Sunday, May 11, 2008

Day 6: 20th March 2008

At the Darjeeling station yesterday the station master had informed us the booking would be open in the morning at 8.00 am and we could line up and buy tickets. Luckily at the hotel Bhaskar the security gaurd offered to arrange for the ticket for which we had to pay extra Rs.25 per head.

We woke up early and watched the day break from our hotel window. It was a clear day and the Kanchanzonga peaks were showing up on the canvas of the earth. It appeared far away, the snow capped mountains glistened in the rays of the morning sun a golden yellow that radiated.

It was a wonderful morning, in a short while we would know if we had got the toy train tickets by 8.30 am. At 9.00 am Bhaskar walked into our room with the tickets. I almost squealed with pleasure. YAY! We quickly got ready and decided to walk down to the station.

I took pictures at the Chaurasta again. As we walked down we noticed the Darjeeling is indeed a fashionable hillstation. Evevn the common man dressed well and fashionably. Uncle M had said that the himalayan people were poor and unkept but that has long changed.

We reached the Darjeeling station, it was slowly filling up with people. Just like the toy train, this station too looks miniature compared to the huge station we are used to in other parts of India. I took pictures and sat in the coach. Some foriegners asked us whether they could sit anywhere they liked. I figured out we had tickets for the same seats.

Quickly I verified with the lady ticket checker and she that our coach was F3 instead of F1. The Toy train had 3 coaches of which 2 are resrved for foriegners, they are the ones with better seats and better interiors where as F3 is meant for Indians and as expected the coach was shabby. Sigh! The yoke of the British Raj still exsists. I am no dumb person when such incidents happen and I fired the staff. The same ticket confusion had happened with others too, so they joint me in making more noise. We demanded to know when the fare was the same why this difference in quality of the coaches? Then to calm us down the safety technician demonstarted to us how the seats were convertible, on return journey the seat backs could be pushed to allow passengers to face the direction of the moving train. That put a smile on everyones faces. The coach had 14 seats and we could see 14 big smiles, infact for all you know even the other coaches might have had convertible seats, I didn't notice later.

We heard the engine whistle at exactly 10.40 am, the sweet whistle of a coal fired steam engine, a cloud of smoke flew straight onto our faces. I felt like a kid gleeful and excited. It was really fun to watch cars speed by as the train chugged slowly. The locals waved out to the travellers. It is nice to see so many smiling faces, one hardly sees any in metros. The train passes through the roads and under the bridge before we reached our first stop at Batasia loop.

The Batasia loop station is more like a bus stop. It makes one smile as the train stops against the backdrop of the valley, not for nothing it is called the Queen of the hills.

The train does a kind of a catwalk to please the traveller. People take pictures as it poses and moves with a grace along the hills.

It takes a hour to reach the highest station, Ghum. We are guided to the Himalayan railway museum atop the Ghum station. I loved the miniature architechture of the station.

The museum is small but has maintained a good record of the himalayan railway. The original Baby Sivok stands at rest just outside the station. The cargo boggies to are also showcased there. The museum tells us what a torturous route it might have been to build. It was built at a cost of Rs.50 lakhs in those days where as today one can barely buy a decent home in Blr or suburbs of Mumbai with that amount.

After 30 mins in the museum we started our journey back. While we were in the museum the engine went around the station after separating from the coaches and was reattached. The seat backs now shifted. We were looking around the station building when the engine whistled and everyone hurried towards the coaches. At 11.15 am we started our joy ride back to Darjeeling.

It was amusing to watch the safety technician wish all people along the ride on the way back, some gave him coffee and at an other shop he just helped himself to a jar of brightly colored ladoos.

The people of Darjeeling treat tourists like true guests. I was impressed when cars would stop to allow us to take a picture. Policemen posed with a smile. Even the most ordinary woman wore full make up no matter if they were selling coffee or knick knacks and clothes. The tourist leaves Darjeeling charmed!

We alighted at the Darjeeling station with memories of the joyride etched in our minds for life.

Last nights walk

We walked back and got the photos transfered onto a CD at the Kodak's Phtoshop. The staff smiled and greeted as this was our second visit there.

Then returned to The Retreat tired after the uphill walk and went straight to the restaraunt. The hotel staff meanwhile had moved out our luggauge into the lounge as were to check out post lunch. Our vehicle had arrived, this time is was a Toyota Qualis as we were to drive through steep and narrow hills from Darjeeling to Gangtok.

I ordered Hakka noodles and sweet an sour veggies for lunch. The noodles were hand made by the villagers at Kalimpong. It was a yummy lunch and the Tibetan guy served us. We got talking to him and as it often happens here, we found out that he is a refugee. His father had come to India with the Dalai Lama and he was born here. He informed most Tibetan families work in hotels, men as attendants and women in the beauty parlours.

While we had lunch our vehicle was loaded with bags, we said our farewells to the staff and Dad tipped them generously.

The traffic police stopped our car at the Raj Bhavan. He was annoyed that a private vehicle had entered a restricted area. Remember at The Retreat we were neighbors to the Governor of Darjeeling. Then our driver called up the hotel and so we had to wait till Bhaskar came and showed the permits.

