The very first thing that comes to my mind, and perhaps to a host of people around when you utter “Darjeeling‘ is the famous tea that this part of the globe produces. Well, this hill station has far more to offer than the aromatic tea that one sips and gets into a tizzy of joy.
She is truly a queen.
Breathtaking views of mountains. Undulating plateaus and valleys, the greenery that stretched far and wide. The most striking are the colors that we saw.
A mix of blue dipped in light and dark shades of green, make an incredible style statement from nature… wherever you look, all you see is dazzling colors thrown by nature.
We planned to spend four to five days in this hilly crucible. The terrain is harsh and the roads are steep, circuitous, and moderately drivable. Instead of our trusted Swift, we were driving a locally bred rugged SUV, a Sumo Spacio 3 liters which were fairly well suited due to her high ground clearance and high low-end torque needed to climb the gradient.
We started our sojourn by getting up early to see the sunrise at Tiger Hill.
At 5 am the temperature was around one to two degrees and with the skin numbing cold, we were hardly able to talk. With hands dug deep into the jackets, we kept our eyes peeled to catch the first light of the sun.
I will try to paint the thought I had when I saw this… I felt like being a nonexistent entity and all my problems in life overshadowed, all my challenges in life weathered..all my accomplishments in life simply evaporated.
I lost my worldly presence… perhaps I was looking at the creator.
The peak with all the flashing color looked like a supreme force which was not from this world. There is such a level of brilliance in this world of ours…and what we do, think about mean and petty things of win and loss and join the rat race to ruin ourselves…
I was glad that I had the perception of beauty and that element was working for me to appreciate what I saw. As we came down, the valley lit up and the activities started. A huge section of local people had laid out a market to sell warm garments for the winter which included shawls, pullovers, sweaters.
We too went for a stroll across to catch a glimpse. The cool breeze wafted across the valley and multiple varieties of flowers swung randomly to welcome the visitors.
In some places, we saw dense forest growth which stretched as far as the distant mountains. The backdrop of dark mountains continuously changed colors presenting nature’s ever-changing moods.
On our way down, we saw “Ghum“, India’s highest railway station. Tucked away on the slopes, the small station had few meter-gauge railway wagons parked. How tiny they looked.
The most interesting part is the drive over the Hill Cart road which juxtaposes itself with the meter-gauge railway track and both train and vehicular traffic criss-cross each other and train and cars stop to give a passage to the other.
Sometimes, people jump out of the slow-moving smoke emitting train and grab the passing car/Jeep to travel.
The feeder roads in Darjeeling are narrow and comes in sharply with a thirty-degree angle, this necessitates to have smaller cars with short wheelbases for quick turns.
After a two hour stint at the zoo, we started driving towards newer areas to see the tea lands which hug the mountainsides like a green carpet.
As far as we could see, we saw tea gardens hung over the undulating hills and valleys. The temperature was quite low due to a mix of heavy moisture from the trees and a slight drizzle from the rain.
Driving in Darjeeling is quite challenging, especially if you are a driver of the plains. The road surface in some places is quite rough but the trick is to drive in low gears, and I being a die-hard stick shift gear head .. I only drive vehicles with a manual transmission, that way I had the complete control to suit the road condition.
The difficult part is when you are turning on the outer edge of a road where there’s a plunge on your left and you have a car on the opposite side.
You just drive with the outer edge as your guide and keep slow speed and use the engine as your brake.
We came down and parked to visit the handicrafts shop to see things on display… absolutely beautiful decorative objects available in any of the shops in this hill town.
For lunch, we used to have this very simple and highly nutritive dish, called Thukpa. Not only we felt ready to move around even after a good meal, but we also could pull for at least 4 hours without a meal.
One of the famous places in Darjeeling is the ‘Mall‘, it is an open area with scores of handicraft shops, eateries with good music ring around the ground. People in great number flock to this place to have a great view of the Kangchenjunga and just amble across in the evenings… everyone has a fair share of their liking.
The following day, we drove to Kalimpong, another hill town, around 49 kilometres from Darjeeling with splendid mountain views all around. We saw great many tea gardens and saw villagers coming back from them after a day’s work.
We drove back to Darjeeling along the gurgling Teesta river which with marvelous views on every turn of the road. The road went up and down with numerous bends which kept my hands very busy with the steering wheel as we changed course.
The roads in these parts of the country ride wooden bridges over scores of small to big rivers as streams and rapids are commonplace in this terrain.
When the car climbs on one of these, the entire bridge makes squeaks and sways sideways as we crossed one after the other.
After a grueling drive of close to 8-9 hours, we returned to Darjeeling, By the evening, we could see the setting sun disappearing among the Himalayan mountain range.
The tea garden workers were also returning home with us, only traveling up along the road.
A singular experience of visiting and driving in Darjeeling. Every bit of the place is a nature’s creation of vivid colors coupled with changing the mood of the weather.
As the sun went down, the houses built over the hillsides slowly started lighting up and looked like dots of yellow light as people prepared for the night. Once the sun went down, the general activity of a town comes down very rapidly and a quietness falls over the mountains…all you hear is the hush of wind, punctuated by car horns as somewhere a Jeep or a car making its way back home.
Shades of cold winds lingered over the valley and town. Tightening the collar of my warm jacket I eased the clutch of the Jeep and with a cloud of loose dust off the hills, the quarter ton four wheel drive took us to our refuge at the base.