Darjeeling - Part 1

The holy trinity of middle class Bengali's holiday destination is called Di-Pu-Da. Digha, Puri and Darjeeling. Or it used to be so before 5D-6N Thailand trip for 40k came into existence and Bengali tourist has overnight become the 'phoren' explorer.

Of Di-Pu-Da I have visited Digha countless number of times. At one point, it was my family's favourite weekend destination. Oh we have three days leave this weekend? Lets go to Digha and relax! I got to 'relax' so much during my entire teenage that Digha became a phobia to me. I have never seen a more boring and barren beach in my life. Our next member of the Trinity is Mr. Pu or Puri. I had been to Puri only once so far (thankfully). I was only ten years old back then. My parents decided to spend a long, lazy (read, sinfully boring) vacation in Puri. My brother was only three so he does not have very clear memory of the trip. But for me the only thing that got imprinted on a ten year old's mind was the crematorium in the middle of the city. Yes, Swargadwar. All day we would smell the fume coming from the funeral pyre and whenever we would go out we would see corpses coming to get their last rites. I used to feel frightened and nauseated all the time. As for the temple part, since birth I am highly immune to the religious hypocrisy and extravagance of India and the great Puri temple and its people caused me more disgust than any feeling of devotion.

Next comes Darjeeling. Or what we Bongs like to call it, the queen of hill stations. Ever since Mr. Satyajit Ray made Kachanjongha (movie, 1962) and also made our dearest Feluda and Topse and Jataayu drink hot chocolate on the terrace of Keventer's, Darjeeling became a must visit spot for 'cultured' and 'intellectual' Bengali. Oops! And all this time I was thinking Bongs chose Darjeeling because it's cheap and nearby. My bad. See? My cultural and intellectual lessons are still not done yet. So until last March when we decided to spend the holi vacation in Darjeeling, I was among those ashamed minority who would get a mocking cold stare for not visiting Darjeeling from those who did many many times.

I felt instantly happy the moment I got into the car at the airport. The driver was an insanely good looking guy of our age who also happened to be a Buddhist. Sometimes flirting comes very naturally to me and I don't even have to try. I asked him in an unusually sweet voice, 'Hi. Whats ur name?' He said, 'My name is Chogyal.' 'Wow. You have a Tibetan name? I know Chogyal means king. Your name is awesome.' He was visibly blushing; he liked the fact that somebody who was not from his community knew the meaning of his name. I didn't tell him I was on the way to becoming a Tibetologist in next few years perhaps.

Bagdogra to Darjeeling was an entirely different route. We did not go through the Mahananda sanctuary this time. It was a different route through several military camps. This part of Siliguri always amazed me because of its cleanliness and serenity.

I was quiet for a long time and I started to doze off a little when the car came to an abrupt halt. A little kid was crossing the road with much enthusiasm and an adult goat in human form riding a bike almost ran it over, had it not been for our dearest Chogyal. He remarked half angry half laughingly, 'Ladki ko impress karne ke chakkar mein itna zor se bike chala raha tha idiot.' Seriously he was becoming more and more irresistible to me in just few hours.

Soon we left the plain and started to climb up. The more we progressed the more cloudy it started to become. At first it was only a hide and seek between clouds and the sunlight; but after sometime the sky seemed to have crossed the playful adolescent and turned into a mature adult with a very grave face. Very soon the fog, the famous fog of Darjeeling started to appear around us and the atmosphere was getting chillier. I scolded myself for my shortsightedness for not having taken out something warm before loading all the bags at the back of Chogyal's car. For the first time in my life I was not feeling very exuberant about my trip. But maybe this was due to the reason that mom was really sick when I had left home and my super active conscience was just coming in the way. However, I was worried and missing my rhythm somehow. Very soon we reached Karseong and the gloomy look of the dirty, congested town put me even in a more melancholy mood. Even the sight of toy trains passing by our car could not cheer me up much. The fog kept accompanying us until we reached Ghum and after that it just disappeared.

We finally reached Darjeeling at 5 o'clock in the evening. It was raining and freaking cold. We got off the car and immediately headed to the hotel in front of us. All the hypes and myths that I had previously heard about Darjeeling, they had started to crumble from now on. The hotel we headed for was Dekeling Hotel. I read a lot about this hotel and it had an overall good review. The first blow came very soon. The guy at the back of the counter said in a very indifferent manner, 'All the normal rooms are full. Only luxury suites are available. That will cost 3300 rupees per night.' I was really surprised. I asked him in bewilderment, 'March is an off season, no?' The guy shook his head and repeated his lines. We thought we should verify with some other hotels and went out. Everywhere we got the same response, except those really shabby hotels. After a while we thought of checking into the 'luxury suites' of Dekeling.

Darjeeling, like any other hill towns goes to bed early. So we decided to have dinner by 7. Before coming here I read about a small Tibetan restaurant here that was quite famous among the foreigners for its authentic Tibetan cuisine. There is one thing that I hate about average Indian tourist that they will never compromise with their usual food habit no matter where they go. So in Darjeeling, there were no dearth of restaurants serving 'authentic Bengali thali' or 'pure veg North Indian food'. Our Kunga Restaurant was however on the ground floor of our confounded hotel, so we did not have to walk a lot.

Kunga was a very little restaurant ran by a Tibetan family. There were very little space inside the shop, hardly 6-7 tables. The walls were covered in wooden panelling and adorned with several Buddhist prayer flags. A picture of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama was hung above the kitchen. We chose a table and as soon as we sat there a guy came up to us and gave us small notesheets and a pen. We had to check the menu and jot down our order by ourselves. Nice system, huh?

Chicken wanton soup.

Fried chicken wai wai noodle. Wai wai is a readymade bhutanese noodle. 

Phing soup. Phing is handmade transparent noodle. I never had it before.
Kunga's most popular beverage. Honey Lemon green tea.
The food was awesome and we decided to eat there every day during our stay. And so we did.

Point to be noted: A place, no matter how wonderful its scenic beauty is, or how pleasant its climate is, is NOT an ideal tourist destination if most of the local people are just sitting there to rob or cheat you or put you into trouble.