It has often been said that a person’s journey is what counts – not the victory at the finish line. True indeed! In order to widen the armoury of the journeys we have had so far, we planned a three-day trip to Darjeeling from Dec 25 to 27’ 2015. Train tickets were booked 3 months prior to the scheduled trip. However, the tickets weren’t confirmed till the end. We were headstrong about embarking on this trip anyhow and consequently, we decided to travel via a general compartment. We were a group of 8 persons (Souvik, Mayur, Keya, Krupa, Prakhar Rastogi, Yatin, Amit, and self). On arriving the Howrah railway station, we were welcomed by an already existing queue of people waiting for the same train for the general bogie. We boarded the train from Howrah to New Jalpaiguri on December 24, 2015 at around 1430 hrs. It was a new experience to travel in a jam-packed manner where there was no space even for the air to exist. Yet, it was an enriching experience to be squeezed-in with a variety of people coming from different walks of life. After all, Experiences are the fruit of any journey that shape the people we become in the future and this future can be as near as tomorrow.
We deboarded the train at New Jaipaiguri around 0200 hrs on 25th December. A travel agency was hired, which would provide us the transport facility for the next 3 days for reaching Darjeeling and sight-seeing there. We departed from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling on a Tata Sumo at 5 in the morning. It was Christmas. Siliguri welcomed us about 5.4 kms ahead. This sylvan town was flanked by mountains that sparkled with tiny lights in the darkness at 0529 hrs, and the army cantonment we passed through looked pleasant in the twilight. There were a number of areas in this cantonment that I remember, like Rhino Dwar, Madhubani bus stand, Santushti shopping complex.
We traversed through the hilly, winding roads surrounded by tea-plants and reached Mirik at around 0630 hrs. The ground was glistening with a thin cover of frost. We took photographs over a bridge. There were many dogs of different sizes and breeds that tamed our attention. After investing half an hour in this area, we resumed the journey and stopped by the Nepal Border. Permission to visit Nepal was taken by showing the Identity proof at the check post and a car was hired that would drop us a kilometer ahead to a place called Pashupatinagar-4, Ilam. The most prominent remembrance of this place was a meeting with a small girl, Ritika, who possessed ethereal beauty of mountains she lived in. We bought currency notes of Nepal from there for remembrance and some woolen caps.
The journey continued further by getting back to the border check post and leaving for Darjeeling. On our way to Darjeeling which was a few kilometers away from there; the twisted road, a thick cover of deodar trees around the road, fresh mountainous air and serenity all around gave me a sense of Déjà vu, for a simple reason that this place appeared a look-alike of my native place “Pauri” in Uttarakhand. We reached Darjeeling around 1100 hrs, checked-in to our hotel at Mall road, had a short nap and went for having lunch after getting fresh. The city of Darjeeling looked a perfect place chosen to explore an unseen territory. After satiating our hunger, it was the beginning of the activity of sight-seeing. We headed to Botanical garden that contained an amalgamation of a wide varieties of trees and shrubs. We returned to mall road, had dinner and went for a stroll around the mall road. We were joined at this point, by two more friends of ours, Prakhar Gupta and Nivedita. We all went to see, from outside only, St. Andrew’s church and Raj Bhavan, situated across each other at mall road.
We woke up at wee hours around 0330 hours, got ready and left hotel for the Tiger hill. We had expected to be the only ones to be waking up so early. However, on moving out of our hotel to hop on our hired cab, we witnessed a large number of people who were already waiting for their respective vehicles to go to the Tiger hill. We reached Tiger hill in twilight and were fortunate enough to see the sun rise from this place. The view of the sun rising from behind the mountains was captivating. We were lucky in another sense that we could see Kanchenjunga from tiger hill more vividly since the day we arrived Darjeeling did not give us the privilege to witness this mountain so evidently. Kanchenjunga, this day, from tiger hill appeared snow-capped, milky white, as pure as god’s holiness. The shape of this third tallest mountain resembled that of a sleeping Buddha or a sleeping shiv.
We proceeded to Ghoom Monastery, built in the year 1850. The ambiance of this place provided solace and i will always remember the kind words of 14th Dalai Lama inscribed on a piece of cloth hung, which stated:
NEVER GIVE UP
No matter what is going on,
Never give up.
Develop the heart.
Too much energy in your country
Is spent developing the mind.
Instead of the mind,
Develop the heart.
Not just to your friends,
But to everyone.
Work for peace,
In your heart and in the world.
Work for peace.
And I say again,
Never give up.
No matter what is happening,
No matter what is going on around you,
Never give up.
…H.H. The XIV Dalai Lama
The next destination was Rock garden which catered a soothing environs of waterfall. The next place we visited was St. Joseph’s school, north point; which has been featured in films by Raj Kapoor, Satyajit Ray, and Anjan Dutt, to name a few. Then we went to the Tea garden at Rangeet valley. It was followed by a visit to the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park & Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Then we went from there to Japanese temple where we learnt the recital of mantra “Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo” which means “Mai bhagwan Budhha ko namaskar karta hu”.
The morning was special in a way, that, we were eagerly awaiting the Toy train ride within Darjeeling. It is also known as Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR). DHR was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999, only the second railway to have this honor bestowed upon it, the first one being ‘Semmering Railway’ of Austria in 1998. DHR covered 13 Kms inside Darjeeling, took us through Batasia Loop , which is a spiral railway created to lower the gradient(or slope) of ascent of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. At this point, the train makes a loop around a beautiful garden over a hilltop. It was commissioned in 1919. It is 5 km from Darjeeling, below Ghum. At Batasia Loop,there is also a memorial to the Gorkha soldiers of the Indian Army who sacrificed their lives after the Indian Independence in 1947. Toy Train then proceeds to Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) Museum where it halts for 30 minutes.
The Toy Train ride was amusing and worth a visit. The next place we visited was Sheer Dham, which is a Lord Shiv temple. This was followed by a visit to Mahakaal Temple at Mall Road near the hotel we stayed in. This temple was a combination of Lord Shiv and Buddhism.
The journey was coming to an end as we had to leave for New Jalpaiguri from Darjeeling at around 1600 hours on 27th December, and then back to Kolkata from there. However, what was not going to end was the value of experiences we gathered during this trip. We got to learn about people, places, architecture, and nature. The company of jovial people with me was adding a sense of bliss during this travel. Whether it was Amit’s ghost stories of Uttarakhand that captivated everyone’s interest and evoked humor; Souvik’s liveliness for singing songs and photography; Prakhar Rastogi and my leg-pulling of others and then laughing like hell; Krupa’s sweet-voiced songs; Yatin’s calmness and smile; Mayur’s funny reactions to different situations; Keya’s friendliness and warmth; Prakhar Gupta’s gentle behavior; or Nivedita’s helping attitude towards me when I fell ill by lending me many stuffs, which was, hugely, a generous attitude of hers. Everything aforementioned seasoned our journey and developed a sense of being the-members-of-a-single-family in us. Last but not the least, the driver who dropped us from Darjeeling to New Jalpaiguri was quite interactive, brutally honest, and shared many information with us.
Undoubtedly, Journeys extend the horizon of our knowledge and make us better human beings in life. So what are you afraid of? Climb out of your rabbit hole and start your real journey.