By Sreejita Basu
Few things spell ‘happiness’ better than the idea of a trip to the hills when the thermometer is close to touching 42 degree Celsius in the plains. So, when the idea of a Darjeeling trip was floated on a sultry afternoon, it was unanimously vetoed by all participants leaving no scope for discussion.
The four day trip executed in May was divided into two parts. The first day was to be spent in Bara Mangwa (Bara Mangwa literally means ‘Big Village’. There is a Chota Mangwa or ‘Small Village’ in the vicinity as well), a village towards the western side of Kalimpong Hills, followed by three days in the district of Darjeeling. The plan to head to Bara Mangwa was aided by a colleague of mine who had founded a charitable trust in this region back in 2005 with the objective of helping the local community of the village. Since then, the trust has begun organic farming, animal husbandry and flower cultivation in this region.
We were to stay at the Bara Mangwa Farm House also run by my colleague within the premises of the trust. One could say that we were not in the highest of spirits after the night-long train journey that was followed by a two hour bus ride and a bumpy jeep drive. But a refreshing drink of orange squash straight from the nearby orchard, and we were sprinting to explore the virginal beauty of Bara Mangwa. Accompanying us was Tyson- a distant relative of the Kumaon Mastiff and Rahi, a six month old German Shepherd. A quick spell of unexpected rain, endless servings of piping hot momos with the tantalizing Tibetan chilli dip, the strumming of the guitar and the spine-chilling (and sometimes comical) versions of ghost stories under the moonlit sky made our stay at Bara Mangwa more than just a perfect affair.
We started for Darjeeling early next morning where our plan was to first dig into the famed breakfast at Glenary’s before doing anything else. The first stop was the Teesta-Rangeet confluence- the meeting of the two largest rivers of Sikkim. Local guides of this region love to regale tourists with the anecdote of the ‘Lover’s Point’ with Teesta as the woman and Rangeet as her lover. Having lapped up the stories and the breath-taking beauty of the region along with some Wai-Wai noodles,we were on our way to Darjeeling again. This is when the surprise package of the tour presented itself before us. The pleasant morning breeze had turned into a nippy wind and soon a hailstorm struck the mountains with such gusto that all roads leading upto Darjeeling were jammed for a good forty-five minutes. But this was no ordinary hailstorm…this, believe it or not (even we did not until the newspapers announced it the next morning) was snowfall in the month of April! Although our feet were on the verge of developing frostbites and our luggage was soaked to the core, this was serendipity indeed.
The hail and the rain gave way to bright sunshine the next morning and we began the day with a languorous ride on the heritage toy train from Darjeeling to Ghum where we visited the Ghum Monastery and Batasia Loop, the obvious tourist destinations. What was not quite obvious was when the driver excitedly pointed out to St. Paul’s School on our way back, a location where the blockbuster ‘Main HoonNaa’ was shot more than a decade ago!
A visit to Darjeeling wouldn’t be complete without visiting its famed tea-gardens. We headed to the famous Makaibari tea estate. Apart from stocking up on tea-packets for friends and family, do not forget to don the traditional tea-pickers’ costume (available for a small rent) and get yourselves clicked if you happen to be visiting the tea estate. You will have a good laugh going over these in times to come.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave..The endless trips to Mall Road, the haggling over silk scarves and woollen caps, the meals at Keventer’s (alas, they do not serve the scrumptious pork ribs anymore), the cosy feeling of sporting woollens long stacked in naphthalene scattered suitcases, the headiness of sipping freshly brewed Darjeeling tea-we left with these images well stacked in our cameras and our heads. We weren’t lucky enough to catch a sight of the Kanchenjunga in its morning glory or the time to visit the Sumendu Lake at Mirik. But no one was complaining. For, as Lao Tzu very succinctly put it, “A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving”.
About the Traveller: Born in the steel city of Jamshedpur, Sreejita grew up in Calcutta and Bombay and now resides in New Delhi. She loves unfamiliar roads and uncommon tastes. When she is not working as a communications professional for a living, she likes to read, eat, travel and pen down her random thoughts in her blog.