Also in this region we never forget that we are close to the Indo-China and Indo-Nepal border. The security is high at every nook and corner, policemen keep patrol. Infact Asha, our tour manager had adviced us to carry a photo id, I had my work id and Dad has his voter's id card.

Our driver was a friendly young lad from Sikkim. He informed us that it would take us about 4 hours to reach Gangatok. We would mostly drive down hill from darjeeling (8000 ft) to Gangtok which is at 6000 ft. He also proudly assured us that we would love Sikkim more as it is a clean and prosperous state.

As we left Darjeeling behind we drove through scenic himalayan ranges covered with trees of every shade of green, red and orange. A mix of conifers, teak, sal etc. As we drove we saw the first sight of the river Teesta. We stopped at the highest point on the hill range to view the sangam or confluence. It was a breathtaking site. We were told that we would be taking the national highway all along the Teesta. It was late afternoon and the drive was excellent. We followed the Teesta for almost 40 kms before we crossed a small bridge and entered the state of Sikkim. The drive was amazing, I was completely mesmerized by the beauty, for hours I was silent and experienced what it is to be one with nature. The soul just soaks in the environs, then there is a surge of emotions you feel wishing all your loved ones were with you at that moment to
experience the joy! My Dad was is in a chattery mood but I wasn't listening. It felt like I was numb and I find it very difficult to describe the happiness or rather blanked out feeling I was experiencing.

We stopped at Malli for tea and samosas, asli ghee ke! picked some mineral water and move on.

The entry gate to Sikkim reflected the himalayan culture and was brightly decorated. We were asked to get off from the vehicle, walk ahead across the gate as the vehicle would have to be sprayed with chemicals as a precaution against bird flu! I didn't have a clue Darjeeling was having bird flu in the air!!! As we walked across we noticed the remarkable cleanliness. As usual Dad wondered if this would continue further in the state, warily. We were amazed that the pavements were provided with freshly painted banisters. Our driver educated us that the city had recieved a facelift as it had just hosted the international florishow. There were other such moments of admiration when we pulled into a multi-storeyed parking lot. We were told that the market area was now convereted into a pedestrian area. We had to park our vehicle outside the city in the multi-storeyed parking lot, as it was a diesel vehicle and go into the city in a green petrol taxi that was available easily. This was Sikkim's environment friendly initiative.

As ours was a package tour we were not supposed to pay for the ride so we asked our driver about this. He told us to inform Asha and get it re-embursed, she did.

At the hotel we were welcomed by genuine warm smiles by the hotel staff. He briefed us about our program in Sikkim for the next to days and then handed over the keys to our room. He checked with Dad if he was OK climbing stairs as he is a senior citizen. We chimed together that he was fit and fine and we requested a room with the best view no matter what level it was on. The Chumbi Residency is built on the edge of the valley with 3 floors below the reception and two on the top. One enters the hotel at the 4th level and from the road it appears as if the hotel is just 2 leveled.

We were obliged with indeed a room with an excellent view of the valley and hill ranges. The huge window had a large central glass that gave an uniterrupted view. The twinkling night lamps looked beautiful as well as festive.

I loved the room, it was decorated in Tibetan style, with motifs painted on the beadstead and the panels of the cupboards. It had a dressing cum writting table with fresh flowers that welcomed us. The small sofa was exactly what I wanted, to put up my feet and overlook the valley, a perfect lovers seat, but my other half missing. Yet that same sofa was going to engrave on my mind the best time we father and daughter spent together in the next 2 days. I took a picture there that has absorbed the essence of our bond in it and is a treasure for life.

We ordered an early dinner straight away and decided to sleep early and it had been a long drive. It was a little cold in the room but once under the blanket it felt cozy. Gangtok was warmer than Darjeeling but just 36kms away we were told were the snow capped mountains. We were to go there the next morning.


Upendra said...

Wow.. Thanks a lot for your blog and your writing skills do deserve accolades... I am originally from Darjeeling and currently studying in Canada and miss home very much and your blog took me down the memory lane all over again... Hope you realize that currently Darjeeling is demanding a separate state status, and I hope you will understand after having seen yourself how different we are than rest of West Bengal.. please do speak of Darjeeling to your friends and tell to all who care to listen how Darjeeling is demanding separation from West Bengal.. as every we want all of India to know how much we can develop if it is not for the West Bengal stopping us...

Thanks once again for your post and all the best fro your future travels.


Anjali said...

Hi Upendra thank you for stopping by to comment.

However I don't endorse your thoughts and neither think the demands for Darjeeling as separate state is reasonable.

It is definitely sad that Darjeeling needs to develop and also maintain the heritage but is not upto the mark due to lack of attention. The hill station needs more attention from the Government of West Bengal. Seek that and you will get more supporters.

Tomorrow every town will ask for independent status. Is that a valid demand?

About the differences, yes people of Darjeeling are different but so are so many others in India. We Indians pride ourselves in having unity in diversity. I stand by that.

Please do not use my blog to propagate your agenda. Comments like your earlier one will not be published henceforth.

I have published the last one to let people know how people are trying to tear up India into bits and pieces. I as a patriot will not allow that as it is not in the interest of the country.