After Completing my solo tour of Bhutan returned back to the Bhutanese/India border town of Pheuntsholing on Friday(14-3-2014).on the next leg of my “Solo Backpackers tour”.On entering Jaigaon it was the experience of being in the World’s second largest populated Country, India.Boarded a shared rickshaw that took me to Jaigaon local bus stand charging only Rs 5.On inquiries at the local bus-stand purchased a Rs 100 ticket to Siliguri on a local bus scheduled to depart at 1500 hrs. The bus ultimately left the station at 1645 hrs and it was a rickety ride on absolutely bad roads to Siliguri. At 2115 hrs reached “Tenzing Norgay Bus Station” in Siliguri and on alighting the bus headed towards the closest lodge.Checked into room no 13 on the third floor of “Delhi hotel and restaurant. The rental was Rs 300/day(Off-season rates).Saturday(15-3-2014) :- Woke up at 0300 hrs, 4 hours sleep being my maximum sleep limit on tours as well as at home, a partial insomniac.Watched television and later on daybreak checked out of the hotel.This hotel was in prime Siliguri tourist locality, next to the train, bus and taxi stand. Had a breakfast of omelette/ bread and tea from a food stall near the taxi stand and was allotted a shared jeep taxi . At approx 0630 hrs boarded the taxi consisting of 12 passengers including the driver.There was no traffic jams as the jeep drove along early in the morning towards the hill station of Darjeeling.The incline route up the mountain was alongside the Himalayan mountain toy train route, the tracks running parallel to the highway.Brought back youth memories of one of my favourite Hindi movie “Aradhna” of the 1970’s which was shot in Darjeeling, a memorable song from the movie picturised on the toy train .In my youth i had associated Darjeeling with Hindi movies and Darjeeling tea.
|The “Toy Train Station ” of Kurseong.|
At approx 0715 hrs we reached Kurseong station(4864 feet)and could feel the cool weather change with the increase in altitude.Darjeeling district seemed a congested hill-station and a little dirty in 2014 unlike the 1970’s song picturisation of “Aradhna” which was my image of this World famous hill-station.City’s and Country’s change over the decades and so has Darjeeling, definitely a densely populated hill-station.At 0830 hrs we reached Ghum station (7407 Ft), the highest train station in India.From Ghum Station the highway meanders to a lower altitude and we reached “Chowk Bazaar” of Darjeeling at approx 0900 hrs. Darjeeling is situated at a altitude of 6812 feet and the weather was cool. The filth and congestion of this main Bazaar , bus-stand and taxi locality of Darjeeling surprised me , only consolation, the cold hill station weather.Approached a cab driver for cheap accommodation guidance and he escorted me to “Hotel Morning Glory”situated on Loch Nagar road just a short walk downhill from main Chowk Bazaar.The hotel seemed recently renovated with many rooms, all empty on my arrival indicating the tourist off-season period.The hotel owner Mr Kedar.Mukherjee offered me a tiny room unfit for a “Macaw parrot”,just a bed and a tiny attached toilet/bathe.This room had broken my previous record of smallest room stay on tour which happened to be in 2005 in “Chungking Mansion” in Hongkong, one of the World’s costliest city’s. The room charges were a princely Rs 330(Off-season) and since check-in was 12 -12 hrs i had to deposit my luggage in the hotel store-room and proceed on my city exploration.
Having done my “Internet study” i was aware of the tourist locations and places of interest. My first visit was to the “Darjeeling Zoo”.It was a long straight walk from my hotel, tolerable due to the cold climate.This zoo is at Jawahar Parvat(Birch hill ) and was inaugurated in 1958.It is the highest altitude zoo in India set at an altitude of 7000 ft(2133 meters).It was initially known as the Himalayan zoological park and later renamed “Padmaja Naidu Himalayan zoological park” by former Prime Minister Smt Indira.Gandhi.At approx 0945 hrs i reached the zoo situated on a hill.After purchasing the entry ticket of Rs 40 which included entrance to the “Himalayan Mountaineering Institute” i made my way into the zoo.Bizarrely, the first enclosure was the “Parrot Enclosure” haunting me with memories of my late Alexandrine parakeet “Mittoo”.There were Alexandrine parakeets and Macaws along with other exotic parrots and parakeets in a large enclosed aviary.Another Aviary had various types of Pheasants.Saw a beautiful pair of Golden Macaws, absolutely large birds that would find difficulty fitting into my tiny hotel room in “Hotel Morning Glory” !
|Rare Himalayan Wolf.|
The zoo was well maintained and clean, the birds and animals seemed well fed and cared.For the first time in my life got to view some rare Himalayan animal species like the Goral and the Himalayan Wolf.The Himalayan Wolf if not en-caged resembled a mixed breed German shepherd dog.The zoo viewing area is small built on a hillock with the animal enclosures on the sides of the small hillock.Viewed the elusive snow leopard and Red Panda’s.The zoo had a tiger and a leopard , the prized exhibits being the herbivorous animals of the Himalayas, rarely exhibited in lowland zoo’s.Its a comparatively small zoo with large enclosures for the animals and birds, very well maintained.The “Himalayan Mountaineering Institute(HMI)” entrance is at the extreme end of the zoo entrance.On entering the Institute a visitor is greeted with a inauguration plaque and a mountain model of two mountaineers climbing onto a peak.Photography is not allowed inside the mountaineering museum.
|Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.|
The museum has a display of all the records and expeditions on various peaks in the Himalaya’s.A educational topographical model of the Himalayan mountain range with various peaks was on display, the peaks illuminating on the visitor pressing a button indicating the mountain peak.A natural history museum of Himalayan wild-life and birds was also on display.Next to the museum was the “Everest Museum” which dealt only with Mt Everest expeditions and literature.In the museum courtyard visitors and tourists could pose for photo’s with local models dressed in Nepali Sherpa dress.I had a photograph of mine removed with a young Sherpa model, my claim to mountaineering fame being “Monsoon Trekking” the hill-forts of Maharashtra besides a few pilgrimage peaks like Mt Sinai in Egypt and just a few days ago the Taktsang Monastery in Paro. Enthusiastic students can learn the basics of mountaineering at this Institute whose training complex is next to the museum beyond the reach of tourists.From the mountaineering Museum i revisited the zoo, studying the animal ande bird exhibits more closely having spent a lifetime visiting zoo’s all over the World.At approx 1200 hrs made my way back towards the hotel deciding to hire a taxi as hill station distances seem deceptively close.No taxi’s were available and with great difficulty managed to get a lift and was dropped at the main Chowk Bazaar.Went to my hotel, collected my baggage and entered “Room No 20”, a neat freshly painted room and the tiniest that i have ever lived in during my tours. Thats the adventure and glamour of Solo travel unlike “Package tours” where everything is ready-made by the tour organizers..The room was chill cold which made living comfortable but worried me about sleep at night. After changing my clothes and unpacking my binoculars i headed towards the chowk bazaar.Inquired about non-veg restaurants and was directed into the crowded main market to “New Kalika Restaurant”. Lunch was “Fish Thali”,excellent and filling. After lunch i decided to visit the “Darjeeling Ropeway” and went to the local shared taxi stand.
