Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - Boulevard of Broken Dreams

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - Boulevard of Broken Dreams
This is the concluding post on our failed trip to Darjeeling. We shifted to the Circuit House just after our morning breakfast. Circuit House is nearer to the center of Darjeeling. The room we were allotted was spacious in true sense, but unlike the forest department rest-house, it lacked a "feel at home" ambiance and the cozy hospitality. There was a fire-place but ‘just for show’ and staffs were cold towards our necessities. This deterred us from asking for anything even if we felt its need. The extra-large windowpanes at one end of our room gave magnificent view of mountain peaks but we really missed the homely food of the former stay. Oh leave these trivial sour spots man, we had to hurry for our forthcoming toy-train journey in about an hour! The Darjeeling station looked busy and totally different from what it appeared at night. There were a couple of steam engines huffing & puffing under the loco-shed garaged on the opposite side of the road. Two diesel hauled toy-trains were waiting in the platform. I was fully supporting UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee’s decision of recognizing Darjeeling Himalayan Railway ‘World Heritage Site’ status on 5thDecember, 1999.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - Boulevard of Broken Dreams
I went to the ticket-counter to check our train status. "All passenger trains are canceled” was all I could hear and it was enough for me to feel extremely cheated by the Goddess of fortune! Why it has to be me who’ll be compelled to miss innocent toy-train rides every time despite having valid tickets? The bitter memories of 2007 slapped on my cheeks real hard when the railway authority clearly informed that they can’t even provide us with tickets of the brief Joy-ride. “Ok then can you give us tickets for the next day… or the next…?” I was that desperate. But, all of their Joy-ride tickets had already been booked (for another ten days). I regretted for reserving the passenger toy-train tickets instead of the Joy-ride but how could I apprehend that I'd have to revisit the same boulevard of broken dreams? In a Joy-ride ticket one can travel from Darjeeling to Ghoom and return back. I wanted to travel up to Kurseong and that was the sole reason of my felony. When no officer in the railway station could oblige me with a ray of hope, I understood riding DHR was destined to be in my distant travel wishlist. Fortunately others were not so emotionally touched by the incident and they decided to enjoy walking in the mall area. I wanted something more strenuous to kill the newborn sympathetic overflow inside my blood vessels.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - Boulevard of Broken Dreams
I took the narrow C R Das Road, originating from Chowrasta and kept walking downhill aimlessly, perhaps in search of serenity to throw off the frustration I had accumulated in the morning. The road was narrow, steep downhill and with occasional motorbikes. I saw Desbandhu Museum (for those of you who are not acquainted with this name, you must know Desbandhu Chitraranjan Das was one of the most prominent figures in Indian National Freedom Movement) on my left side and a board that read “Here on the 16th June 1925 passed away Desbandhu Chittaranjan Das” but its gate was locked. On left, another board read “Bhutia Busty Monastery Ahead”… So, I was not aimless anymore, kept strolling down cautiously. Walking downhill is said to be effortless but when the descent is steep you put a lot of stress on your muscles while trying to keep your body in equilibrium and controlling your pace! It was after fifteen minutes of downhill hike I could leave the typically congested Darjeeling smell at my back and feel more close to nature. There were prayer flags on the side of the road and I could see the monastery hidden in vast greenery and Lebong Race Course farther down the monastery. Besides its downhill slope, the road exhibited its serpentine nature after that point and it took another fifteen minutes at least to reach the gate of the monastery.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - Boulevard of Broken Dreams
1.5 kilometers downhill from Chowrasta took half an hour… still would you argue that uphill walk is the only pain? The monastery derived its name from its location in Bhutia Colony and perhaps the oldest monastery in Darjeeling, built in traditional Tibetan style. Inside the prayer hall there are large wall murals, made with different colored stone powders, illustrating the life of Buddha. The Bhutia Monastery in its perfectly tranquil natural settings provided by diverse wildflowers, plants and its swaying colorful prayer flags is sure to wash out your tiredness of mind or body. I avoided an over-talkative Korean traveler and came out from the monastery. A local man suggested me to take the road down to the Lebong Race Course (may be another 20 minutes walk) from where one can get shared taxis for Chowrasta. But I wanted to take the pain of uphill walk taking the same road. After every 100 meters I had to stop to catch up with my breath but it was fun… at least it kept me away from the wicked thoughts of my toy-train-tragedy. After crossing midway I bought two chocolate bars to add glucose to my weeping muscles. But they actually aggravated my hunger! On reaching Mall road I saw a crowded South-Indian eatery where I ordered a masala-dosa for my late-afternoon lunch.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - Boulevard of Broken Dreams
