"An old friend is as good as an aged whisky." I am sure many of us would agree with this statement.
It happened this spring, away from my busy schedule in the busy city of Bangalore. Fortunately, I did not just had to kill time and food while resting at home. It was homecoming for two of my school friends too. After we came to know about us being at our home town at the same time, the adrenaline just pumped up and our cravings to unleash the travel bug just heightened. We sat together in a deserted place and planned to do the road trip we talked about 10 years ago. A road trip to Siligudi - Kurseong - Ghum - Darjeeling. The plan was on and we we were set to roll. And Our ride was a Maruti SX4, which was the same vehicle on which I first realized what 140 kmph feels like.
The plan was to start from Bhagalpur and reach Siliguri and stay overnight. I am a person so is used to riding long distances on a Harley and the drive till Siliguri was supposed to be a snap for us. But nothing is more surprising than a road trip. We got stuck on the "Vikramshila setu" in Bhagalpur for about 2.5 hrs which was quite annoying. However, I have developed a habit of enjoying every bit of my travel, be it even something unwanted. Hence, I utilized the same time to talk to my buddies and know what we missed about each other in the past few years of disappearance.
We finally reached Siliguri around 8 pm and got freshened up in the hotel. What do you do in a place where no one knows you and also when "liquor" is completely banned in Bihar - you rush to a bar and gulp whatever is available. We did the same. It did not take us long to get drunk and each one of us started talking life / love / desires and every other thing which you dont speak being sober. However, the night ended at 3 am for us and sleep was all over us. A new day was in our dreams and we were excited to embrace the surprises.
I have this addiction of waking up early morning when traveling. Early morning walks in an unknown street helps you in getting lost and realizing the pleasure of being at new places. But not everyone feels the same. I had to literally spank their asses to get them off the bed. I was successful in doing so, I am good at it.
The plan for the day was to drive upto Kurseong and then to Ghum and then to Darjeeling. We had decided to stay in Darjeeling but that was still on hold. We were almost nomadic and never planned the day. I somehow feel that its the best way to make sure the time is utilized well. Keep wandering, never stop, never sleep.
Anyways, we reached Kurseong around 11 am and the road up to the town was amazing. I was so very much missing my Harley. The roads, the greenery, the sun, the smell of tea - everything made me talk telepathy with my Harley. Keeping that miserable feeling aside, it was one hell of an experience, being in the midst of mountains and snailing roads through them. The local shop momos were epic. We also talked with the restaurant owner, who also happened to be the cook and also the waiter.
Kurseong is not a tourist destination as such. Its just a small village but you can pull over for few hours and shop hiking/trekking gears. We moved on for Ghum which was another 30 kms from Kurseong. The whole stretch was ghat sections and we were loving it. We took few stops at coffee shops like "Margeret's" and tasted one of the best of world's tea. The tea was hot but you know what, "Winter was coming".
I mean it when I say it. The temperature dropped to 7 degrees till we reached Ghum. It happens to be the highest "Heritage railway station" in the world.
Ah! I dont think I can describe what we felt here. But let me try.
The place was chilling and we did not have warm clothes. I was turning into an ice cube, my nose was completely blocked and the ears were numb. I had to buy myself a jacket to be alive. It surely made me feel how difficult it would be when one decides to climb mountain ranges like the Everest. However, lets get back to Ghum for now. We were alive and started exploring the place. The railway station made me nostalgic, just like watching SRK getting off the train in Main Hoon Na. The cute girls in their school skirts and blazers reminded me of the school days. Everything was just so romantic. I would have surely proposed my partner (had she been with me) on the railway tracks.
We sat for a tea in a shop and talked to the lady who ran it. One among the three of us is a writer and social activist (definitely not me). We listened to her life story. She told us how she manages running her family which includes just her daughter. Yes, she had lost her husband few years back. We felt sorry for her and the little girl who was looking a pretty doll in her school uniform. We wrote about her story in our memories and continued our journey.
The weather started getting worse. The cold accompanied the rains as well. As decided earlier, we dropped our plan of visiting Darjeeling and decided to get back to Siliguri via Mirik, a place of the border of India and Nepal.
The way down to Mirik from Ghum was beautiful. Full of green tea plantation and shady white fog.
We stopped at the Nepal border and had tea. Thats the first time I was embarrassed of drinking tea, the reason being the the ladies running tea stalls and momo shops. These ladies were just pouring "Old tavern" whisky into their tea cups and gulping it as if it was milk. My cravings were heightened and the cold was getting on me. But I was able to resist myself, thinking I would get to drink something better once we get down.
The view from the border was out of the world. Its sad that the land has to be divided by borders, because unless someone told me, I never knew that my feet were on foreign land.
It got dark when we returned back to Siliguri. The day was a long one but we barely had anything to talk about. Each one of us just wanted to feel it and not talk about it. We slept early and to my surprise, I did not have to wake them up the next day. The trip may have worked its mojo on them.
Whatever it was that woke them up, we left for home at 5:30 am and had about 250 kms to cover, which we did in a good time.
We left the hills behind us, but something followed us. It was the joy, the feeling, the emotions and I am sure the same happens to every traveler. Every destination changes you in someway of the other, you just have to realize how.
Meanwhile, Leo, my Harley just got revved up reading this and wants to roar, some place by the hills, some place by the beaches.
I cant say no to him.