|St Josephs School ,Darjeeling.|
The Darjeeling rope-way is located at Singamari, 3 Kms away from the Chowk.Did get a shared taxi and it was a short drive to North Point on Lebong road next to the famous “St Josephs School”.Alighted the taxi at North Point and admired “St Joseph’s School”, a fascination of my Hindi movie addiction of Darjeeling.This school was once called the “Harrow of the East” as its alumni included Royal families of Nepal,Bhutan, Coochbehar, and Burdwan as also the Shah of Iran’s nephews.The school was closed for tourists and visitors and observed young boys playing basketball, a educational institution that reflected class and exclusivity .From Northpoint road opposite St Joseph’s school it was a walk up a flight of stairs to the “Ropeway station”.There was a long queue of tourists for the “Cable Car” ride, the charges being Rs 150/person.Finally at approx 1445hrs i did get my turn to enter the cable car and enjoy and view the ride.The view of the sloping tea-estates was beautiful from the cable-car as also the surrounding city.The cable-car takes you to the extreme end of the valley and back to the starting point..Finished the cable car ride at approx 1515 hrs and walked down to North point. Boarded a shared taxi back to the Chowk.
Decided to spend the rest of the evening on the Internet and relax, too much of physical stress was detrimental to enjoying a exploratory holiday.I walked up the road from Chowk as all roads in any hill-station including Darjeeling either go up or down, rarely straight akin to flat land.After numerous twists and turns i finally did find a internet cafe and started browsing at “Sumit Computers” on Lama road.After an hours browsing i made my way back to chowk and to my hotel Requested the hotel owner to reserve a car the next morning for a tour of “Tiger Hill”, a must visit site on any tourists itinerary.He agreed to the same, the charges being Rs 1000 for the entire car.After confirming my booking i ventured into the chowk and realized that night-life is almost non-existent in Darjeeling.All shops close by 2030 hrs.Dinner was egg noodles at a road-side s take-away.Topped it up with a ice-cream and made my way back to the pigeon hole room in “Morning Glory hotel”.I had set my mobile alarm for 0300 hrs as the car would pick me up at 0400 hrs for the long drive to “Tiger Hill”.It was chill cold and somehow managed to get some sleep with a overload of warm clothing..
|SUNRISE OVER THE KANCHENJUNGA MOUNTAIN RANGE AS OBSERVED FROM “TIGER HILL”.|
|Guide Explaining “Sunrise” of Tiger Hill in “Observation Lounge”.|
Sunday(16-3-2014) :- Woke up much before 0300 hrs and got myself ready in the “Pigeon hole” hotel room. Thanks to the chilling cold the accommodation was comfortable as i shudder at the thought of staying in such a room in hot humid city’s for a few hours let alone a few days.Thats the advantage of living in Cold Countries or City’s.After changing my clothing went to the hotels main dining restaurant and watched T.V. The hotel main gate was locked and the owner opened it at 0400 hrs, the car driver being punctual.It was chilling cold outside, the car providing warm comfort. It was a uphill drive of 10 Kms , approx forty five minutes to Tiger hill and i was surprised at the stream of vehicles driving towards destination “Tiger Hill”.“Tiger Hill” got its name during the Colonial era when the place was a popular sighting ground for tigers, the highest peak in Darjeeling District. At approx 0450hrs we reached “Tiger Hill” , the entire parking lot filled with vehicles and a house-full crowd of tourists.”Tiger Hill” is the highest point in Darjeeling with a “Mountain-facing” view of the mighty Himalayas in front of it akin to a skyscraper building facing the sea in a coastal city.
There was a small two storey “Observation Lounge Building” with glass window panes which allowed tourists entry on payment of Rs 40. the advantage being that it was warm inside and there were seats for the early birds.Purchased a ticket and made my way into the lounge, the entire place packed with tourists although off-season. It was a Sunday and hence seems Kolkotians make Darjeeling the best week-end getaway.A guide explained the various peaks that could be seen once daylight broke over the mighty Kanchenjunga.If lucky, even Mt Everest could be visible from “Tiger Point” and if unlucky then the only mountain range visible would be cloudy mist, a total gamble for tourists paying a fortune to reach “TIGER POINT”.
|“TIGER HILL” Packed with tourists and vehicles.|
|At “TIGER HILL” in front of “Observation Lounge Building”.|
Entire cars and wagons were packed with tourists. The Lounge guide told us the it was our good luck that the weather was clear and and expected sunrise at 0600 hrs .He explained the various peaks and manner of Sunrise as seen from “Tiger Hill”. It was a unique phenomenon in the World and a reason for Darjeeling’s importance.The entire small ground in front of the lounge building was packed with tourists and it was suspense at its worst! Finally just before 0600 hrs the Sun could be seen rising below “Tiger Hill”, gradually becoming a bright red orange. This scene has to be witnessed as literature cannot do justice to this beautiful spectacle of nature.As the Sun gained altitude Mt Kanchenjunga and its mountain range gradually became visible, shining snow-white on a clear morning sky-line, luck favouring us.Tourists went camera trigger happy , the lounge providing perfect elevation for photography.The Lounge guide pointed out the peaks and Mt Everest was distinctly visible in the distance to the left of Mt Kanchenjunga, a small insignificant looking triangular peak. My binoculars paid dividends and was a hit with fellow tourists wanting a view of the mountain at a closer range.It surprises me that most tourists never carry a set of binoculars on tours, one of the most important equipment for sightseeing and not just meant for “Spy games”, “Window-peeping”, “Horse-racing” or “Bird-watching”.Having visited Nepal and seen Mt Everest mountain range on the “Mountain Flight Tour” was amazed at seeing this mountain from land for the first time in my life. It looked very ordinary with binoculars, dwarfed by the mighty Kanchenjunga that loomed on the “Tiger Hill” skyline.After a brief view of the beautiful clear Kanchenjunga and the surrounding mountains entered my vehicle when my “Omega Seamaster Watch” a family heirloom suddenly fell from my hand onto the seat.The 35 year old watch’s stainless steel strap had broken and luckily the watch fell into the car and not from the side of a mountain cliff or on the road. A solo tour of bizarre tragedy and narrow escapes., financial as well as physical.At approx 0630 hrs we departed from “Tiger Hill” and en-route the driver/guide showed me Senchal lake that provided water to Darjeeling.A beautiful lake situated on the mountain edge just below the highway.
