West Bengal is a magical place to travel. The amount of culture, music and scenery here is so diverse that it gives some of the mainstream travel destinations a run for their money.
When I travelled to West Bengal, it was mostly because I wanted to see Darjeeling and nearby hill stations. Little did I know that below the hills, there is a whole world that is just hidden in the plain sight?
Katihar is 4 hours away from New Jalpaiguri. As a station, Katihar is considered as the gateway to North East because once you cross this place and leave Bihar’s border, the scenery changes and so does the weather.
Dry lands of Bihar are replaced by green tea gardens. Soon clouds take over every scene and your train is no more on plains but inside a jungle and on a very slow speed because you can now in the famous elephant corridor.
Jalpaiguri Station is the part of Siliguri town. Buses, taxis and shared jeeps to Darjeeling, Kalimpong and even Shillong are easily available from here. I got down at station and a shared jeep for Darjeeling was waiting for the last few passengers. I got inside, got a cramped seat with zero space to adjust my legroom. Soon the jeep started moving through the tea gardens of North East India. In 2 hours I was standing at the Mall Road of Darjeeling.
An impromptu trip to Ghoom
Between the time your train drops you at NJP station and the time you reach Darjeeling, you should be tired enough to retire and sleep in your hotel’s bed. But I wanted to make the best out of my trip. It was two in the afternoon and my hotel staff told me that the toy train will be leaving soon. The weather is perfect for a trip to Ghoom. I ran from my hotel, crossed a couple of intersections and reached the stations, lucky for me that the ticket counter was not crowded and the train was still on the station, just ready to leave.
The trains leaves the station and leaves the busy markets of Darjeeling behind. The toy trains are a unique heritage property and are under the list of UNSECO’s list of protected monuments. On a slow pace, the train passes through many villages between Darjeeling and Ghoom. The unique, gorgeous sights from the empty pathways and valleys are worth the slow speed of the train.
After some 45 minutes, the train stops at Ghoom. A small trisection of train tracks is where you are left and train moves further. Earlier the train used to go till New Jalpaiguri but after an earthquake, the operations stopped.
After spending time in Ghoom and visiting the enchanting Ghoom Monastery, I returned to Darjeeling on a shared jeep. I had one more wonder to experience.
The Tea bars of Darjeeling
The abundance of tea gardens around Darjeeling has given birth to a unique concept. Instead of cafes, you’ll find tea bars in abundance. These tea bars have different teas (mostly without milk) and light snacks to accompany them. Since most of them are located on the Mall Road, it is easy to visit and enjoy some tea with great views from the outside.
The first tea bar that I waked into a small but fancy establishment, ran by an elderly couple. Apparently, this was one of the first tea parlours in the town and had a huge selection of tea samples. You don’t only get to taste different varieties of tea but you can also pack and take some of them home. I sipped on a heavenly cup of Darjeeling tea while watching kids and lovelorn couples taking horse ride at Chowrasta Mall. It was evening, the weather sounded as if it will rain sooner or later. I left for my hotel.
An adventure in Mirik
Travellers who come to Darjeeling, take a day trip to Mirik. Shared jeep leave at every 15 minutes that take you all the way to this beautiful town. I woke up next morning and took a jeep that dropped me all the way to this lovely British Town.
Mirik is a small village with a lake in the centre. This lake is the point of all the tourist activities that ranges from Boating and horse rides. But, if you walk past this lake, you’ll get to explore the beautiful town with many colonial style houses still being used. Some of them are converted into heritage properties and stay homes to host their guests.
Sleepless at Tiger Hill
Tiger Hill is a famous spot in Darjeeling that offers the majestic views of sunrise behind the mighty Kanchenjungha Peak. You have to wake up at 4 AM to visit this place otherwise you’ll miss the sunrise.
You have to book a taxi in advance. The drive is so obedient that he’ll come outside your hotel at 4 AM and will start calling until you answer. He won’t leave and even if you don’t show up, he doesn’t have any problem. He has taken his payment in advance. It is all fine for him.
So you reach Tiger Hill at 5, enjoy the coldest breeze you’d ever experience in your life and that too with so many people that you’ll stop feeling special for waking up this early to see the sunrise.
When I went there, it was so cloudy that forget the sunrise, I couldn’t even see whatever Tiger Hills was. Walking between the foggy pathway was an amazing feeling but I kinda felt disappointed that I didn’t get to see the sunrise for which I had to leave my warm, cozy bed.
After returning from Tiger Hill, I left for a small town call Tinchuley, a British cantonment that was in the middle of nowhere. I left the hillocks of West Bengal while it drizzled everywhere. As the jeep moved on the misty roads, I wondered, if I’ll get a chance to return to these beautiful mountains ever again.
ABOUT ANSHUL –
Anshul has spent more than five years traveling across India, observing the many culture and writing about it. He believes that the true essence of India lies in the festivals and at places that don’t exist on maps.
Apart from traveling, Anshul often volunteers with NGOs that take care of ecological preservation and protection. He has spent months working in Dharamshala as a part of Waste Warriors and cleaning mountain trails in the town.
This story was first published in the June 2018 Issue of Storizen Magazine. You can read the Magazine here.