Sunday, April 20, 2008

Day 4: 18th March 2008

This morning we woke up to the pitter patter of rain at 6.00 am. Breakfast was of Aloo paratha and curd. We packed off toast butter jam for a mid morning snack and were ready to go for the onward journey. The room that I complained about so much last night looked better in the morning

While we awaited the vehicle we chatted up an Old British couple. They were here to see the India that their grandparents had lived in. The rain reminded them of England. We wished each other an enjoyable journey and parted ways.

We drove past a military base, after long I was seeing the military trucks and it reminded me of Navy Nagar in Colaba. We saw a cavalcade of protesting Tibeteans go by.

A little ahead we stopped for our first sip of Darjeeling tea as the rain had brought in a chill in the air. We told our driver to have breakfast. They served him steaming hot chole and puri along with the three chais, cost a mere Rs. 25. This normally includes the commission a driver gets from the shopkeeper for getting him customers.

We were on our way to Darjeeling via Mirik. The drive was pleasant as we went up the hills through the teak and sal trees.

Mirik town gets its name from the lake it cuddles at the foothills.

One can go for horse ridding while family watches from the old style benches lining the sides of the ring.

We went boating in the lake and fed the fish with popcorn. The slow floating on the lake allowed us to enjoy the serene environs, the conifers lining the lake and the pin drop silence. We drove through acres of tea gardens and conifers alternating.

The roads are narrow and serpentine, taking us up and down several hills. We passed some really lonely areas and we being city bred, Dad started wondering if group travel would have been better. Frankly I felt safe but with Dad now a senior citizen , he was right if thought that way.

This little doggie at Mirik lake does a dance for biscuits and you feel like picking him up and cuddling him. He was too cute and we being a pet lover family were swept by his charm.

From Mirik we went to Ilam. This is a village on the Indo-Nepal border. After entering our names in the register at the border security check post we crossed over and entered Nepal.

It is a strange feeling when you cross a border, it is sheer thrill to be able to do that. From here about 1.5 kms downhill was a small market selling Korean and Chinese goods, this market is duty free and hence attracts tourists. We had to leave the vehicle behind and take a Nepalese taxi. The distance is not much but the taxi drivers fleece the tourist here., they demanded a 40 per head for a return drive. Since this is a border area and has a security all around most tourist cave in and take a taxi. One actually doesn't need a taxi. It is a walkable distance but yes coming back walking could be a problem if you have shopped a lot as the return path is an uphill walk.

I shopped for bed covers, Chinese tea cups, purses, clips and other nick knacks. Dad bought a sweater and I got my hands on two long coats, one furry and one formal.

It was afternoon we did not want to have lunch so asked the driver to go ahead and he insisted we taste Momos. The filling in it was not too interesting, soya nuggets and raw onions, we had just one each and gave our plate to him. He seemed to enjoy both the plates thoroughly. The hot cups of tea were great though. We saw people sitting aroud the sigree at 1.00 pm as it was quite cold.

On the way we stopped at Jurephaguri Park, it had started raining again. We bought the entrance tickets and roamed around a bit in the area near the gate itself. We did not explore deeper as there was a fog and a board warned us about thieves. It felt out of the world though to sit on the old fashioned bench and watch the rain drops fall in the pond while the ducks swam slowly and fog created an environ ideal for honeymooners. It is a surreal world here. I understood why they say a person from these hills find it difficult to live in the city. Yet when I mentioned it to our driver he thought we'd get bored of it in few days. The air is so fresh and rejuvenating. I could have sat there for years. Many times I have seen my Dad get restless in such calm places, is it security worries or just that he is a city person?

I recollect reading a story where a girl enjoys this fog on a hill and one day just disappears into it. It is an ideal setting for a mystery.

We reached Darjeeling at 4 pm, it looked crowded and dirty. At the Mall we were stopped by the police as we were entering the Darjeeling Rajbhavan area, a VIP area where the Governor's bungalow is located. Our hotel was at a stone throw from the Rajbhavan and we did not have permit so the driver informed the police that we had a lot of luggage and that it was difficult to get a porter here. So after talking to us he let us go. In these hills as the roads are narrow there is a parking problem hence the traffic rules are stringent. Fortunately the hotel staff were expecting us were standing out to watch out for us as they are aware about the rules there. They received us warmly.

The Hotel Retreat is built on the edge of the hill and as it happens here the flight of stairs take you down instead of up, so you climb down from the roof to the storeys below. I loved the ambiance, a terrace with plants leading to the reception. The furniture all in wood of the Victorian era and the walls all wood panelled. The lounge with its circular sofa looked welcoming.

On checking in we quickly got fresh and ordered a plate of mix vegetable pakora, a veg sandwich and pot of Darjeeling tea. We were starving as we has skipped lunch and the weather sharpened our hunger.

It was now time for us to go check out the town. First spotted the ATM and fetched some cash, got the pictures of last three days copied on to a CD at a Kodak studio . It was raining and breezy but we managed to go anyways. I nearly froze in the chilly breeze and was literally shivering. Yet I enjoyed walking down the hill and up again. Darjeeling is after all the queen of the hill stations. To many this weather would sound bad but when it is your first experience it is wonderful. Walking in the fog and watching couples cuddle up under the little wooden shelters with benches that Darjeeling is famous for is an amazing experience.

I returned to the hotel room and did a pedicure. We had baigan bharta, tandoori rotis and schezwan rice for dinner.

Now after writing this I am sleepy and off to bed. We have to wake up at 4.00 tomorrow

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