Got up at 3.25 am.
Reached hotel foyer at 3.45 am.
Taxi was to arrive at 4.00 am.
Tiger Hill to see sunrise – golden yellow reflection of first sunlight on mount Kanchenjungha peaks.
Taxi didn’t arrive till 4.30. Driver said, he was caught up in traffic jam.
Tiger Hill view point is 18 km from this hotel. Sunrise was to occur at 4.52 am.
About 10 km from Tiger Hill, we were caught up in traffic jam extending all the way to Tiger hill. At about 5.45, we were still 3 km from the view point and driver said, there is no way vehicle can go further. We were asked to go on foot or turn back. We decided to turn back. Sun was already high at 6 o’clock. In our Ajay Modi group, 7-8 vehicles were running parallel. Only one reached Tiger Hill in time to see the sunrise. Very poor management. No one to complain to.
As per original schedule, after sunrise point, we were to go for sight-seeing at Ghoom monastery and Batasia Loop, and then to hotel for breakfast. Our co-travelers were in no
mood for sight-seeing and we retuned to the hotel at 6.30.
After breakfast, at 9.30 few more places were on the list: Peace Pagoda, Darjeeling Zoo and visit to Tea Gardens.
Peace Pagoda is a nice place with one Japanese Buddhist temple. We didn’t enter the Zoo and rather decided to sit aside and rest. Visit to Tea Gardens is just for the benefit of the stalls selling ‘tea’ and getting yourself photographed in local costume.
Official tour of Sikkim c/o Ajay Modi was over at 3 pm.
We decided to try for Darjeeling Mountain train – aka ‘toy train’. It is not just a toy train. There are four such small gauge trains (narrower than narrow gauge) in India: (1) Kalka-Shimla, (2) Darjeeling-Siliguri, (3) Ooty-Mettupalayam and (4) Neral-Matheran. We had enjoyed ride in three out of these four and only Darjeeling train was remaining. We were very lucky that the train was running on that day and we found that a ‘Joy Ride’ special train was scheduled at 4 pm.
Darjeeling-Siliguri service is also still in operation and it takes about 7 hours.
Joy ride is a two-hour return ride from Darjeeling to
Batasia Loop to Ghoom and back. Due to rush, two trains running simultaneously (!) were scheduled at 4 pm that day. Railways have also learned from hoteliers and taxi operators to make some fast bucks. Tickets were priced at Rs. 1000 per person for diesel train and Rs. 1500 for steam engine driven train. There are some 4-6 steam engines available – some about 125 years old and still running – for the two-hour ride. For us, it was completion of ‘char-dham’.
And we enjoyed it thoroughly. With air-travel increasing, some of the fun of travelling by train is missed. To get the tickets, we had to apply in old fashioned ‘reservation slip’, and then only paper ticket with illegible handwriting in reverse carbon was issued. Waiting room is available on the platform no. 1 and it was in use! Reservation chart was prepared and every passenger was checked against reservation chart before starting the journey. ‘Nautanki’ was complete with guard blowing the whistle to start and TC boarding each coach, in full uniform as the train started rolling. Having gone about 200 meters, our coach had a technical snag. The train was in the middle of a busy
market road. The fault was repaired in 10 min, and train moved on. The best part was to see the train crossing the motor-roads several times, with vehicles stopping for the train to pass – on their own - without ‘manned – crossings’. This happens because the railway -DHR: Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was established sometime between 1880-1885 (almost 150 years!). Then came the modern-day roads. Occasionally, trains also stop to allow motor-vehicles to pass! (Because two trains were running one after the other with just 100 m distance between them). Houses and shops have come up so close to the railway tract that there is hardly a gap of 4-6 inches. One can also see vehicles parked on the railway tract. It seems that locals have accepted the train as a part of their life and everything moves very smoothly.
First stop was for 10 min at Batasia Loop. This is a very famous location for shooting of many hindi film songs. (Main chali, main chali, Mere sapno ki rani to name a few). Now the loop looks very different than seen in the movies because ‘Gorkha War Memorial’ is developed inside the ‘loop’ and several other structures have
come up all around. As soon as we got down at Batasia Loop, people who had come to this place by road boarded the train to photograph themselves with the train! The train is so popular. From Batasia Loop, the train goes to Ghoom station where there is a small DHR museum. Old styled railway equipments are on the display.
This two-hour trip was one of the best parts of our Sikkim-Darjeeling tour. There is no mention of this train ride in Ajay Modi’s tour brochure.
Darjeeling looks like an old, sick, rotting and dying hill station. It has very good climate and some very good scenic views. With local population rising to 130,000 and perhaps even greater number of vehicles and 6 times the number of tourists as the vehicles. The city is full of stinking wastes overflowing on to every major and minor road. Some drastic surgery is required before the beautiful place dies of neglect. (Incidentally, Darjeeling is in West Bengal). We did not find good, organized market place anywhere in Gangtok or Darjeeling. May be we did not have opportunity to explore them fully. That was how the schedule was.
Happy ending of
Day-7. Day-8: Darjeeling to Bagdogra
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