Darjeeling Diaries, A Saga of the hills

Tripoto
27th Apr 2017
Day 1

My hometown (in Odisha, India) is not just an ordinary town, I wish it were Darjeeling but no, it has to be the town with the highest temperature in the summer. In winter you can get frostbite, in summer you can get sunstroke. Talk about the weather (lol). What can you expect at 50 degrees Celsius?

What can you expect at 50 degrees Celsius? So, this summer I planned to go to a hill station I hadn’t been before. My first choice was Kodaikanal and Ooty, which are in South India. But after scratching those options, I finally went straight to the City of Hills – Darjeeling!

DARJEELING TRAVEL DIARY

My journey started on April 27th. To say the first day of the journey was uneventful would be a big mistake. You know what happened? I had booked my tickets way ahead of time (over two months). I booked lower berths so that I could sleep well. But traveling alone in India makes people think you are helpless.

A guy who had not got his ticket confirmed asked me to change my seat and go to the upper berth. It was so annoying, yet I patiently said: “No, thanks”. He started blowing his bad breath voice louder and louder in my ears and then it started getting on my nerves. It was in the evening around 7 pm when he brought in the railway police and tried taking away my seat. But thank goodness, the Railway Police told him to grow a brain because I already had a confirmed ticket.

GIRLS FIGHT BACK

Later that night, he again picked a quarrel. Now, I was already at my breaking point. I was done being the decent girl, who was quiet as he kept misbehaving with me. I was so done with him now. As he started to quarrel, he was also getting back retorts from me.

The quarrel became so severe that the Railway police came in and helped us cool down. That guy even threatened me, so the Police stayed up all night beside me to ensure I was okay. Now, that is a benefit of being a woman in India. The police were so helpful to me. Four of them stayed close to me so that I wouldn’t face any problems.

The first night of my journey and I was already about to smash someones’ head! But the next day was so much better.

Traditional tea picking attire

Photo of Balangir, Odisha, India by Ankita Sagar
Day 2

I did not have a direct train to my destination. But you should know that no Hill station in India has direct trains. You need to go to the destination using a shared taxi. The next morning, April 28th, I arrived at Howrah. The weather was “oppressive.” Thankfully, my train was at 11 am, so as soon as I boarded the train, I was all good.

My first step into my compartment and I was like “Whaaaaa!?” It was full of guys, and by guys I mean a whole lot of testosterone in one place makes me uncomfortable. I went straight to my seat, and it was occupied by a gang of rowdy looking North Eastern guys.

But when I said to them it was my seat, and I needed sleep because I had a rough night they were very understanding! Even though they were a lot in number, they agreed to give me my seat and sit uncomfortably.

FUN)

I wanted to sleep but I really couldn’t! Why? Because the train in which I booked my ticket was not a train but a running Super Market. All kinds of Vendors came, they sold sarees, t-shirts, watches, blankets and all kinds of food, especially the Macher Jhol (fish curry) and rice.

When I was done trying to sleep, I woke up and all the guys were giggling in front of me. They started our conversation talking about anything and everything. Our major fun started when a vendor came by. He sold water bottles and before he came near our seats he would give us an imaginary phone call and said: “Hello, Hello!” When we all started giggling, he would come nearer and sell water in all kinds of voices “Pani, PANI, Pani.” All the “Pani” were different, one shrill, one loud, one in a low bass and one falsetto.

These guys were so much fun that I didn’t even have to put on my “ tourist mask.” We laughed we talked and even shared “Paan” – the authentic beetle leaf of India. Soon came the Bridge which is built over the Padma River.
TRAVELING

As dinner time came closer, all my packed food was exhausted. Do not blame me, I am a hardcore eater, and I eat when I am bored. So, when one of the guys saw me whining in hunger, he offered me a packet of his snacks. I know, I know, we shouldn’t eat what a stranger offers. But I was so hungry I didn’t give a thought. It was like “do or die”.