Our next stop was the Samten Choling Bhuddhist Monastery popularly known as the“Ghoom Monastery(Ghum)” situated at an altitude of 8000 ft..The Monastery follows the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and was built in 1875, the largest of the three Monasteries in Ghoom. Entered the monastery and got a glimpse of Tibetan Buddhism rituals. From Ghoom Monastery we drove to “Batasia Loop”, the spiral railway gradient of the Darjeeling Himalayan railway.The Batasia railway loop was constructed in 1919, a unique feat of railway mountain engineering. A garden has been created in the centre of the loop called the “Batasia Eco Garden” and a war memorial to the Gorkha soldiers of Darjeeling who sacrificed their lives in the Indian armed forces after the Independence of India in 1947.The War memorial was created in 1995.Strolled around the small garden built circumferentially along the circular railway track.There were hawkers selling handicrafts and other local goods on the trains railway tracks, the same possible as the toy trains began their daily route service after 1000 hrs.Telescopes were on hire for tourists to view Mt Kanchenjunga and its neighboring peaks with the guide explaining the various peaks and spots of Darjeeling.
|“War Memorial” in Batasia loop Park.|
|Fueling Coal into the “Toy Train Steam Engine”.|
Viewed the Kanchenjunga mountain range through the telescope and appreciated the lecture by the guide but it was definitely less powerful than my binoculars vision.For tourists visiting “Batasia Loop” by train can also visit the “Himalayan Toy Train Museum” situated at “Ghoom Station” . The main exhibit in the museum is the oldest toy train engine, the “Baby Sivok”.Purchased two packets of “Darjeeling Tea” from a hawker as taste souvenirs since i grew up on the image of Hindi movies and Darjeeling tea during my youth.After a brief stroll around the park made my way to the exit.There were street stalls selling hot Bhajiya’s and tea which became my morning breakfast.Tea is very cheap in Darjeeling costing just Rs 5 or Rs 10 along the common shops and street vendors.Purchased some Bhajiya’s for the driver and made my way to the vehicle, a long line of vehicles parked in a straight line on the narrow road.Began our drive towards Chowk Bazaar of Darjeeling. On the way came across a steam engine being fueled with coal near the Darjeeling train station.Stopped and posed for a few photo’s, decades since i saw a train steam engine practically in employment and not a museum relic.
|Bollywood and Hollywood films shot in Darjeeling.|
Reached my hotel at approx 0830hrs, a wonderful lifetime of memories and worth the luxurious drive, the weather favouring us and lady luck favouring me from losing a expensive wrist watch.Requested the hotel attendant for a hot bucket of water for bathe, the same costing Rs 30/ bucket.After a rationed hot water bathe at approx 0915 hrs i made my way out of the hotel onto Chowk bazaar absolutely congested and filthy.Inquired for directions to the Chowrasta or Darjeeling Mall, the most popular and cetnre of tourist attraction in Darjeeling city.It was a straight walk upwards from congested Chowk locality up a flight of stairs onto a hill road.Honestly, the walks up the road inclinations in all Hill stations are torturous to the legs, especially if a person has trekked a 3000 ft mountain along with hill-station walks as i had done on this tour.Walked up the inclined hill and suddenly realized that i was in a plush locality , my first stop being at the “Raj Bhavan” which was situated at the entrance of Mall Road.Photography was strictly prohibited around Raj Bhavan and after viewing this magnificent residence i walked towards Chowrasia.
|Cyclists at Chowrasia. Mountain biking.|
It was a bright sunny cool day and as i walked further from Raj Bhavan into Mall road i was suddenly aghast on seeing the beautiful Kanchenjunga Mountain range in front of me opposite the road.There were benches and i sat on a bench and just admired the beauty of the mountain and the surroundings.There were very few tourists and the view of Kanchenjunga from Mall Road is better than at “Tiger Point”, only difference is that Mt Everest is not visible from here.Walked along the Mall road and reached Chowrasia, the main town centre of Darjeeling city.It was a plush clean circular paved park that had a huge prominent statue of Nepali poet Bhanubhakta. Acharya. There were benches around the circumference of the road near the statue. A large two storied structure called the “Hawa Ghar” which holds local cultural programs is a prominent edifice on Chowrasia. It was a bit crowded with tourists and youngsters.As a hobby cyclists was quick to spot a group of young men and women resting on the benches with their cycles parked on the road.Cycling in Darjeeling is definitely akin to a stage competition in a mini “Tour De France” race , definitely strenuous.Wonder why India hasn’t yet produced competitive cyclists in International road races when the locales are in existence
|“NATHMULLS” tea shop.|
The view of the entire Himalayan Mountain range from Chowrasia was excellent , the weather being at its best.In most hill-stations the weather is very unpredictable and bright Sunshine can suddenly give way to dull clouds or fog or rain! I was literally viewing the beautiful landscape while the Sun shone as such chances are rare, especially in a off-season weather condition.There are three roads that terminate or begin at Chowrasia depending on the direction of travel. One of them is Zakir Hussein road where a local market exists. and the other is Nehru road which comes from below the hill towards Chowrasia while the third is the Mall road through which i entered Chowrasia.Almost all the shops were closed barring two famous tea shops,”Golden Tips(Est 1933)” and “Nathmulls(Est 1931)” , both shops situated next to each other. Entered “Nathmulls ” and inquired the various categories of tea and its prices. Visiting “Nathmulls” made me realize that the ultra wealthy and money eccentrics splurged not only on gold and jewelry purchases or at times certain vices but also on tea costing Rs 50,000/Kg at “Nathmulls” !”Golden Tips” shop had slightly cheaper quality tea only costing slightly less than Rs 50,000 /Kg! Got to learn the grading and pricing of tea and hope there is a vacancy for a “TEA TASTER”, a job i would envy as it would have no retirement age limit.At approx 1030 hrs made my way down-hill on Nehru road from Chowrasia heading towards the “Bengal Natural History Museum”.
