Clouds Give Way to Roads
you take a vacation when you have a regular job or are a student
or parents of students? Well, you wait for the Eid holidays.
And that's exactly what we did. This Eid, a few friends and
I, boldly set off on a journey to India, destination Darjeeling.
we arrived at our bus stop we were amazed to see that instead
of the usual bus waiting to leave for Buribari, the north-most
border to India, there were two buses that night. Other deshis
obviously had the same idea about travelling. Bus journeys
are always exciting since one gets to see so much of the countryside
and though we would be travelling by night, the aura of excitement
was unmistakable. The bumps itself would be a roller-coaster
ride to remember. The trip took nine hours and soon we were
in Changrabanda, the Indian side of the border.
admit we felt an air of triumph. A holiday abroad, after all,
is the end result of long planning and going through all the
government (and non-government) formalities. Once the destination
is reached you feel a sense of achievement.
were five of us and we had to share a Tata Sumo with a family
of three to Shiliguri. The trip from Changrabanda to Shiliguri
took about one hour and forty-five minutes after which we
stopped to change cars at Shiliguri. Shiliguri is also called
"The City of Hospitality" and stands as a gateway
to Eastern India, strategically located between Nepal, Bhutan
and Bangladesh. This state also acts as a transit to other
tourist destinations like Darjeeling, Kathmandu and Gangtok.
After muscling our way through the traffic of Shiliguri, we
burst into the crisp and clean open mountainside enroute Darjeeling.
80 km from Shiliguri to Darjeeling and most of it is uphill
over treacherous hairpin bends. Thirty km ahead and 4,800
ft above sea level, we passed the hilly huts and habitats
of Karseong. The famous 'Toy Train' has a station here and
from this train that winds down (or more like up) the road,
one can get scenic views of the mighty Kanchanjunga as one
gets higher in altitude. The legacy of the Toy Train is about
123 years old. It made its maiden trip in September 1881.
Also known as the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, it huffs and
puffs its way back and forth. After his ride on the Toy Train
in 1895, Mark Twain is said to have made the following comment,
"The most enjoyable day I've spent on earth is of mixed
ecstasy of deadly fright and unimaginable joy."
that our driver smiled at the other drivers we passed. He
also happily gave way to them. He would raise his hands now
and then in a gesture of salute. I remembered in good old
Dhaka drivers raise their hands too, but to make a completely
different gesture. We soon realised that since Darjeeling
is a small town most of the drivers know one another. Our
Tata Sumo dropped us off at near Ghoom Station, the highest
station in the world, and the last stop for the Toy Train.
thing about being a Bangladeshi is that no matter where you
travel to, at any time of day or night, you have the pleasure
of coming across someone from your native land. He (rarely
is it a woman) will be engaged in a debate with the authorities
or frantically searching for misplaced/lost luggage, have
the wrong stamps on his passport or even be in possession
of some contraband item. I was not disappointed. On this occasion
my countryman got off the Toy Train and immediately started
an argument with the driver. Apparently he had lost his ticket.
His accent and clothing gave away his identity and his excuses
about the incident added more weight to the fact that this
was the first time he was travelling. I wondered how we, one
of the most hospitable hosts anywhere, could show such different
colours when travelling away from our homeland.
first night was in The Darjeeling Club Limited. As there were
five of us, we had to take accommodation in the Super Deluxe
Room, which cost about Rs. 1500 a room per day. We had the
option of using the fireplace, but at an additional cost of
Rs. 80. We decided against it. Perhaps that was not the wisest
of decisions. We had a totally different opinion the following
we woke up to the stupendous beauty of Kanchanjunga. It was
my first view of the mountain range and I felt a lump in my
throat. I also felt very small in front of the mountains that
had been there for millions of years. I was lucky to have
witnessed that sight since the following day was rather cloudy
and the mountains were lost to the mist. We spent most of
the day roaming around our hotel room and taking in the foreign
we went to an Indian eatery where we noticed a Canadian tourist
fumbling over the prices of the items on the menu. Satisfied
with his order he looked around and soon we had introduced
ourselves and a conversation was in full swing. He said he
loved travelling and seeing the world and spent his money
on that but saved up on cheap accommodation and spent even
less on food. He put it beautifully, "seeing is believing"
and he needed a lot to quench his thirst. It is said that
travelling enriches you and we had learnt an expensive lesson.
The next day, we decided to look for a cheaper hotel. Enter
Bellview Hotel where the cost of two rooms came to Rs. 1330.
We knew at once we would like it here. Once we had moved,
we spent some time looking around the city.
Road also known as the famous Mall Road was the centre of
vitality and colour. A road where no vehicles are allowed
to ply, this is the hub of all the population. Going uphill,
the shops on the left are all proper shops -- cardigan shops,
toy shops, electronic shops, gift shops, photo shops, antique
shops and many more while the space on the right are taken
up by make shift shanty-shops. Their owners come with a suitcase
or a basket and unpack their belongings and then pack it up
to leave at night. These shops are usually buzzing with tourists
during October, November and December and during the summer
time (April, May, June and July). Most of the other time of
the year, it's too cold for tourists to visit. The best thing
about being in a new place is seeing new people and what a
sight it was to see. There were people from all over the world
there, Indian, Nepali, American, Canadian, African, European
and others whose origin we couldn't guess. Most people around
us were in jeans and sweaters. School children smartly dressed
in their uniforms also hung around this happening place. Judging
from their clothes, it could have been summer. I, on the other
hand, had on four layers of clothing, plus a muffler and yet
my fingers were numb. It was cold and a chilly wind followed
us wherever we went.
day we went to visit the Japanese Temple in Charlimont and
the Rock Garden. They are about 23 km away from Darjeeling
Town about 15 km apart. The Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple,
Japanese Temple in short, is also known as the Peace Pagoda.
It is one of the six Shanti Stupas in India established for
World Peace by Funi Guru, a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi.
Right in front of the Japanese Temple is a 20-foot solid golden
statue of Buddha. The Stupa was started in 1972 and the Pagoda
opened on 1st November, 1092. The graceful architecture complimented
the giant trees guarding the entire surroundings of the Temple.
It commands a panoramic view of Darjeeling and the Kanchenjunga
range. We stood in awe to take in the scene.
(To be continued…)
(R) thedailystar.net 2004