Sitting peacefully in the middle of the Himalayas of West Bengal is the Queen of Hills. The land of Thunders, as its name suggests in the Tibetan Language is one of the most beautiful hill towns of the country.
Darjeeling is much more than just a hill station – it is a feeling, a pride and of course a fascination. The legacy of Darjeeling, which was proudly started in the hands of the British, still continues and still attracts people from around the world. The crown of Darjeeling is clad with some of the most precious jewels in the world – the first, of course, is the Darjeeling Tea – ‘the Champagne of Teas’. The Gorgeous Kanchenjunga is the other. The beauty of the mighty peak you taste from here has a very little comparison. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – India’s first mountain rail system with Asia’s highest railway station en-route is only the second railway system in the world to get a UNESCO World Heritage Site tag. The fourth, none the less, is the food. Darjeeling is still carrying the culinary legacy initiated by its founders in more or less its original form.
My relationship with Darjeeling is long and strong enough to bring me back here again and again. Whenever I thought of getting a break from life – I came here and that has happened quite a few times and every time it was like the first time. The curvy streets, the narrow alleys, the rising steps, the rusty railings, the shaky walls, the broken curbs hugged me with the same affection and indulged me within. The friendliness I received at Darjeeling, I could not find anywhere else. The charismatic tea, the whistle of the miniature railway, legendary restaurants and of course the eagerness to get a glimpse of the magnificent Kanchenjunga have kept on pulling me closer – or in other words – have stolen my soul to keep that here.
I was again in a need of a break and I could not think of a different place. It was political turmoil that had kept me away from Darjeeling for some time but as soon as there was peace, I was back – that was during the last world cup and this time again – it was during the soccer world cup. Many of you may strike out the name of Darjeeling as a monsoon destination but trust me – it is the most romantic time to visit the place – so there was no hesitation – As I boarded the Darjeeling Mail from Sealdah.
What I packed? A Backpack with the Camera, a pair of clothes, a sunglass, an Umbrella, A Notebook, a Powerbank and my companion – ‘Darjeeling – A History of the World’s Greatest Tea’.
The book is one of the most engaging ones I have read and it is full of unknown stories about the greatest “Tea’ of the world. I fell in love with it from the very beginning and was unaware when it was midnight. The night train was whistling past the dark paddy fields of West Bengal. Whenever it was crossing a bridge the sound of the vibrating steels let us know that. More or less – the outside was completely dark except a few lights in distance and the passing railway stations where only a few sleeping human and animals could be spotted.
The night passed normally and the train reached its destination on time. I had to get myself ready for another journey which was about to start in an hour. I had my breakfast on the train – the traditional bread and omelette (I have been seeing the same menu served in Indian railways since my childhood). The living legend – the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) – the Toy Train as we call it – was waiting for its passengers. It was a small walk to the platform where the train was standing. There were only four other passengers on the train and the Travelling Ticket Examiner suggested that it is unlikely to get any more on board. That was the case in the off-season. I have travelled in the DHR before but it was almost after a decade that I am going to take this ride and it was a thrilling feeling inside me.