|Bengal Natural History Museum.|
In just two days i understood the road topography of Darjeeling city,a maze of uphill and downhill roads, very tiring.Inquiring with locals finally did find “Bengal Natural History Museum” , a small heritage building.This museum was originally established in 1903 and remodeled in 2003.It was a excellent and small cosy museum with wonderful exhibits of local flora , fauna and insects of the Himalaya’s.Was surprised at seeing the size of the head and horns of a few animals shot at the peak of shikar sports in India during the British Raj.One head of a “Gaur” with distinct bullet holes on the skull was a prized exhibit and had a interesting tragic history to its shooting on 8th May 1922. It was a rogue animal that entered Darjeeling town in today’s Chowrasta and ran wild in the city killing a local while wounding a few others before being killed by a tea plantation owner, its skull later donated to the museum.Saw one of the largest stuffed crocodiles which i thought was artificial ,too big to be true. The museum guide confirmed its genuineness and i feel Crocodile expert Mr Romulus.Whitetaker of Madras Snake & Crocodile park would find it difficult to ever capture a crocodile of this size in the wild in 2014 in India.Its sad but true, besides various wild-life species gradually getting extinct , most animal species are also reducing in size in the wild environment due to various factors.I myself have a “SAW-FISH” thorn that could be the second largest in private collection in Mumbai after the specimen at the “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya(Formerly Prince of Wales Museum)” in Mumbai ! This “Saw- Fish” thorn was purchased in Malindi(Kenya) by dad sometime in the 1960’s.
|Darjeeling Fish market in “Chowk” locality.|
|Fish Curry rice.|
At approx 1115 hrs finished my tour of the museum and walked down the hill road steps to Chowk area.As usual visited the local fish market and realized that the entire North Indian hill regions specialized in fresh water lake bred fish species, a Bengali delicacy in Darjeeling.Visited a few watch repair shops in order to patch up my expensive “Omega Seamaster” strap and realized that luxury goods are easier to purchase but difficult to maintain.If it was a ordinary watch strap it could be replaced by any local; watch repairer but being a“Omega Brand” it had a unique watch dismantling method which was a manufacturer’s trade secret. Ultimately my wrist watch now became a “Pocket watch” awaiting a strap renewal in Mumbai. This is one reason that has refrained me from purchasing a “Harlery Davidson motorcyle “ or a “Trek Cycle”.Its easier paying a lump-sum and buying these luxury vehicles but a nuisance regarding maintenance and after-sales services unless a “Billionaire” having a fleet of other vehicles.After visiting the watch shops made my way back to the hotel. After a brief rest and wash headed back towards the Chowk in search of a good fish meal restaurant.Locals guided me to“Hotel Mahakal & Restaurant” situated opposite old club-side road, a long inclined walk from Chowk road..Lunch was a lavish fish curry/rice , just excellent, best fish food after my night dinner at “Delhi hotel & Restaurant” in Siliguri .After lunch walked upto Darjeeling station to check out for a short ride on the “Toy Train”.There were two short rides from Darjeeling station to Ghum station and back for tourists.The ticket rates were Rs 340/person and fully booked for the two rides of the day. i just got into the toy train bogie and had a photograph shoot for posterity.
|“Toy Train” at Darjeeling Station for “Tourist Joy Rides”.|
|“CHOWK” Locality of Darjeeling.|
From the train station walked back to Chowk and boarded a shared taxi to “Lebong”, my destination being “Tenzing Rock”. At approx 1400 hrs reached “Tenzing Rock” which is situated on Lebong road, the shared taxi fare amounting to Rs 20.There were two natural rock formations which were used for “Rock Climbing training” by trainees of “Himalayan Mountaineering Institute” as well as tourist rock climbing.One of the rocks is named after Sherpa Tenzing and hence “Tenzing Rock” while the other on the opposite side of the road named after Nawang.Gombu, the first man to climb Mt Everest twice and called “Gombu Rock”.
|Practicing “Rock Climbing” on “Tenzing Rock“.|
A few young men and women were practicing “Rock Climbing” on Tenzing rock with ropes, definitely tough and requiring good physical conditioning.Picked up a conversation with a hawker and he enthralled me with tales of his own mountain climbing experiences, himself having partly climbed Mt Kanchenjunga in his youth.Seems most Gorkhas of Darjeeling have done some sort of mountain-climbing sometime in their life-time.As a horse-racing enthusiast i had intentions of visiting the now defunct “Lebong Race-course” of Darjeeling having wonderful memories of attending the “Derby Race day” at Ooty race-course in Tamil Nadu in the 1990’s.The hawker advised me that it was futile visiting “Lebong Race-course” as it was now converted into a Army parade ground and tourists banned from entry into the complex.,This race-course had the distinction of being the smallest race-course(one lap = 480 yard) in the World as well as the highest in the World( 1809 meters). Finally from “Tenzing Rock” made my way back to Chowk in a shared taxi alighting near the gate of “Bishop House”.Its a residence for the clergy of the Catholic diocese in Darjeeling. Strolled around crowded Chowk locality visiting the market and came across shops selling masks and colours for the Hindu festival of Holi to be celebrated the next day on Monday(17-3-2014).At 1530 hrs decided to revisit the Mall and Chowrasia and hence began my uphill walk from Chowk towards the Mall. The route to the Mall passes through the imposing historical religious edifice of “St Andrews Church” built in 1843 and later badly damaged by a earthquake and rebuilt in 1873.
