Day Zero - Day One
“Traveling is an art”, my friend mumbled as we stepped into the unreserved coach of the Darjeeling Mail from the iconic Howrah Station, which I have always believed to be my very own 9 3/4! . The suddenness of the plan reflected on the status of our train tickets, but our thirst for some adventure was indomitable. As we slowly settled ourselves amidst a happy family who agreed to leave a berth to two young women traveling alone, I heaved a sigh of relief! This was of course the first time I was travelling without my family and the walls around me suddenly seemed to have fallen down, with my bare soul out and about looking for new experiences, new people, new tastes and smells! After quite a bumpy yet psychologically satisfying train ride, we were greeted with the excessively dry yet warm winds of the New Jalpaiguri station, around 7 in the morning, and a crisp ‘chai’ (tea) on an uneven earthen pot made our heads clearer and hearts fuller.
New Jalpaiguri is the juncture from which one can actually head towards any destination of North Bengal and Sikkim. Be it Gangtok or Zuluk, Darjeeling or Kurseoung, one has to choose the option of opting for a shared car/bus or a private car to slowly traverse through the mountainous roads that shall lead you to the extravaganza of gazing at the snow laden lofty mountains, shrouded by a hauntingly beautiful mystery of fog and clouds. My friend and I opted for a shared car (and they mainly provide the not-so-new Tata Sumo cars in this case) and settled for the comfortable seats at the back of the car. With a truck-load of expectations in our bag packs, we headed to our destination Darjeeling through the spiralling roads, a route famously known as Rohini. As the car left the premises of the city, the first thing that caught my attention was the never-ending green cover of Pine trees that was absolutely soul-soothing. The smooth meandering roads leading us to our destination were spotted with tiny wooden houses on the sides, potted plants gracing their front porch where the children gleefully basked in the sun or played with their pets. We stopped after an hour for lunch at a neat little roadside stall that served the most exquisitely curried fish and steaming hot rice. That was certainly the first meal of the day and the aroma of the good food made us realise the hunger! After a three hour journey uphill, with the crystal clear water of river Teesta accompanying us, we were finally able to set our feet at Darjeeling around 2 pm and that was the moment where we realised that we were actually living our dream. We had no reservations made, and hence we looked up the internet for some suggestions, and landed up at Hotel Capital, a recommendation for all solo or couple travellers on a tight budget. The location of the hotel is right on the middle of the Mall Road, opposite to the renowned Clock Tower of Darjeeling. There was something in the air of that quaint little town; a scent of nostalgia wrapped the “Queen of the Hills”, as it is fondly called. As I checked stepped into the room, my heart was thumping with excitement, the moment of truth, it was time I set my eyes on the mighty Mount Kanchenjengha!
As I crept on to the balcony, my eyes searching for the snow-clad peak, my heart was absolutely in pieces as all I could gaze at were miles of grey clouds all around me. But right at that moment, it occurred to me that I was, literraly, even above the clouds which gleefully flew into the room just as I opened the doors and windows of our room. “Aaj badal chhaye huye hai, par kal theek ho jayega” (It is cloudy today, but tomorrow it will be okay), the little boy said who had come up to pass a bottle of water to us. Hotel Capital is a family-run hotel at an extremely convenient location. Giving up hope on Kanchenjungha for that day, we decided to explore the nearby spots and get ourselves familiarised with the weather. Questions just haunted my mind; would I even be able to get a glimpse of the crystal white grandeur, or would the face of my dream be covered with the cloudy veil forever? As the sudden chill bit our nose and slowly crept into our bodies, we gently snuggled into sweatshirts and set out to explore Darjeeling Mall. It was an interesting walk, from our hotel to the mall. While the right side of the road had given away to new-age consumerism, of course important for a place driven mainly through tourism, the left side, starting was a clear reflection of the old charm of the town, dotted with neat little cafes, starting from Keventers, Glenary’s, Frank Ross cafe, and others.