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Published: June 27th 2013
my first trip to Darjeeling was way back in the year 1975, possibly leaving my younger bro just born that year with granny. my only recollections of that trip were possibly a ride on a horse and a train line. Later on I heard stories of my antics as a three year old and saw photographs of the horse rides. we had stayed at the planters club i was told and mum dad would hold me from both sides and swing me as they trooped about.
the second time was with the folks and my bro, we were returning from Guwahati in Assam and I remember the train journey in a first class compartment. i also recall a restaurant where we had lunch. this was in the year 1979 a year before my second and final brother would be born.
my aunt used to live in Siliguri and for many years we were a bit hesitant to go to Darjeeling as we would have to pass Siliguri and meet her and mum wasn't too keen on that. So in the year 2006 after much water had flown under the bridge, we set off for Darjeeling and didn't have to worry about formalities. We arrived by train to New Jalpaiguri station and drove off for Darjeeling. After quite a steep climb we reached Kurseong and saw the church and the mountain railway at Ghoom station. At this point of time in my life I was employed with a fragrance distribution house as a regional manager and right now was having a fight with dad. Luckily Darjeeling would sort that part out. My youngest brother would accompany us but not the middle one. We checked into the Windermere now an ITC Hotel and the rooms we had had fireplaces, were adjacent to one another, looked down the valley and were done up in English Cottage style. Indeed the ambience was akin to our houses in Shillong.
We had to go down to the dining room for our meals and at night it was bitterly cold even though it was Mar-April. The Windermere was started by Madam Tendu-Fla and she continued with a British style menu until it was taken over by ITC. The next day we went sightseeing and managed to hit a couple of places, the Himalayan zoo and Tibetan settlement and museum etc. The mall was the best part of Darjeeling, one could sit there surrounded by the Himalayas and shop at the various Tibetan places, have momos and sip some Darjeeling tea. We also went shopping at the commercial complex and took in the heritage of the town. There is a clock tower and a British style post office. Darjeeling is also known as the Queen of the hills, on a clear day one can see up-to five countries. The British in India had developed several hill stations like Darjeeling and Simla to escape the summer heat of India. For years the region had seen insurgency raise it's ugly head and till date they struggle with their demand for an autonomous state called Gorkhaland. On our way we passed the Batasia loop and tiger point from where early morning one can see the mighty Kanchenzonga.
I was hooked onto Darjeeling tea and would have lots of it after breakfast and carry some back. I would also shop for Tibetan bags, masks, earrings, junk jewellery, shawls and shoes. One of the movies that always struck the right chord with us Bengalis was made by Satyajit Ray named Kanchenzonga and was shot over the hills and mists of Darjeeling.
Later I got to know I was spotted here by a co-worker. I was still very plump and in the photographs look ghastly. Our stay at Windermere was drawing to a close and we sat at the terrace overlooking the range for the last time, sipping tea and celebrating mum and dad's 35th anniversary. We explored the cottages of the Windermere and also climbed up to a temple on top but it was surrounded by monkeys. Darjeeling in spring time was beautiful, there was a freshness in the air and new buds and flowers had sprouted. On the way to St Pauls school, Darjeeling we saw a lovely landscape. This was a prestigious boarding school again started by the British. The hill roads are narrow and dangerous, on our way back to catch the train we would come via a very dangerous and narrow road past the Happy Valley Tea Estate. Our train was delayed slightly but I was so mesmerised by the beauty of Darjeeling and the charms of the Windermere that I would want to go back very soon but it wasn't meant to be.
With my best friend I would make plans to come again that year and we had planned to visit Mirik, Chalsa, Phaskoa, Kurseong, Darjeeling, Cooch Behar, Jaldapara and finally Kalimpong with her mum and sister. But I was laid off at work and couldn't join her. Till date I haven't been able to visit the Queen of the hills again.
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