|St Andrews Church.|
The Church looked imposing perched on the top of a hill from the road. It was a tiring walk to the church from the road and was worth the uphill walk.As i neared the Church i heard the sound of a organ playing and hymns being sung, sounds emitting from a closed door .Opened the door and stared into the the Church chapel surprised to see a small group of young men and women singing hymns while a gentleman played the organ and conducted the “Prayer Hymn” ritual. Two women were standing and singing hymns as if in a trance while the rest were seated on chairs, totally immersed in the lyrics of the hymn. The organist beckoned me to have a seat in the group to which i obliged.St Andrews is a “Anglican Church” and the early worshipers were Scottish soldiers and tea-planter owners.There were a few mural tablets of some of the oldest residents of Darjeeling in this small chapel. Lt General A.Lloyd who is credited for laying the foundation of Darjeeling has a mural tablet inside the main church which was closed to public.The organist was definitely of Anglo-Indian origin or a Scotsman, handsome and young more like a opera rock star than a simple church choir conductor with a wonderful voice.Didn’t Cliff.Richard begin his singing career in Church Choirs as also late Freddie.Mercury who sang in school choirs ?Spent a few minutes with the choir group and later made my exit as this was my last day in Darjeeling and some exploration of surprises was still to be seen.From St Andrews Church i entered “Darjeeling Gymkhana” ground situated on the hill gradient just below St Andrews Church.The Club was established in 1909 , a typical British ear club .It offered numerous sports facilities like tennis, squash, badminton, table tennis and roller skating. Tourists could take temporary membership for a month or two and avail of the sports facilities.
|Holiday crowd on Chowrasia.|
From the Gymkhana walked the now familiar route towards Raj Bhavan and onto the Mall road.I was surprised at the total disappearance of the Kanchenjunga mountain range on entering mall road, the enire mountain view blocked by opaque fog. It was only 17oo hrs and just in the morning i had got a better view of Kanchenjunga from this same location than at Tiger hill ! This shows the effects of change of weather on viewing mountain peaks and scenery. Sat on the same bench for a while staring into opaque mist and had a conversation with two other tourists from Kolkota.After a brief conversation headed towards Chowrasia and was greeted by a holiday crowd enjoying themselves on the circular paved ground.There were pony rides and a host of other activities, all tourists clad in warm clothing.Strolled around Zakir Hussain road and had a look at the local shops and eatable stalls.Visited a curio shop and inquired about “Gorkha Knives” and the various qualities and pricing.There was a imposing and prominent hotel on Chowrasia near the entrance to Zakir Hussain road called “Bellevue Hotel” which had internet facilities.Entered the hotel and was surprised at its plush interiors, a Old World hotel which also had a “Fire-Wood” heating rooms for its clients.Browsed on the internet for an hour feeling at home in this plush hotel.From the hotel i made my way downhill to Nehru street into the mall market.Visited a few curio shops and later a book-stall. I was surprised to find a novel titled ” Byculla to Bangkok” published in 2014 and written by former investigative journalist Mr Hussain.Zaidi. This was the the latest book from the author of “Black Friday” which was made into a film the topic being the “1993 Mumbai bomb blasts”. Browsed through the book which described the “Who’s Who” of the Mumbai Underworld and their Godfathers.I had spent seven years of my youth living in Byculla and Bangkok was as familiar as central Mumbai and hence was fascinated by the title of this true life underworld book. From the bookshop entered Glenary’s Bakery and Cafe”, the iconic restaurant of Darjeeling.It had the typical colonial architecture, a small white coloured two storey cottage building with the restaurant on the ground floor.Entered the restaurant which again brought back vintage nostalgia , a huge red phone booth installed at the entrance aisle, totally defunct in the cell-phone era of the 21st century. Ordered a “Sausage Pattice” and toured this cosy, classy restaurant. It also had a “Internet cafe” in one section of the ground floor restaurant and a mezzanine restaurant.It was bizarre contrast having a vintage showpiece “Telephone booth” as well as internet cybercafe in the same location, the former a museum piece.From Glenary’s i walked down to Hotel Mahakal and restaurant for dinner. Since it was packed with diners decided to eat in the Nepali restaurant next to it and got a taste of “Nepali Pork Thali”.After a sumptuous dinner walked down the inclined road and steps to Chowk locality. It was the eve of Holi festival and a group of people had begun the festivity by parading in colours along Chowk road, also throwing colours in the night.Entire Darjeeling comes to a close by 2100 hrs, absolutely no night-life.Purchased a ice-cream on the way to my hotel and by 2000 hrs i was in my pigeon-hole room.Had a normal four to five hours sleep waking up at approx 0400 hrs.Packed my bags and later watched television in the main restaurant lobby.
|Classic downtown Gangtok. “Mahatma Gandhi Road”.|
Monday(17-3-2014) :-The main hotel residential gate was opened at approx 0600 hrs and i was surprised to see a full fledged bakery and confectionery factory functioning from the ground floor of “Hotel Morning Glory”.Seems the locals of Darjeeling love bread and pastries with cakes being sold in almost all shops on the streets.Bakeries were a cottage Industry in Darjeeling, the cakes tasty and cheap. For the first time in my life got to witness the manufacture of bread and plum cakes reminding me of the boiler room furnaces on ships.At approx 0700 hrs i checked out from the hotel , the room lodging seeming full as the tourist season was beginning with the start of Holi festival with the plains of West Bengal getting warmer and hot.Made my way to the taxi stand and was lucky to get a immediate shared taxi costing Rs 200/person to Gangtok.Gangtok is approx 98 Kms from Darjeeling.Our jeep departed at approx 0730 hrs and the route was initially through Ghoom.
|“Teesta Bridge” across the Teesta river enroute to Gangtok.|
At 0900 hrs we stopped for breakfast at Lopchu and tasted Nepali Sabji(Vegetables)/roti’s .After breakfast it was a downhill drive through Teesta Bazaar and the Teesta river onto highway NH31 A. Its a upward drive from Teesta Bazaar with a bifurcation later near the Gangtok /Kalimpong crossroad.Observed a lot of trucks on the Teesta river bed mining the river sand. On entering Sikkim State border the roads seemed better and at approx 1015 hrs we entered Rangpo City, the border city between West Bengal and Sikkim.The cleanliness and road maintenance of Sikkim reminded me a little of Bhutan. Passed by “Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology” and seems the Manipal Institute of technology(Udupi) is on par with the I.I.T’s in terms of popularity, franchisees and patronage.As a speculator i was anxious to visit a casino in Gangtok, the only State in India that had land based legal casino gambling.In Goa, the other state that has legalized casino gambling its location is “Offshore” on a ship docked in Panjim. On approaching the suburbs of Gangtok witnessed the grand celebration of Holi festival on the streets, mostly young children and the youth. I suddenly saw the long awaited sign “Mayfair Gangtok(Spa resort and Casino)”, a beautiful hotel located on the base of a small hill-top.A genuine legal casino spotting at last. I have been a staunch vocalist on the internet to “LEGALIZE SPORTS BETTING IN INDIA” , having started a group on facebook and also demonstrating the permutations and combinations of “SPECULATIVE SPORTS GAMBLING”.
