My soul-sister Jhumur suffers from delightful bouts of wanderlust. What is more, a seasoned traveller, she also has this unique ability to be remain on top of situations, straightening the ruffled feathers, that so many unforeseen situations inevitably roughen up when one is away from one’s comfort zone. Having seen the hospitality industry from close quarters (with a degree from Switzerland no less) one can trust her with one’s eyes closed, to settle on the best options and I therefore have it easy, leaving it on my son to scourge the farthest nooks and crannies of the net to identify the best eating joints one must patronise in wherever one is going to.
Our Darjeeling trip, too, was worked out to the minutest details. Flights, Hotel Accommodations, Airport pickups, drops, and even the sight-seeing itineraries were drawn out. All we had to do was to be there, chill, gorge on the delicacies and click the selfies. Ah, there was the hassle of visiting the designated centre for getting our RT-PCR tests done, but the excitement of the trip ahead – one that was due for close to two years because of Covid related restrictions – saw to it that we persevered.
The airport looked old and familiar, perhaps a shade less populated than the peaks I have seen, and the flight itself was an uneventful one, though the take-off was delayed by an hour and a half. Baggage claim was hassle-free and the first blast of chill air that greeted us as we huddled into the waiting car, was what actually made half the trip worth it.
As the pine forests greeted us with their misty envelop of fog and the wind-chill factor began to rise, our descent to the top, through the Hill Cart Road, next to which runs the Himalayan Toy Train, began in right earnest. One never ceases to wonder at the engineering ingenuity of the early engineers who were called upon to build this road connecting Darjeeling to the plains in the 1860’s when the sudden explosion of tea gardens had necessitated it. Legend has it that it had cost about Pound Sterling 6000 per mile to build!
We put up in the Ramada Inn, which is bang in the middle of the Darjeeling City Centre. Having freshened up, we decided to venture out, to check out the scene and it started raining. Cursing our bad luck, we were scurrying back to the hotel when my son started yelping in joy. It wasn’t rain, but was snow! Imagine. Well, “imagine” we did immediately thereafter, as our woollens were drenched almost instantaneously and the freezing cold pushed us back into the safety of the centrally heated hotel. The next day was a washout, with all sorts of connectivity – from roads to mobiles, going of grid, but not that we were complaining. The room service food was sumptuous, the hotel countenance delightfully warm and the hot chocolates were a pure sin.
The sun made its appearance on the third morning of our stay, giving us an excuse to reluctantly venture out of our hibernation lairs, if only to tick the to-do boxes that we, like most travellers to Darjeeling , had gone pre-armed with. Yes, we had breakfast at Glenary’s (stood in a queue with other tourists from Kolkata; ate the overrated food, rushing through the motions as it were – one cannot eat at leisure when one knows others, less fortunate, are waiting for their turn outside; and left with the customary silly grin on our faces) Yes, we visited the Mahakaal temple. Yes, we snapped pictures of the Kanchenjungha in all its snow bedecked glory. Yes, we saw the ponies in the Mall (and no, we didn’t subject them to the ignominy of carrying us around); yes we saw the Toy Train (no we didn’t take a ride to the Batasia Loop); and No – we didn’t go to Lamahata, Mirrick, the Zoo, or the Lebong race course. But we did buy loads of woollens from the locals and tons of Tibetan junk jewellery!