A cup of Darjeeling tea and wai-wai lay in front of me while I was engrossed in the beauty that the mountains had already begun to offer. I had stopped for breakfast at a roadside hash house near Tindharia. On resuming our journey the driver promised an hour and a half more till we reach our landing place. The other route that could have been taken from New Jalpaiguri Station was via Pankhabari, lesser time but a steeper climb. One can also get glimpses of several tea-estates including the renowned Margaret’s Hope, Makaibari and Castleton. The rest of the ride was accompanied by the continuous appearance and disappearance of the toy-train railway track; crisscrossing at times and running parallel at others. About an hour into the journey, we reached the spectacular hill station of Ghoom amid clouds. The beauty compelled me to take another short break before reaching the land of thunder, Darjeeling.
Ghoom Station, covered in fog
Darjeeling used to be a summer retreat for the British Raj elite. It now nestles the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the quintessence of an era long gone. There are ample options for staying in this little town. 'Central Nirvana', located on the C.R.Das road provides serene and scenic surroundings like no other. 'Traveller's Inn', Dr. Zakir Hussain road, is known for the excellent views of Kanchenjunga as well as the town itself. I chose to stay at 'Revolver' at Gandhi Road, which is a delightful refuge for the lovers of the classic rock band, 'The Beatles'.
The narrow alleys running down from the sides of the main roads are like magical pockets to escape the hubbub of the town. Later that day, a walk down the 'Observatory hill' offered me splendid views of peaks including Mount Kanchenjunga. This place is also known by the name of 'Makal Babu ko Thaan'. A downward hilly terrain along the side of Cafe Coffee Day, Chowrasta, led me through colourful prayer flags and tiny hamlets, to the 'Bhutia Busty Monastery'. Compared to the other monasteries in Darjeeling, this was smaller but more tranquil and peaceful. The 'Tibetan Refugee Selfhelp Centre' nearby lets one indulge in hand-made textiles made from vegetable dye yarn, which are available for sale too. If one is keen to understand Tibetan history, this place is worth a visit. The long day came to an end with a sumptuous tibetan dinner at 'Sonam's Kitchen'.
Darjeeling Mall at night
A view over the Bhutia Busty Monastery
The day after began with a mandatory breakfast at 'Keventer's', a meat-lover's paradise. Also, the coffee was exceptionally good. Ghoom station had me captivated since last day and I decided to visit again. One can avail shared jeeps or buses from the terminus. I preferred the 'Joy-ride' provided by the DHR. The train runs twice daily, from Darjeeling to Ghoom and back.
Breakfast at Keventer’s
The idea of the DHR can be traced back to the late nineteenth century and is now proclaimed as an Unesco World Heritage site. Waves of nostalgia engulfed the station in form of a cloud of steam. A gate just opposite to the Ghoom station is the trail to the 'Ghoom Museum'. It houses old artefacts and rare photographs bearing importance to the DHR. The following expedition was to the much acclaimed 'Yiga Choeling Monastery' which also goes by the name 'Ghoom Monastery'. It features a 15 feet statue of the 'Maitreya Buddha' or the 'Future Buddha'. The bells, drums and thanka scrolls adds to the paragon of this Gompa. It was past dusk when I returned to Darjeeling. I had heard much about the vivid night life of this tinsel town and paid a visit to the 'Lion's Gate'. The lively music, wide array of drinks, delectable food and easy pricing makes it a perfect taproom to unwind oneself. Another option would be ‘Joey’s Pub’, but the former won my heart.
Baby Sivok, built in 1881, preserved in the Ghoom Museum
I rose early and jeeped out to ‘Tiger Hill’ to witness a magical play of sun and snow-clad peaks. An enchanting view of Mount Everest, Makalu and Kanchenjunga and the meandering rivers of Teesta, Mahananda, Mechi and Balason has been etched in my heart. On my return I visited the rather small joint named 'Boney's Snack Bar' for breakfast. Their burgers and sandwiches are to die for. I walked down the corner, crossed the post-office and kept walking. After a long and aimless stroll I found myself at the 'Chowk Bazaar', one of those peculiar markets where one gets everything at cheaper prices. At the end of a couple of hours I had a few varieties of tea, biscuits and cookies from 'Walis' bakery and winter garments. While taking a shortcut back through the slopes, I happened to bump into the factory of 'Walis'. To my amazement I was allowed to enter the factory, see the procedure of baking and also taste the delicious crunchy biscuits, fresh out of the oven.
Sunrise on Kanchenjungha
Once back to the Mall Road, I entered a shop and gulped down momos to refill all the energy I had lost from shopping. The best part is that one can blindly walk into any roadside eatery and enjoy mouth-watering momos, be it chicken, pork or vegetable ones. I spent the rest of the evening in leisure, from roving about, talking to local people with my little knowledge of Nepali language, tasting key-lime pie at 'Glenary's' to hopping downstairs to their bistro named 'Buzz' for a late dinner.
Markets on mall road, Gurkha Kukhuri
I visited a Goodricke house of tea before leaving for New-Jalpaiguri Station the next day, for a taste of the fine produce of 'Castleton Tea Estate'. I had an immense urge of staying back for a few more days, to soak the spirit of landscape and heritage completely before it faded away. It was hard to say goodbye. I saw the 'Peace-Pagoda' at a distance from the Hill Cart Road and promised myself, "Next time".