|Sikkim is the only state in India having legal land Gambling casino’s.|
My late 22 year old Alexandrine parakeet“Mittoo alias Mittoo the poppat” was worth over Rs 5 Crores(5 Khokhas) at the time of his untimely demise on Monday(10-3-2014), his bets purely made by me as a notional money game to prove universally that “SPORTS BETTING” is as risky or as easy as “Stock Market Trading”.At approx 1130 hrs we finally reached the Deorali bus stand in Gangtok . It was almost 2 Kms from downtown M.G road in Gangtok and hence had to hire another private taxi.The taxi driver Mr Santosh.Tamang agreed to take me to the cheapest accommodation in downtown Gangtok and hence drove me to “Hotel Pineridge” on Nam Nang road.Hotel rentals were most expensive in Gangtok, costlier than Bhutan or Darjeeling. After much bargaining the hotel manager agreed to provide me room nos 102 on the first floor at a rental of Rs 700/Day(Off-Season), myself being one of the few guests in the three storey hotel.I informed taxi driver Santosh to make arrangements for the “Nathula Pass Tour” on Wednesday(18-3-2013) for which he took a xerox copy of my passport and 2 nos passport photo’s.All correspondence was through cell-phone and he quickly contacted a travel agent and immediately arranged a seat on a shared taxi at Rs 800/Person.He also agreed to take me on a guided taxi tour of Gangtok, the common mode of sightseeing for tourists in Gangtok as there are no shared tour buses, besides, this was the tourist off-season.I showed him the list of tourist sites i wanted to visit and he agreed to drive me to those places at a cost of Rs 600, a half day taxi tour.He told me to be ready by 0900 hrs the next day for the half day tour of Gangtok city.After thanking Santosh and paying him Rs 150 as his taxi charge i made my way to my room, a large spacious room with T.V and attatched bathe.Gangtok seemed clean and tidy compared to Darjeeling, very much like Bhutan barring the population.
|Sikkim Legislative Assembly.|
It was Sunny and cool, not cold like Darjeeling or Bhutan.Changed my clothes and headed out of the hotel, my destination being the “Gangtok Ropeway” which was a uphill walking distance from my hotel. The “Ropeway building” was not outstanding on the city skyline, a common 4 storey building with a small ticket office.The rope-way timings were from 0930 to 1700 hrs daily and the ticket charges Rs 70/person. I had reached the ticket booking office at approx 1300 hrs which was lunch-time and hence walked towards NamNang point also called “SUICIDE POINT”, just walking distance from the ropeway. On the way passed by the “Sikkim Legislative assembly” building, a palatial estate.Finally walking through narrow mountain track and later rock stairs reached “Nam Nang point (Suicide Point)”.There were a lot of Gangtok’s youth celebrating Holi with beers and colours in this terraced mountain garden park.
|Youth celebrating “Holi Festival” at “Nam Nang Point(Suicide Point)”.|
There is a small garden plot on the edge of the mountain cliff from where a person gets a beautiful view of the valley below. No doubt its called “Suicide Point” as a jump from here means a leap from here to eternity and a few suicides must have occured and hence the name.After a brief rest at this picturesque spot returned back to the Ropeway office and booked my ticket for the ride.
After purchasing the ticket i was directed towards the building lift and taken 4 floors below, a bizarre rope-way ride.Alighted the lift and got into the rope-way with a few other tourists.It was a beautiful birds eye view ride on the rope-way between Nam Nang and Deorali and back to Nam Nang.
|View from the “Gangtok Ropeway”.|
It was approx a 20 minutes ride and the view of Gangtok city was excellent, on a clear sunshine afternoon.At approx 1400 hrs finished my “Ropeway Ride” and made my way down-hill to the hotel.It was a beautiful small 3-storey hotel situated in prime Gangtok locality, walking distance from “M.G.Road” and other shopping centers.After drinking a peg of “Ara” in my hotel walked towards M.G road for lunch.On the way stepped into “Ridge restaurant and bar” just a few meters away from my hotel as i was famished with hunger. Lunch was “Chicken Momo’s”,excellent with still better local hip hop music playing on the restaurant music system..After lunch walked in a straight line towards “M.G. Road(Mahatma Gandhi Road)” and found a large group of youth celebrating the festival of Holi. All the shops were closed barring one or two eateries.The road was clean and buildings uniform and well maintained mostly painted light green in colour. None of the buildings were above 5 storeys tall giving the locality a uniformed disciplined elevation.”M.G Road” began where Nam Nang road ended, all in a straight single road from my hotel.The main “M.G Road” town center was at a curve in the road where it broadened with shopping centers on both sides, all shops closed due to the “Holi Festival”.
