Satire in the Age of Letters and Technology- more than just a pinch of it.
Veiled in mist for most part of the year, famous for brewing the world’s finest beverage, come let us get away to the latest destination Bollywood took us to the land of the thunderbolt Darjeeling. At the northern-most end of West Bengal, cradled in the Lesser Himalayan Range, Darjeeling makes for the ideal autumn getaway. October is when the air is crisp, the thunderbolts are gone, the sun smiles down and the Kanchenjunga, after months of playing hide and seek behind the monsoon clouds, is out there to greet you in all its glory.
Founded as a sanitarium in 1835, the hill town soon became a popular summer retreat among the elite, British and Indians alike. If you are staying at the Mayfair or the Elgin hotels, know that you’re at the summer resorts of the Maharajah of Nazargunj and the Maharajah of Cooch Behar respectively. To facilitate the journey to the hills, the British took up the ambitious enterprise to create in 1881 what is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site- the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Popularly known as the ‘Toy Train’, it has essayed tales of love in films like Aradhana, Parineeta and most recently, Barfi. However, the steam engine pulled toy trains aren’t exactly the best way to get there from the plains (Sadly, one does not have 8 hours to spare anymore). You simply travel by road. Depending upon the route that you take, the road will take you either through cantonments or through wildlife sanctuaries and or through lush green tea gardens. Along the way, stop at Goodricke’s for a cup of Darjeeling tea, take a photo or two of the valley below and then, let the pines lead the way up to Darjeeling.
Once there, breathe the crisp mountain air and, relax. Take a stroll down the Mall, admire the majestic imprints of the Raj- be it the Oxford Bookstore or the Planters’ Hospital, the General Post Office or the Town Hall. Dine at your hotel and sleep early for this little hill town rises before the sun. You need not bundle into a cab at 3am to see the sunrise from Tiger Hill, all you need to do is to take a morning walk to the Nightingale Park (you may get lucky and see a flying squirrel! ) or simply go to your hotel balcony. Watch the Kanchenjunga, the five silvery peaks against the blue sky at dawn, slowly turn golden as the first rays of the sun fall on it, watch it go brighter and at last, stark white against a clear blue sky.
Revel in its sheer glory.
The daylight hours in Darjeeling don’t last long so, after a quick breakfast at Keventer’s , we’re off. Off to the Tibetan Refugee Centre, not on every tourist’s itinerary but a must visit nonetheless. Take a walk down to the Orange Bustee or a ropeway ride over the Rangeet Valley Tea Estate. In the evening, splurge at the curio shops at the Mall, join the Dashain (Dushhera) celebrations at the Chowrasta and end your day with a lavish dinner at the Park.
On day two, start with a visit to the Mahakal Temple or to St. Andrew’s or to the Anjuman-e-Islamia. Spend the rest of your day at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute or with the Red Pandas at the zoo or at the Natural History Museum, every nature lover’s paradise. Don’t forget to indulge in the ethnic Tibetan and Lepcha cuisines, neither forget to pay your respects at the tomb of Darjeeling’s discoverer- Sir George Lloyd, and also spend a moment of quiet at the Old Cemetery on Hill Cart Road. Before you leave, take with you a boxful of sweet memories, fresh tarts from Glenary’s- the Master Bakers!
Come with time, this lovely hill station has much more to offer. And come soon, the tall pines are beckoning, the Singalila Skyline awaits.