The Nehru Road, by then was far from its vibrant, glittery appearance. Half the shops were closed and the rest were wrapping up for the day. Both the sides of the road is lined with shops which sell woollens, winterwear, curios, gift items but for then, it was only the signboards smiling at me. The busy road, which happens to be a shopping paradise for travellers, was tired after the day’s work.
I walked past the ‘Bishwa Bangla Haat’- the Govt sponsored emporium which sells authentic handicrafts of the state in extremely high price. A board with the bold name of the Chief Minister indicated that this was opened in the year 2015. Through the glass facade of the shop, I could see a giant ‘Chhow Mask’ – a mask worn by the dancers while performing the traditional Chhow Dance – mostly seen in the Purulia District of West Bengal. The legendary ‘Das Studio’ who is one of the oldest photo studios of Darjeeling and possess some of the finest and rarest photographs of the hills was on my side – also shutters down. On the left side of the road, at the lower level, has a series of shops who sell woollen stuff, however, the entire property uphill belongs to the Bellevue Hotels who are again one of the oldest hotels in the city.
The road did not have many walkers except a few tourist families walking towards their hotels after the day’s travel. A young couple who can wait to be in their hotel room passed me without a notice – I guess they are not paying notice to anything around them except their other halves. A lazy street dog was sleeping under a streetlamp – that was probably keeping it hot – while another was looking calmly at the passersby. There was one place – I know – which was far from this sleepiness. That was my destination – The Glenary’s.
If you have visited Darjeeling and have not stepped into this building you visit is not complete. Surely the most important landmark of the city, Glenary’s is carrying a legacy which is century old and the legacy is of serving the most delicious food to its customers. The establishment which started as a bakery and confectionary has seen a lot of ups and downs in its long history that started back with the British but have maintained its position intact. The upper floor which hosts the restaurant was as lively as always. From outside, the charm could be felt through the wide glass windows that open directly to the road. The ground floor of the restaurant where the original bakery is located was closed by then.
When I stepped in, a gentleman with his guitar was playing a lovely music and the entire environment was superb. This just took me a hundred years back. The entire interior of the restaurant was decorated in Victorian style with the excellent use of two most basic colour – black & white. Almost all the tables were occupied but I spotted one vacant at the corner – a good one for me. I could see the Nehru Road on my right through the window. The white coloured glass window with decorative thin mullions make a great statement of the British Era style.
What I like most about the menu of the Glenary’s is that it’s simple and precise. They did not make it a lengthy affair by adding too many flavours of the same dish. They are equally good in Chinese and Continental. They also serve a good many North Indian Dishes but I never felt like ordering any of those. When you are at Glenary’s amidst a vibrant colonial culture, you should try different. I ordered a plate of ‘Beef Steak with Potato’ which they serve with fried vegetables and french fries. This has been one of my favourite dishes here so I tried it once more. They serve excellent Pork and Chicken items also. I also tried a pork platter once and that was too yummy. To get the throat wet, I ordered a peg of ‘Teachers Highlanders’, again one of my favourites.
Last time, I was here the Bar was on the other side of the entrance which has now been shifted towards the entrance. This must have happened during the recent makeover after the restaurant was vandalised by political goons. It was a tough time for all who love the place. An demand for separate statehood in the region turned violent and many establishments, including this, were attacked. The wild mob must have forgotten that attacking these places which are an integral part of their heritage and culture is completely against the principle they are fighting for. After a lot of well wishes and requests which came from the admirers all over the world – Glenary’s reopened.
These attacks must have made a lot of loss but it also did a great favour to it. During the renovation after the attack, an old newspaper came out of a chimney – which dates June 17′ 1920. This was a landmark discovery as it proves the general belief wrong. It was always thought that the confectionary started operating at around 1935 and the restaurant even later but the newspaper surely sends it back by two decades. Now it is thought that the restaurant started operating at around 1920 and the bakery at least 2-3 years prior to that. The century that Glenary’s has passed have seen some great changes in the political and cultural scenario of the place.
It was there from the early days of the city when there were only a few British houses. Even the Town Hall, which now holds the Municipality office was under construction. The political turmoil during the Second World War, India’s Independence, Gorkhaland unrest, Political autonomy and again Gorkhaland unrest – it was there to see everything happening in front of it. Its own history is nothing less in twists and turns. Changing hands, changing names, change in fortune everything was there but Glenary’s somehow survived everything and is standing tall as a symbol of class & perfection. I will throw more light on the history of Glenary’s when I come back for breakfast tomorrow because my dinner is served. The scotch was done so I ordered a refill and indulged in the beef.
A europian couple were seated on the table next to mine – the lady should be six feet and man two inches taller – both clad in white khadi attire. By their sharp nose and bright eyes, I thought they were somewhere close to the Mediterranean however after a few smiles and a small interaction I found out that they were both from Hungary. The man was busy looking at his DSLR – he was going through the photographs he took that day and the lady was reading a book. They definitely were chatting among themselves in a language I don’t understand. On the bigger table which was on another side of me, there was a large Nepali family seated and they had a few kids. These younger human beings were certainly of less patience and more energy. So, they started playing among themselves – mainly running around the table. They were making a lot of noise but that was not really making any effect on the ambience of the place. The singer was still singing in melodious tune and occasionally speaking with the people around. At times the crowd was also clapping to keep him motivated. This was a perfect ambience for a lovely dinner.
I have tried various steaks at many restaurants in the country and found the perfect softness at very few places. The Glenary’s is one of them. The meat was perfectly cooked with all the spices into it and it is neither too hard nor too soft – just the perfect meat. I just love this. It was too much for a single belly but I somehow managed to clean my plate. I was full and somewhat drunk. It was time to call it for the day. The legacy of Glenary’s is not quite reflected in the right column of their menu card. Their price is still very much affordable and they also serve in large portions which make it even more economical for a larger group. The taste and flavour you get in their food are totally incomparable to the amount you pay for that.
The road was even less populated now. I did not meet a soul till the Chowrasta. There, however, some activity was still going on. A family was standing in front of the State Bank of India ATM – a member of them was inside I suppose. And few were also seating in the benches near that. The street dogs were roaming around as usual. I passed the ATM and kept on walking on the Mall Road towards left. Mall Road is a circular road that starts from the Chowrasta Mall and makes a full round of the Observatory Hill to come back to meet the Mall only a few meters apart. The streetlights were making way through the trees to keep my way lit. The entrance of the Windemere Hotel was on the right and the Newly constructed Bhanu Bhawan was on the left. The St. Andrews Church- another landmark of Darjeeling was standing in front of me. The clouds have cleared slightly to allow the moon show its face and the light of the moon was creating a magical effect on the yellow coloured church and the tall pines around. My hotel was there.