I remembered of buying Darjeeling tea as souvenirs for my near ones at home. I chose to shop from Nathmulls (they have another branch on Chowrasta as well) opposite to the Darjeeling Municipality Office building (this is the building that houses the clock tower which you saw in the movie ‘Barfi’). Their polished professional behavior showed how much they are accustomed to deal with tourists. I thought to give a peep to the Bengal Natural History Museum. On reaching there, the guard told that it was closed for the day. I had heard from someone that a Nepali cultural dance program is organized in Shrubbery Nightingale Park after sunset. So I locked my next target ignoring my nagging legs. Actually I was adamant that I won’t get into taxis. A fifteen minutes walk from Chowrasta under the dimming sky took me to the Nightingale Park, behind the Raj Bhawan. The man in the ticket counter informed that there’ll be no cultural program that day, so I refrained from exploring the park and returned back. On my way back I met a huge group of Tibetan refugees walking with candles in the memory of their dead countrymen who had become the victim of Chinese brutality. Being touched by the historical tragedy on Tibet I joined the procession and chanted "Om Mani Padme Hum" with the mass till they concluded the demonstration in the middle of Chowrasta.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - Boulevard of Broken Dreams
While walking down the Nehru road, seeing Glenary’s, I remembered that my dinner was due and my clock suggested to finish up the pending task. Glenary’s is another classic restaurant serving Darjeeling since British-rule days. In the ground floor you’ll you’ll find a well stocked confectionery/bakery cum café and in its upper floor you’ll find the dining room. There’s a bar as well which I didn’t feel like venturing. You may order Indian, continental or Chinese cuisines to the waiter who’ll approach your table. The empty coat hanger by the side of the entrance matches with its history but certainly fails to blend with the hospitality the restaurant provides these days. Obviously there are several chicken dishes you can choose from but pork items are something you can go for as you won’t get them in many quality food places in most other parts of India. Food in Glenary’s was okay if not exceptional and the service was fairly good. I left the change and came down to the road. It was 8:30 PM and, our last night in Darjeeling. Next morning we had reserved a car for Kalimpong, of course to try our luck after a failed trip to Darjeeling. I had walked enough and really needed a good night sleep to boost up my physiological battery level.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Next morning, the condensed water droplets veiling our windowpane added an element of mystery to the morning view of mountains. I lazed on the sofa and patiently watched it sliding down drop by drop, as if clearing the mountain-view for this curious traveler. Breakfast arrived and we got ready. I called the taxi driver I had talked to but he informed me of his car problem, assuring me at the same time to send us another reliable option. We left Darjeeling Circuit House, one hour later than our plan. It was Maha-ashtami (2 days before Dussehra). The celebration on the streets was on, causing our 50 kilometers journey to Kalimpong halt here and there on every turn. The customs of Darjeeling is varied due to the coexistence of diverse ethnic groups. They were celebrating by making processions on the streets with new clothes, trumpets/drums and decorations. I wish I could remember the local name for the same. All I could get through my car window was hundred happy faces and Nepali folklores. I wondered whether those relatively simpler festivals on hills are much more enjoyable than the Durga Puja we celebrate on plains, spending at least half a crore rupees on each gorgeous setup...!
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - Boulevard of Broken Dreams
There were plenty orange trees on our way, mostly invisible to our inexperienced eyes due to absence of orange colored fruits hanging from their branches. After crossing Teesta market we got stuck with a full one hour jam over the Teesta Bridge. It would have been a fairly enjoyable time-pass to watch the green-wild Teesta River if the overhead sun didn’t show his brutality, and of course if the wind over the bridge was gentler. By one O’clock we reached Kalimpong, the fascinating hill station at an altitude of about 1,250 meters, located in the foothills of the Mahabharat Range above the scenic Teesta Valley. We had booking in the Kalimpong Guest House which is in the outskirt of the town, in the close proximity to the Indian Army’s 27 Mountain Division area. Initially I was unhappy to find the accommodation far away from the center of Kalimpong but as our cab climbed the pristine Durpin Hill road to reach the Circuit House crossing the picturesque Army Golf Course at our left I knew it was the best place we could get for our relaxing Dussehra trip. Don't worry, I won't bore you with the tale of our tranquil Kalimpong stay. If you missed any of the previous parts of this travel blog series I am gladly providing all links below:

