to go to Darjeeling was to experience the Darjeeling toy train, and to make the return journey to NJP by that route. Unfortunately, that was not possible as the train was not running at that time. So we booked a joy ride instead. The joy ride starts from the railway station all the way to batasia loop, to the railway museum and then back. The train halts at batasia loop for about 20 minutes and then proceeds to the museum. There we were given about half an hour to check out the museum, which houses numerous photographs, souvenirs and toy train models. The museum entry fee is included in the toy train joy ride.
After the train ride we returned to the station and from there, we proceeded to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, more so the museum. Established in the year 1954, this Institute was set up to encourage mountaineering and various courses are available for mountaineers and the like the whole year through. This place is a must visit for those interested in hiking, trekking, mountaineering and so on. The aura that surrounds the place is unbelievable, as the museum houses the gear and equipment used by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who first reached the peak of the highest mountain peak in the world, Mount Everest. You will also find the gear used by members of various other expeditions to other mountain peaks. The cameras they used in the 50s, the 60s to the 21st century, the rugged gear they used then that looks so primitive compared to the latest ones. And in that gear and that equipment, they climbed to the top of the world. Nothing short of amazing.
Besides the equipment, there are photographs and newspaper clippings of the various expeditions, successful and unsuccessful that have been undertaken till date.
After an hour well spent at the HMI, we set off towards the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological park just opposite the Institute. The entry fee that you need to pay at the entrance is for both places. The zoo is very well maintained but it sure is sad to see the animals inside enclosures like that.
After about two hours in both places, we set off back to the town and walked up to the Mall Road and lazed around the area, soaking in the various souvenir stalls, nostalgic cafes and curio shops.
While there, we also visited the Mahakal temple situated a few metres from the mall area atop the observatory hill. This temple complex is unique as the place is a blend of hinduism and buddhism. You will find hindu priests alongside the buddhist monks and shiva lingams along with buddha statues. The original builder of the site is said to be Dorjey Rinzing Lama whose remains still lies in a chorten in the temple complex. We found numerous smaller shrines and temples dedicated to Goddess Kali, Durga, Lord Ganesha, Lord Krishna, Hanuman and so on. The temple however is primarily dedicated to Lord Shiva.
The little town of Darjeeling with all its hustle and bustle has its charm. The nostalgia it encompasses you with, the old heritage buildings dotting the town at regular intervals, the small winding lanes, the ever helpful people, this town will draw you back time and again. Getting away from this place is difficult for sure but for a traveller that is a just one part of the journey - Leaving with the hope of returning.
( The Author E Kay is a freelance blogger, photographer and web editor for Life Unearth)