of Hills they call her. Up above in the clouds, in the lofty
clutches of the Himalayas, lies sprawled the glorious town.
It is a place where clouds are at your feet with the highest
of mountain ranges by your side.
the Burimari-Changrabandha border just past the district
of Lalmonirhat, by bus and promptly took an early morning
trip amidst the glassy ponds and dark woods of Burimari,
perched precariously on creaky wooden benches fixed atop
rickshaw vans. Long queues at the check-post were growing
longer, long before the sun reached mid-sky. A great deal
of caution and reverence was in order while discretely bribing
officials on both sides of the border before we could proceed.
Siliguri served merely as a junction as we got hold of a
Tata vehicle of our own and sped ahead towards the irresistible
beckoning from seven thousand feet above, towards the allure
the rusty iron frames of the buses and the crowds around
local tea-shops disappeared. With our ascent, evergreen
Pines and Birches all around conceded a serpentine road
round and round alpines hinting at the Himalayan ranges
that were palpably in the offing. Rows of evergreens stood
proud and majestic, ascending along the way in an attempt
to reach up to the sparkling blue skies. The engine roared
louder as the roads became more and more precipitous. The
quiet serenity of the virgin mountains quivered ever so
slightly at the strange and unfamiliar sounds of civilisation.
Flocks of birds fluttered at a distance. Families of mischievous
monkeys hanging deftly from the twisted coils of wiring,
looked on with awe as we passed them somewhat noisily.
the roads were far from plain and smooth, the turns were
treacherous and sharp. Just beyond the edges laced with
robust cinderblocks was a sheer drop of over four or five
thousand feet (and growing). With deft, lightning fast moves,
our expert Nepalese driver Paldin maneuvered the Tata Sumo
along the roads, incredibly veering past the odd speeding
trucks and private cars that emerged constantly from behind
the sharp bends ahead. Sometimes he stuck his head out and
shouted greetings in a strange tongue and we shut our eyes
forcefully, waiting for the inevitable crash that seemed
to lie just ahead.
an hour or so, though racing heartbeats had subdued a little,
feet and hands still ached from the imaginary brakes that
we subconsciously stepped on as the dangerous turns slyly
turned up ahead. From Siliguri it takes about two-and-a-half
hours to reach Darjeeling. Of course, ask any local inhabitant
and chances are you will never get such a simple answer.
Any request for such estimation is complied by the common
reply of, 'depends how you are travelling. By bus it will
take three hours, by foot…' and the list continues.
time, we had come close to the summit and passed the sleepy
towns of Kurseong and Ghum, the sun had dipped dangerously
down the Westward skies and icy winds were starting to blow
in. Submission of the sun was very rapid and suddenly we
found ourselves lost amidst the long stretches of shadows
of the craggy peaks. Up above, the zenith glimmered in the
dying lights before plunging into a similar gloomy fate.
somewhere in the middle of the sudden jerks brought about
by the unexpected turns and the nerves brought about by
the unwanted knowledge of the sheer drops lurking greedily
in the dark that Darjeeling presented itself in all its
glory. Ahead in the distance, she shone like a horde of
diamonds on the mountainside. In the solid darkness, lights
down the mountainside shimmered and twinkled ever so slightly
as if shivering in the gentle breeze that blew down from
the Himalayan Heavens.
half an hour, we had reached our destination. Once out of
the car the chill in the air was unmistakable. It was more
than a chill we realised soon. It was freezing!
forecasts had predicted a spine-chilling zero degrees at
night for that day. Upholding the demand for a 'geyser'
in the shower as sacrosanct, we located the perfect hotel
in Gandhi Road.
not until the next morning when the sun had finally mustered
the audacity to brave the misty morning sky, that the splendour
of Darjeeling manifested itself completely. Just in front
of our hotel, a narrow strip of road waved by. Across the
road was a ridge over five thousand feet deep. Standing
at the edge, the eyes wandered off to the few bamboo huts
balanced precariously on the sheer glides of the mountain.
Far below my feet, specks and stretches of clouds floated
idly. A kingdom of pines strove to reign over the swarm
of shrubbery that grew in the merciful shade. Farther below,
all the disparity meshed into a flowing, velvety green carpet
scathed by visible stretches of indecisive mountainous roads.
Tea gardens chequered the west-side mountains. Just beyond
the valleys, the timid sunlight played on the patchy emerald
textures on the steeps. Far away in the horizon, the icy
blue Himalayan range was etched along the sky.
early morning trip to Tiger Hill, one of the best places
to see the sunrise over the Himalayas, turned out to be
futile as a dense fog shrouded everything around us. Scraps
of cloud dampened our clothes as we succumbed to the unrelenting
demands of a couple of local coffee vendors. It was common,
Paldin the driver told us casually. The tyrant fog lingered
all day like some deity playing gleefully with the despair
of the mortals.
we took a tour on the Toy Train, which is a slow-moving
train that travels through mountainous terrain and passengers
can enjoy a beautiful view of Darjeeling. As time was short,
a few other destinations had to be accommodated over the
next couple of days. Kalimpong and Mirik are two most preferred
spots amongst tourists. Other places of interest include
the zoo, the ropeway, Gangamaya Park, Rock Garden and the
river Tista is on the way to Kalimpong. While from an observation
point some three-thousand feet above, we watched the blue-green
waters, laced with a frothy white foam, cascading and threading
through stubborn boulders it was decided that an opportunity
for white-water rafting would be too much of an adventure
a slight detour, rafting was arranged. Clad in shorts and
life jackets five of us boarded the raft accompanied by
two guides. A ten-minute crash course preceded this adventure
of a lifetime. We clung to the oars just as much as to dear
life while the raft was whisked away by the roaring waters.
After three hours or so, soothed and refreshed by the crash
course both over and through the ice-cool waters of Tista,
we realised it was too late to reach Kalimpong by daylight
and so we returned to Darjeeling.
morning, we were up as early as four and washed duly in
the freezing morning water (the geyser wasn't working).
We joined a convoy of cars, heading towards Tiger Hill.
Reaching our destination we disembarked and stood in anticipation
on the edge of a cliff.
Himalayas could be somewhat made out in the misty horizon.
Between us, was an endless valley that stretched well into
Nepal. Shadows, hundreds of miles long were surreptitiously
creeping away from us as the sky reddened a little. Slowly
the sun peeked from behind a blue-grayish range. A cluster
of houses far away at the edges resembling powdery chalk
on the greens was peaked out by two monstrous pinnacles,
only just lending a view of what I had traveled so far to
revered and cherished, is the third highest peak in the
world. But that statistic is nowhere nearly as astounding
as the real thing. It was majestic. Awesome and astonishing,
the first glance at the Himalayas defies vocabulary. A magnum
opus in ivory and azure, we watched Kunchenjunga relish
the first kiss of the sun.
the next one minute, the two played out an ancient ritual
in the most vibrant of colours. The peak grew from ivory
to a pale, rancid yellow reaching a flaming, fiery orange
as frosty blue shadows frolicked just below. The halo-like
stretch of clouds at the apex borrowed a little blue from
the skies and blended it like a master artist, with the
play was over in a matter of minutes. Icy winds snatched
the thousands of sighs that could not but escape. No one
clapped out aloud. There was no visible standing ovation,
only silence was to follow. Only silence.