* A failed Trip to Darjeeling - the temptation of Toy Train
* A failed Trip to Darjeeling - viewing Sunrise from the Tiger Hill
* A failed Trip to Darjeeling - brief visit to Ghoom
* A failed Trip to Darjeeling - leisurely walk inside the Himalayan Zoological Park
* A failed Trip to Darjeeling - in pursuit of Darjeeling Tea
* A failed Trip to Darjeeling - little bit of Local Sightseeing

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - little bit of Local Sightseeing

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - little bit of Local Sightseeing
After visiting tea garden and tea factory our post lunch destination was Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple and the Darjeeling Peace Pagoda located in the vicinity of the Japanese temple, at Jalapahar hill area. It was not far from the center place where we had pacified our tummy with light meal, just fifteen minutes back. Our driver left us at a point from where we had to take a five minutes walk along the cemented pathway under the canopy of wild creepers and monstrous furniture trees. It was neither an uphill walk, nor a downhill stroll but what I can say is it was a charming afternoon walk! The two storied Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple is simple in appearance and you’ll be more distracted by the larger Peace Pagoda sharing the same campus. As you enter the temple you’ll encounter a framed photo of Fujii Guruji, the founder and don’t forget to take the wooden stairs to the first floor prayer hall. Be decent enough to abstain from clicking if somebody is praying in the prayer hall.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - little bit of Local Sightseeing
After a short prayer we made our way to the snow-white Peace Pagoda. According to Lotus Sutra of Buddhism, the very appearance of the Peace Pagoda in itself is an incarnation of Buddha which radiates the message of nonviolence and it sanctifies the land and mind of people. This Peace Pagoda platforms four avatars of Lord Buddha (Sleeping, Sitting, Standing and Meditating Buddha) and has beautiful artworks on sandstone, depicting various events of Buddha’s life. Even you can get a partial bird’s eye view of the Darjeeling town from the Pagoda. Here ended our contract with the cab driver and he dropped us before our Kakjhora Forest rest house.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - little bit of Local Sightseeing
I was not tired enough to surrender to a late afternoon nap, so strolled back towards the Mall road aimlessly. At the beginning of the Mall road, I saw the ‘much heard’ Keventer’s. If you’re not impressed by its ‘slice of watermelon’ like green-triangular-small parameters, two words on its hoarding ‘Since 1911’ are sure to lure you! By chance if you’re not an admirer of traditional English breakfast/snacks with sandwiches, hot-dogs or sausages, you can still visit Keventer’s for a cup of exquisite Darjeeling tea while relaxing on its terrace, watching the busy market area of Darjeeling. I settled with sausages (pork sausages are worth trying) and a mug of coffee on its open terrace and spotted the clock-tower which was used quite nicely in the Bollywood movie ‘Barfi’.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - little bit of Local Sightseeing
I resumed my wandering along the mall road, crossed the classic Chowrasta and stopped by a big church, St. Andrew’s Church whose foundation dated back to 1843! This church was roomy enough to accommodate 150 persons at a time. Along the walls of the interior of the church are inlaid mural tablets inscribed in the memory of some of the oldest residents of Darjeeling, chief among them being Lt. General A. Lloyd, the person who credited with laying the establishment of Darjeeling. On the opposite side of the road, there was the cultural auditorium hall of Darjeeling. The sun had slipped down the horizon and halogen glow over the streets of Darjeeling was easing up. I took a U-turn as I had to search the Circuit House of Darjeeling. We were supposed to shift to the Circuit House in the following morning as we could procure booking in the Forest Dept Rest House at Kakjhora only for first two days. Well it was not a big deal… moreover experiencing sleeping at different places is a welcome idea for me. But, something that was tickling my excitement was the toy-train ride scheduled for the next morning.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - little bit of Local Sightseeing
I passed by the picture-perfect Chowrasta, the lifeblood of Darjeeling tourism, located at the highest point of the Nehru road. You’ll find a full social canvas at Chowrasta, ranging from pony-riders, bench-writers, hawkers, porters, bubble-makers to enthusiasts exploring the heritage shops like Oxford Book or Habeeb Mullick & Son. Chowrasta is one among few places where vintage coexists harmoniously with new-age as evident from the Café Coffee Day, Nathmulls etc sharing the stage with those before mentioned old shops. You can be an enchanted passive spectator for hours occupying some bench in Chowrasta. I activated my Sherlock Holmes senses to search the Circuit House. In the next blog post I’ll be narrating the last day of our failed Darjeling trip and you'll come to know how my long-pampered dream got shattered. So, do join my damp and bitter pity party!

