Clouds Give Way to Roads
from last week)
the wonders of the world, in Darjeeling, the points of tourist
interests are subdivided into different areas and routes for
the convenience of the tourist. The three-point route consists
of Tiger Hill, Batasia Loop and Ghoom Monastery, all conveniently
located close by. The five-point route consists of the Museum,
The Japanese Temple, Lal Kothi or the Council House, Ava Art
Gallery and Dhirdham Temple. Finally, another package consists
of the seven points: the Zoo, Tenzing Rock, Tea Garden, Himalayan
Mountaineering Institute, Ropeway, Gorkha Stadium and the
Tibetan Self Help Centre.
we had already visited some of the spots, we decided against
the package tours and went to see the sights on our own. First,
we gravitated towards the Mall, the heart of the city. This
particular morning, I heard the distinct sound of Bangla music
playing loudly from one of the shops. Intrigued, I approached
it and read the nameplate. It said 'Pleasure Hut'. Captivated
by the name, I gave in to my curiosity and stepped into the
shop a little nervously. I had mixed feelings when it turned
out to be a Bangladeshi restaurant serving dishes reminiscent
of home. Two days away from home I felt nostalgia rush up
like a wave. I came back with my companions and ended up eating
at this restaurant for the remaining time of our stay.
spot on our itinerary was Mirik. The road leading to it was
decorated on both sides with tea gardens and tea resorts.
The mountains were at an angle of about 65 degrees. One wondered
how tea-planters kept their balance while picking the tender
km away from Darjeeling town at an altitude of about 5,570
feet, lies Mirik Lake on a five-acre level stretch. The lake
itself is about 1.25 km long and is impounded by construction
of a weir. The temperature here is higher than in Darjeeling
and as we all got off the jeep to follow hundreds of others
on foot, I shed two layers of clothing. I had expected the
lake to be something out of a movie and I must say, was a
little disappointed with it but the overall serene atmosphere
and the panoramic sights were surely worth the trip.
set aside the following day to witness the sunrise from Tiger
Hill, about 11km from Darjeeling town. Happy in the knowledge
that it was not too far we got a rude shock when the driver
of the taxi we had hired to take us there, told us he would
pick us up at 4 a.m. He mumbled something about "taking
a position before others get there." I felt a twinge
of the typical tourist jitters: Was this a game that the locals
played at the expense of the tourists? If so, we didn't know
the rules. At least at his hour we would have the roads to
found us in the Tata Sumo barely awake, huddled in fumes of
sleep, driving through the streets of Darjeeling. The first
few kilometres were blissfully quiet. However, as we got closer
to our destination, other vehicles joined us until we were
travelling at a snail's pace. Once we reached Tiger Hill,
the driver's pick-up time made sense. Close to four hundred
sun worshippers (a.k.a. crazy tourists) had turned up at that
unholy hour to watch the sunrise. This vantage point, 8,482
feet above sea level, apparently offers the best view of the
the mighty Kanchanjunga and its snowy crest, in all its grandeur.
Some 225 km away was the general direction of Mount Everest
but it needed a very sharp eye to discern its outlines hidden
behind a curtain of clouds. It is said that when the sun rises
over the hill it paints a picture in your mind that can be
cherished for years to come.
am we were still cocooned in a mantle of semi-darkness. The
impatience was palpable. Finally, it dawned. Not the sunrise.
No. The thought: it was too cloudy to see the sunrise. While
we had been focused on welcoming the first glittering rays
of the sun, daylight had crept upon us on steady feet. We
were enveloped in light. It was disconcerting and tiresome
to have waited for so long for something that was not meant
to be. Baffled, bewildered, bothered and betrayed, we slowly
made our way down the hill.
stop was the Ghoom Monastery. At least a man-made structure
would not let us down. It didn't. Built strategically by the
main road a flight of steps lower, Ghoom Monastery was a blend
of old and new. Two other structures reflecting the beauty
of man's creation were the Batasia Loop and War Memorial,
not too far from the Monastery. The Toy Train has tracks through
and around this site in loops and twirls, around the beautiful
shrubbery and the clusters of flowers. A different breed of
vendors was visible here. They were selling sight...telescopic
views to various scenic spots, especially the Kanchanjunga.
the last day of our trip back on the streets of the Mall.
Despite our numerous visits here, it did not lose its magic.
By now, we were low on finances. Being broke at the Mall is
like being a vegetarian at a Bangladeshi wedding feast. Such
is the charm of the Mall that with one hand it picks your
pocket and with the other, it pats you on your back, leaving
you grinning foolishly with happiness. The sad thing was,
we had had Taka in our pockets that we hadn't changed to Rupees
at the border and there was no money exchange in town. Beware
those who hope to change your money here as the only medium
of change is Rupees and Dollar.
empty pockets compelled us to move away and we decided to
explore some of the paths off the beaten track. We took a
road by a horse stable that led to a rundown village. Suddenly
we realised that instead of us taking in the sights of the
locals, the locals were taking in the sight of us! We turned
back to the Mall. Another road led us to a restaurant named
Mayfair. The entrance was via two flights of stairs below
road level. Statues were on display all around the compound
and each of the thirty-one rooms possessed its own spectacular
view. Excited, I asked the cost of the accommodation. Just
a couple of nights here was worth another visit to Darjeeling.
A poker-faced attendant told me that it was Rs 6,000 per day.
The words of the Canadian gentleman we had befriended on our
first night in Darjeeling, echoed in my ears. I turned in
haste and retraced my steps to the Mall and its surroundings
where normal people dwelt.
had worked up our appetites and we found ourselves at Minute
Meals Fiesta, a fast-food restaurant. We decided to have our
'last supper' here. It looked like a nice little place from
the outside until we got inside. The restaurant had three
stories, the first level (at the bottom) for heavy food, the
next level for sweet dish items and the uppermost level (by
the roadside) for light snacks. The different levels had different
interior designs and simply going down the stairs transformed
the scene and one's sensations. The food not only complemented
the architecture but provided some humour. Two items caught
my attention on the menu: the Cheese Paratha and the Paneer
Paratha. The former cost Rs. 40 and the latter Rs. 35. Curious,
I asked the waiter what the difference between these two 'cheese'
plates was. He smiled and said, 'Five rupees sir.' Others
before me had obviously suffered from the same curiosity.
Of course, we ordered both and he was right! The only difference
was five rupees.
it was time to leave. The trip was over.
true that people fascinate me: the way they dress, the way
they eat, what they eat, where they eat, what they do, why
they do the things they do. Darjeeling's breathtaking beauty
and its colourful people was a joyous respite that will be
hard to forget.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004