These awesome fellow passengers were too adorable for words. One offered to buy me a saree, the other tried to buy me a watch, and the other one was wise and bought me a “Paan.” All in all, my second day of traveling was eventful and fun! You rarely meet such guys in India, but I guess, I was lucky that I did.

Bridge over the Padma River

Photo of Howrah, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar
Day 3


THE CITY OF HILL

When my destination arrived, that is Siliguri aka the NJP Station, I didn’t want to leave, but adventure called. Once in the station, I had to find the resting rooms. I had to take a morning taxi to Darjeeling, as nobody drives to Darjeeling from Siliguri at night. That is why I had booked resting rooms online at the NJP Station.

New Jalpaiguri or Siliguri Railway Station

The Railway Police here are helpful and they guided me to the rooms. After two tiring days of travel, I wanted a clean bed. That is exactly what I got. The room was clean, the bed made, clean sheets and the adjoining bathroom was also in good condition.

I breathed a sigh of relief as my head hit the pillow. The next morning when I would see the Hills of my dreams was yet to come. Darjeeling, here I come!

The Darjeeling hill station story continues in this next chapter of Darjeeling travel diary. The City of Hills is a hidden paradise full of natural beauty and serenity all around.

I could not sleep the first night because I had luggage to look after. But still, I was refreshed and all set to hit the road. Taxis were waiting in the parking lot of the station. You can simply go up to the drivers and ask around for one who is going to your location.

SILIGURI TO DARJEELING

I choose a guy who was decent looking but Ohh Boy! It took him about an hour to fill up the taxi. Then we finally started the long awaited journey. We drove through Military bases and it was unlike any experience I ever had.

ROADS OF THE HILLS

After driving through the military base, we started our ascent. I had never seen how a city on the hill looks. But once we started ascending, the sight was just “wow.” In the picture below you can see the road that we used to climb higher and higher into the hills.

Just at the middle of the mountain we stopped and had breakfast. This was the first time I got a look at the wooden houses which are popular in Hill stations. The little Dhaba (hotel) where we had our breakfast in is in the picture below. Isn’t it cute?

After breakfast, we ascended again, and reached, 6,700 ft above the ground level. The town of Darjeeling is dolled up for everyone to see, there are flower pots decorated in each and every house. Nothing looks prettier than the wooden houses adorned with varieties of flowers. I had kept my GPS on, so when I reached my hotel, I asked my driver to drop me there.

All the taxis head to the Chowrastha or the Market area. But you can ask the driver to drop you at your hotel if it is on the way. After hours of sitting in a jam-packed car, it was hard for me to carry my luggage and climb to my hotel. That is when I learned the first lesson of Hill Station tourism: you have to climb a lot.

Climbing is like walking here. And those who don’t have strong legs will get toned legs if they live here for a month.

THE COMFY HOMESTAY

I stayed at a homestay which I booked online. It was only my second online booking, so I had some doubts. But once I took a look at the hotel my hopes sunk. It wasn’t like I was expecting a 5-star, but I thought at least, no harm in looking for a hotel, right?

I was told to wait, as my room wasn’t ready yet. Then walked in the owner, and I was struck by her beauty. Shoyeta introduced herself and asked if I would care for some coffee. My hopes were dashed, but a coffee sounded heavenly.

As soon as I said yes to the coffee, the receptionist showed me to my room. And Oh-boy! I was totally wrong. My room gave me a spectacular view of the mountain ranges, and it was more than comfy. The tiny coffee mugs, with all the Sikkimese prints, looked beautiful.

SPINNING CYLINDERS AT DALI

Day one in Darjeeling was uneventful by far, except the lucky room I got. In the afternoon though, I couldn’t sit still. I headed to the nearby Monastery – Dali. It was just a 5-minute walk from my hotel. At the time I visited, about 3:30 pm, there were no tourists around to block the views or photo bomb my pictures.

Dali was empty, except for the massive furry giants moving everywhere. The dogs here may look scary, but they are harmless. I roamed free in the monastery, and also went to the prayer room. There was an old lady there who was adorable; she let me spin the giant cylinders in the room.