Friday, December 9, 2016

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - in pursuit of Darjeeling Tea

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - in pursuit of Darjeeling Tea
After our leisurely walk inside the Himalayan Zoological Park and HMI we drove to Kanchan View Tea Estate, and you can quite easily guess the rationale behind its nomenclature. Yes, if the weather is not too unpleasant, mighty Kanchenjunga acts as its backdrop. This is the same reason for which tourists are brought here, so that they can satisfy their eyes and of course their lens. I got down the slopes of the tea garden and torn out few leaves to smell the magic of Darjeeling tea. You have every right to laugh at the stupidity of this botany illiterate … fresh tea leaves don’t carry the aroma. The sun overhead wasn’t so tolerant with us, so we concluded our stroll in tea garden with tea.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - in pursuit of Darjeeling Tea
There were actually some dozen of tea-vendors selling tea parcels of the same estate but good thing is that none of them nagged us for a purchase. We posed before the lush green tea plantations on the curves of hills but there was a clear absence of satisfaction in my mind. What’s new in it? I have seen so many tea gardens before in Jalpaiguri district too. What I wanted was to witness the tea processing in a factory in its rawest form. I talked to the driver and he told that tea-factory visit doesn’t come in regular sightseeing contract… Ah it was that trivial! I agreed for the extra bucks and he happily took us to a tea factory.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - in pursuit of Darjeeling Tea
En route we passed the Rope-way (known as, Rangeet Valley Passenger Cable Car) at Singamari. The rope-way service was kept closed that day in the memory of a fatal accident it had faced on October 2003, where four passengers had died. We missed the golden opportunity to get astounding view of the valley below, see the carpet of lively tea gardens on the mountain slopes, meandering river Ramman and Little Rangeet, waterfalls, endless greeneries and the majestic Eastern Himalayan range of snow capped giants. If you are traveling Darjelling in October and want to ride the cable car then confirm that particular date from your tourist cab driver or guide to avoid disappointment like us. 
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - in pursuit of Darjeeling Tea
We also passed by Tenzing and Gombu Rocks which are used for rock climbing training by HMI. Tenzing Rock is a colossal natural rock where you can try your amateurish climbing. Tenzing Norgay, the pioneer climber to the summit of Mt Everest used to practice climbing in that rock from where it has derived its name! If you’re ignoring Gombu Rock (just opposite to Tenzing Rock) then probably you haven't heard of Gombu (Nawang Gombu), the nephew of Tenzing, the first brave heart to climb the Everest twice! Our car also passed by the prestigious St Paul’s School where the Bollywood movie ‘Main Hoon Na’ was shot and while staring at the school from the road you may develop a melancholy “Why didn’t I have my schooling here?”… Nah I (being a Xaverian ) didn’t have any such feeling though.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - in pursuit of Darjeeling Tea
Our next destination was the tea factory. Here I won’t mention the name of this tea-factory anywhere in my blog because I’ll be putting some photos of their interior processing units which weren’t officially allowed, for which I had to tip to the staff. I know it’s bit unethical but I had found their prohibition on photography itself so unreasonable. So, I’ll indulge in the white mischief, safeguarding the reputation of the company with anonymity. A staff acted as our guide and explained all the details starting from tea-plucking to packaging the processed tea for export. Taking us to various units/chambers he narrated the processes of withering, disruption, fermentation, fixation, rolling, drying etc which I can hardly remember now (yes, I was more busy in clicking than listening to useful things!).
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - in pursuit of Darjeeling Tea