|DIFFERENT HAIRSTYLES ! With Mr Rajesh.Basnett.|
The broad plush locality was filled with people celebrating Holi. most of them covered in colours. A young boy approached me and applied a symbolic Holi tikka on my forehead, thankfully not immersing me in colours.As all shops on M.G road were closed barring a liquor shop i just walked aimlessly along the straight road towards a garden. Spotted a man with Rastafarian hairstyle in the garden and picked up a conversation with him. I have rarely come across Rastafarian hairstyle Indian men barring “Sadhu’s” and similarly Mr Basnett must have rarely seen a “Half-Beard Indian” !Mr Rajesh.Basnett with shoulder length Rastafarian hair was as colourful as his hairstyle. A self styled traveler akin to me he was more on religious trips once living as a hermit monk in a cave for over a month !He told me that the parks name was “Titanic Park”, a bizarre name for land-locked Sikkim.Throughout my solo tours i have met interesting and colourful men and women and made new acquaintances , never ever “ALONE”. In the park i suddenly observed a group of young boys and girls speaking in “Sign Language”.Rajesh told me that these youth were deaf and dumb and met occasionally in this small park on M.G road for socializing.Seeing these young handsome and pretty group of youngsters with their inborn handicap made me forget all my worries, just happy that God was kind to bless me as a normal human let alone being rich, poor or famous. Yes, travel educates.After a long conversation with Mr Rajesh.Basnett i walked back towards Nam Nang road. Inquired about the price of liquor in the only shop open on M.G road and was aghast to know that beer cost only Rs 50, on par with duty-free liquor in Goa.State of Goa and Sikkim had two similarities, both had legalized gambling casino’s and both served duty-free liquor.Purchased two bottles of “Kingfisher beer”, my favourite Indian beer brand and walked happily towards “Pineridge Hotel”.Deposited the beer bottles in my hotel and decided to explore the other end of Nam Nang road, the downhill road that led to Deorali .Walking downhill in the opposite direction to “M.G.Road” would lead me to Deorali , the same place where i boarded the taxi on arrival in Gangtok.On the way came across a “Big Bazaar” department store, a few meters from my hotel on the down-hill road.Entered the stores and realized that all “Big Bazaar” stores were the same in India irrespective of city, all commodities under one roof.After the “Big Bazaar” visit walked further downhill realizing that returning back uphill would be a test of my body tolerance.Met a local Sikkimese man with whom i picked up a interesting conversation and got to understand briefly the culture and topography of Gangtok city.I inquired the location of “Hotel Royal Plaza”, the first casino hotel in Gangtok and he told me that it was at Deorali , just a downhill walk. He was going in the same direction and agreed to guide me but i realized that returning back in the dark night would be the problem.
|“Pineridge Hotel(White)” my 3 day residence in Gangtok.|
Thanked him for the helpful guidance and made my way back uphill towards “Pineridge hotel”.On the way visited the plush “Tara Hotel” and inquired the daily room tariff.They charged only Rs 6000/day,very exorbitant for a ordinary plush hotel as there are no 5-star hotels in Gangtok.Another plush hotel,”Doma Palace” was a little further uphill and inquired the tariff which was Rs 3000/day. Both these hotels were just a few meters walking distance from “Pineridge Hotel” on NamNang road and hence i felt i got a bargain stay irrespective of the hotels shortcomings.As a investor in hotel shares and a fascination for hotels i always make it a point to check the costliest and the cheapest hotels in a city for price comparisons.On arriving at my hotel quenched my thirst with a beer and headed towards “M.G. Road” for dinner. All shops were closed barring a McDonalds fast food shop. Dinner was a simple Chicken/cheese roll(Rs 140) topped up with ice-cream. Returned back to my hotel and called it a day.Watched T.V until i fell asleep.
|“ORCHID FLOWER CONTEST & EXHIBITION” in Gangtok.|
Tuesday( 18-3-2014) :- Woke up at 0400 hrs to visit the toilet and realized that there was absolutely no water in the bathroom.Luckily i had filled a bucket of water and that provided emergency toilet services. Watched T.v and at 0500 hrs went to the lobby to inform the manager about water stoppage.Seems the hotel was full of guests as other lodgers also woke up protesting the water stoppage. The manager woke up and informed us that there was a severe water shortage in Gangtok due to some repairs and his hotel was effected, the water supply being rationed.The water supply did resume at 0800 hrs and after a quick wash got ready for the days tour programme.It had rained in the night and hence there was a abrupt drop in ambient temperatures, cool but not chilling cold.For the first time on the hill-stations tour i put on a T-shirt and not double warm clothing.Taxi driver Santhosh couldn’t make it and so he sent his friend to drive me on a half-day city tour.Taxi driver Mr D.N.Rai arrived at my hotel at 0900 hrs and the taxi tour began. Taxi’s are very well maintained in Sikkim, Maruti alto cars which negotiate the hill climbs and troughs elegantly.Our first stop was a short 15 minutes drive from Pineridge hotel.The “Flower Exhibition Center” was a enclosed climate controlled flower garden and this was the first day of the “ORCHID FLOWER SHOW” inside the exhibition center. The entrance fee was Rs 20 and on entering the exhibition centre i was transferred into another World, a World of unbelievable Orchids.I have visited“Kew Gardens” in London and the “Ooty Flower Show” in Tamil Nadu and should say that Gangtok’s “Orchid Flower Show” ranks amongst the World’s best.The orchids looked artificial, akin to the cheap crepe imitations in shops, too beautiful to be true and genuine. This is the secret of these Orchids breeders success.A competition was held the previous day and prizes awarded to various types and categories of orchids, the same tagged on the plants.The Orchid garden was beautifully landscaped and is the main attraction of Sikkim during the month of March, peak orchid flowering season.
|At the “Flower Show(Orchids)” in Gangtok.|
The Orchid show signifies the start of the tourist season in Sikkim, the weather getting warmer on the plains and cool in Gangtok.
After being floored by the beauty of the orchids we drove towards the “Enchey Monastery”. This monastery was established in 1909 on a hill in Gangtok.It was gutted in a fire in 1947 and rebuilt in 1948.The latest minor damage was in the 2006 Sikkim Earthquake,its stone masonry walls suffering partial cracks.Its a long walk to the monastery from the main gate where vehicles park. “Tibetan Prayer Wheels” are erected on the left side of the path leading to the monastery. The Monastery building is not the original construction as it was rebuilt after a devastating fire.The Monastery has residential monks ranging from young boys to men. Two young boy monks wanted a look from my binoculars and were thrilled, cute in their monk attire.
|Pathway to “Enchey Monastery”.|
From the “Enchey Monastery” it was a short drive to “Ganesh Tok”.It is a small Ganesh temple located on a hillock at a total height of 6500 ft one of the highest points in Gangtok. After purchasing a entrance ticket had to climb up a flight of stairs to reach the temple complex.A amazing “Birds Eye View” of Gangtok is available from the “View Point” next to the main Ganesh temple.Gangtok’s television tower is situated on a hill below Ganesh tok.After a brief view of Gangtok from Ganesh Tok summit i walked down the stairs and came back to the entrance gate. At “Ganesh Tok” tourists can take “Selfie” photographs in Sikkimese costumes, akin to a film shoot and i did take a photo of myself in local Sikkimese dress.Ultimately its memories that is a part and parcel of our experiences, travels and sorrows on Planet Earth.