On my way back, I sat in the coffee shop at the monastery. The coffee was from a coffee machine- nothing fancy. However, you get to sit in the open and have a stunning view of the Darjeeling town. After my coffee, I headed back from the Monastery.

My next stop was the Chowrastha market. Even though it is summer in India, Darjeeling is unpredictable. One moment it will be all sunny and the next you see clouds rolling in. If you are a tourist, you can get confused on where to go. I followed a girl, who shared a taxi with me. She led me to the old market, where you can get cheap woolens, cheaper outfits, and the cheapest umbrellas.

Quick tip: If you are traveling to this part of India, do buy one of these because, in Darjeeling, you can get very cold at night. Plus, your clothes won’t dry easily in a cold weather, and it rains here frequently.

STRANGER

After a whole lot of buying, haggling, and burning a hole in my pocket, I got back to my Homestay. Once I cozied myself up with an oversized sweater (which I had bought that day for my Paa), I flipped through a book of mine – “Mrs. Funnybones.”

I couldn’t concentrate because I heard someone playing guitar. I tiptoed to the reception desk, and there he was the receptionist Amrit. He asked me to join him, and then when I made myself comfortable on the sofa, we both started hitting notes together.

I felt over-the-top happy because it was the first time in my life where I was in a strange place, with a complete stranger. Still, never in my life had I felt so free.Our jamming session came to an end when his little angel daughter popped in and asked to go to bed. That was when we bade our goodbyes. But we promised to make a video of us jamming the next day

I had to sleep early because the next day was going to be interesting. I was going to see the best scenery of Darjeeling, the sunrise at the Tiger Hills! I quickly filled my stomach with chicken and rice and turned off my bed lamp. The next day was going to be epic….wait for it… Dear Dairy!

New Jalpaiguri Railway Station

Photo of Siliguri, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

“On my way to the Military Base near Darjeeling “

Photo of Siliguri, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

Roads cut out of the hills.

Photo of Siliguri, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

A cute Lil Dhaba

Photo of Siliguri, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

A hot cup of Darjeeling Coffee

Photo of Siliguri, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

The high flag of Dali

Photo of Siliguri, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

The jamming session with Amrit

Photo of Siliguri, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar
Day 4


My eyes were closed, but all I could think of was when was I going to see the sunrise at Tiger Hills. As soon as my Alarm went off at 3:30 am, I got ready to hop in the car and ride to the Tiger Hills, Darjeeling.

I arrived there at around 4:30. It was freezing out there. I have seen winters in my town. But this chilly was out of the world. What can I say, they are closer to the Himalayas! The vegetation here is Alpine as well.

SUNRISE AT THE TIGER HILLS
I forgot to wear my gloves, and my fingers became dead. It was a miracle that I was able to click the pictures. Sunrise at the Tiger Hills is all about luck; you see the sun or the clouds will shadow the rise.

The picture you see above, where the sky is orange-red, is taken when the sun is about to rise.

And after the sunrise, you can see the glowing yellow ball of light amidst the clouds. It was surreal to see the sun play hide and seek with the watchers. I have a video made of it; it is funny how the sun showed up when I asked it to *winks*.

GETTING DOLLED UP

Just after watching the sunrise, we headed towards the Batasia Loop. The traffic on the way back was horrible. We reached the loop at around 8. It is an Eco- Garden, where there is the track for the famous Toy Train of Darjeeling.

In the morning you can’t see the Toy Train travel on the tracks. But at least you can see the War Memorial and get dressed up in traditional tea picking dress.

The vendors charge 50 INR for one costume. And if you hand them your camera, they can click your pictures. You don’t need to hire a photographer to click your pic because they will charge 100 INR.

After all the hustle and bustle of the Batasia Loop, we headed straight to our hotel to eat our breakfast. A short break and we were ready to start our Day Trip around Darjeeling.