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - in pursuit of Darjeeling Tea

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - in pursuit of Darjeeling Tea

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - in pursuit of Darjeeling Tea
Still I can remember he had given a comparative description of the processing of three major varieties of tea- green, black and white tea. Like, green tea is processed within a couple of days of harvesting and requires minimum fermentation. The black tea on the other hand requires complete fermentation etc etc… Then we tasted these three types of tea and purchased few of their tea-pack souvenirs. Honestly I loved the green tea most while tasting. The late lunch followed soon and in my next blog post I’ll tell how we spent the rest of the day in Darjeelng local sightseeing.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - leisurely walk inside the Himalayan Zoological Park

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - leisurely walk inside the Himalayan Zoological Park
Did you read about our brief visit to Ghoom? Post breakfast we reached Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park which is perhaps the only dedicated zoo in the India and globally recognized for its conservation breeding programs of Red Panda, Snow Leopards, Tibetan Wolf and other highly dying out animal species of Eastern Himalaya. Strolling inside the Himalayan Zoo meant some uphill walk while enjoying the captive mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles at both sides. The variety of inhabitants of the zoo came out to be much higher than what I had assumed and it is always a sweet-bitter experience how majority of the parents behave inside a zoo when they are with their kids.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - leisurely walk inside the Himalayan Zoological Park
I was glad that I didn’t need to wait for a dream to pitch a tent in Hemis National Park to track the ‘extreme privacy loving’ Snow leopard or trek through Singalila National Park fantasizing to spot an ‘over shy’ Red Panda… Yea, undoubtedly spotting them in their natural wild habitat is totally a different experience but getting a glimpse of those much talked about celebrities, even though in enclosures wasn’t really unsatisfactory for me. Other residents you’re likely to encounter in Darjeeling Zoo are Black leopard, Leopard cat, Tiger, Tibetan wolf, Black bear, Blue sheep, Yak, Barking deer, Sambhar deer, Palm civet, Wild Himalayan goat, Jackal, Tortoise, various types of pheasants, Jungle fowl, Parrot, Myna, Macaw etc.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - leisurely walk inside the Himalayan Zoological Park

A failed Trip to Darjeeling - leisurely walk inside the Himalayan Zoological Park
There were a lot more than I can remember at the moment and certainly would interest most of you but my indifference for biology when it comes to names/nomenclatures doesn’t let me to remember more than a few names. Oh one more thing, this zoo remains closed on every Thursday. At one end of the Himalayan Zoo, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) is located with adjacent HMI Museum. In HMI you can enroll for the basic mountaineering as well as advanced mountaineering courses and it’s more than affordable but I’ve heard that seats are limited, so they get filled up real fast. Our Zoo ticket also included permission to enter the HMI Museum which once again I found worth visiting (photography not allowed inside!). If you’re curious about mountaineering you’ll be amazed by the historical photos, documents and souvenirs preserved there for display. The high-altitude hiking gears inside the glass boxes and case-models will surely ignite your adventure spirit and provoke you to climb for thin air and frosty rocks.
A failed Trip to Darjeeling - leisurely walk inside the Himalayan Zoological Park
I saluted those great mountaineers (like great Tenzing Norgay) whose mementos were at display and left the museum, vaguely promising myself to squeeze out a month time to join basic mountaineering course someday. Our driver Bikram was impatiently waiting for us outside the zoo. I'm determined to dedicate the next blog post to Darjeeling Tea. Watch out tea lovers!