RISKY DRIVE & A QUIET GARDEN

Driving in the hills is dangerous, but it is also deadly, and I did not know it. My driver was a guy named Naren, who was a kickass driver.

When I got scared of descending 6,000 ft below, he was so thoughtful. He pulled over and clicked some pics of me, then he put on his sunglasses and said “ Don’t Worry!” in that cute, weird North Eastern Accent.

All throughout the drive, my heart was in my throat. I finally reached my destination, the Ganga Maya Park. It was quite unlike any tourist destination, and there were little to no visitors. I roamed around and clicked some beautiful pictures in the Hilly Forests.

At the end of the park was a waterfall, not just a waterfall, there was also a reservoir below it. As I was on a trip of changing myself, I thought to take a risk. To be honest, I don’t know how to swim, I am super- freaked out when I see a lot of water. You can call it hydrophobia, but I call it “fear of drowning.”

But I took the chance and booked a boat and paddled my way around the tank. I didn’t feel a twinge of fear, I was a bit apprehensive in the start, but later I enjoyed the ride. The waterfall from up close was beautiful.
OVER-RATED TOURIST SPOTS

If you ever visit Darjeeling, you will know that Rock Garden is one of the overrated destinations here. I was excited to visit it as I heard it is made of rock.

But once I saw it, I was disappointed. The crowds filled every level of the park. And you hike and hike from one level to the other to see nothing except the made up scenery. I personally did not enjoy my time here. You can see my pic, do I look happy? Duh no!

ANIMALS AND MOUNTAINEERING

The other most hyped spots here are the Zoo and the HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute). My next destination was the Zoo. As a kid, I had never been to one. So this was my first time, and my *inner-11 year old* just squealed at the prospect of seeing Leopards and Tigers.

The cages at the Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park are huge. It is designed that way to make the animals feel at home. There were different kinds of Animals here, ranging from snow leopard to yaks. It was a joy to watch them.

Just next to it was the HMI. It is a mecca for the hiking enthusiasts. It not only has all the amenities to train the Mountaineers but it also has a superbly equipped museum. Cameras are a no-no inside the museum. So you cannot click pictures. But inside the museum, you get to see the gears used by famous mountaineers like Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary.

TEA AND PEACE

After a long day of sightseeing, my legs were sore, and my back sprained. Still, we had places to go. The tea garden we went to was one of the biggest in Darjeeling- Happy Tea Valley Estate. The estate was huge, I just took a few steps around and soaked in the beautiful scenery. Just outside the estate, there is a stall which sells Darjeeling Tea.

They gave me tea; I tasted it. And then I bought four gigantic packets of Darjeeling tea. And as I am writing this, I am drinking tea made from those leaves.

The last stop was the best – the Peace Pagoda. Before my trip, I saw the Peace Pagoda in pictures and I dreamt about seeing the Peace Pagoda in person. When I saw it with my own eyes, the pictures did not do it any justice.

It is like a creamy white cake perched amidst the coniferous trees. If you want you can visit the Japanese temple, which comes before it. But I skipped that part and went straight for the Peace Pagoda.
It has three levels, and the top level has the “Parikrama.” It is on the third level that you see the various phases of Lord Buddha’s Life sculpted around the Golden Dome. It was gorgeous just seeing the sunshine on the sculptures at the highest man-made point in Darjeeling.

And after an evening of strolling through the street markets I made my way to the hotel, awaiting the next day. When I would head to Gangtok.

Budget at a glance

The Cost of my Accomodation was - ₹1500/ day
My Cab driver charged - ₹2500 for a whole day of sightseeing.
The local shared jeeps which take you to the bazaar cost - ₹20

This post has  also been published by me in
https://artoftravel.tips

Sunrise at the Tiger hills

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

Dolled up

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

On my way down to the Ganga Maya Park

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

Amidst the watery delights

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

Forced smile at the Rock Garden.

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

Enter into the wild

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

Valleys of tea

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar

Peace Pagoda

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Ankita Sagar
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