|View of Gangtok from “GANESH TOK”.|
|“BAKTHANG FALLS” with “Flying -Fox Trapeze” rope-way with “Safety Net”.|
The “Himalayan Zoological Park Bulbulay” is situated adjacent to “Ganesh tok”, a short uphill walk on the next small hillock. As i had already visited zoo’s in Thimphu and Darjeeling the Gangtok zoo didn’t capture my time as it would have a similar animal and bird species as in the Darjeeling zoo.The Gangtok zoo is larger and according to its external sign-board has camouflaged natural zoo enclosures and hence spotting animal species difficult and time consuming.Hence i decided to skip the zoo tour and we drove towards Gonjang Monastery.At approx 1100 hrs reached the gates of Gonjang Monastery which is situated near Tashi viewpoint.This Monastery was established recently in 1981 a modern edifice.After a quick tour of the small Monastery complex it was a short drive along National highway 31 A to “Bakthang Falls” .There was a small trickle of water along the rock face which was the “Bakthang waterfall” , not a gushing waterfall in the month of March. A “Flying Fox” trapeze rope-way installed from one end of the rock face to the other end, a short distance of approx 50 meters was a thrill for tourists..Experienced the short“Flying Fox” trapeze to add to my list of a “Been here, done that” and that photograph is the introductory photo of this tour blog.After “Bakthang Falls” we drove towards the handicrafts centre. On the way came across the armed forces “ Black Cat Institute” constructed in 1972, a social elite club for Army officers and guests . A “Black Cat” was the mascot of the institute reminding me of my own cats back home in Mumbai. The Sikkim Handicrafts complex was a building housing various handicrafts on the ground floor.Met a tourist couple from Chennai in the Handicraft hall. Mr Murali and his wife remembered me as the “Binocular tourist” as they got a glimpse of Kanchenjunga and Mt Everest from my binoculars at “Tiger Point” in Darjeeling. After a brief conversation and self introduction we went our ways, my next stop being the “Namgyal Institute of Tibetology” . It is a Tibetan museum documenting Tibetan history and Monasteries in Sikkim.
|“NAMGYAL INSTITUTE OF TIBETOLOGY”.|
Parked the taxi outside the main gate and walked into the Museum premises. The Institute building was undergoing a face-lift.Photography inside the museum was strictly prohibited. There were a few tourists and got a brief understanding of Tibetan history.Viewed utensils made of human skulls meant for religious rituals .The foundation stone of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology was laid on 10th February 1957 by the 14th Dalai Lama and officially opened on 1 October 1958 by by the First Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal.Nehru. After browsing through the museum exhibits and literature made my way back to the vehicle and visited the Institutes souvenir shop situated outside the main gate.Browsed through the handicrafts , this being my last tourist point stop of the half-day private tour hire.At approx 1240 hrs i got into the taxi and told taxi-driver Mr D.N.Rai to leave me at “Hotel Royal Plaza”, the casino hotel. It was a short drive to Deorali and “Hotel Royal Plaza”, the hotel situated insignificantly among a cluster of houses. Paid driver Mr D.N.Rai the taxi tour fees of Rs 600 as also the next days tour fees of “Nathula Pass” which amounted to Rs 800.Made my way into the hotel lobby which seemed ordinary.This hotels claim to fame is that it was the first land based gambling casino in India.In all casino’s i visited entrance was always “FREE” while in some country’s they asked for nationality proof(Passport) as locals were not allowed to gamble. This was the first casino that i came across where entry was on purchase of gaming chips.
|HOTEL ROYAL PLAZA AND CASINO.|
The casino opened at 1800 hrs in the evening and remained open to 0400 hrs in the morning.Entry to the Casino was on a minimum purchase of Rs 3000 worth gaming chips which were non-exchangeable for money. In simple words entrance to the Casino cost Rs 3000/person if a loser at the tables! After a brief look at the hotels casino notices i made my way out into the narrow street and headed towards a restaurant for lunch.Strolled around Deorali and realized that it was a long straight uphill walk towards Nam Nang and “M.G Road”. Entered a small Sikkimese restaurant in Deorali Bazaar but found the food not to my liking and hence decided to head home back to the hotel for lunch.As there were no shared taxi’s available it was a torturous uphill walk in the cool weather.Nearing halfway near my destination i got a lift and was dropped just outside my hotel.Rushed to my hotel room and after a quick bathe consumed a “Kingfisher beer” i had purchased.At approx 1400 hrs headed towards M.G road for lunch and was surprised to again find almost all shops closed, reason being that Tuesday was a compulsory “Shop Holiday” .A fast food shop “Chicken Roll House” was open and i rushed inside ordering a chicken sausage roll. After the snack headed towards main M.G road deciding to rest in a cybercafe browsing the Internet.A slight drizzle began which gradually increased into continuous rain, something i had experienced for the first time in India in the month of March. Headed into a cyber cafe on the first floor of a building, the gradual drizzle developing into thunder and continuous rain.The cybercafe was “House-full” besides the Internet service was erratic due to the rains, power supply being effected.Managed to browse a few minutes on the erratic internet service and later strolled around the mall in the light drizzle.Decided to explore the downhill road at the turn of M.G road onto Nam Nang road and was surprised at the Bazaar atmosphere on entering “Lallmarket “ road . Hawkers were peddling clothing on the side street and there were numerous provision stores on either side of the market, a very crowded locality compared to plush and clean M.G. road.Purchased a cap and warm gloves from a hawker, clothing for the next day’s day tour to “Nathula Pass”.
|Crowded narrow “Lalmarket” road”.|
Walked downhill and came to the main “Lalbazar” market of Gangtok, a huge market.A very crowded locality compared to the tourist locales of Nam Nang and M.G road. Lalbazar was where the common Sikkimese shopped for their daily needs and living.There were numerous small restaurants in the locality, the rain creating muck in the area. Entered the “Lalbazar market” and as usual toured the vegetable section and got to view organic vegetables , the prices expensive. One kg of organic potatoes cost Rs 40/kg.From the Organic vegetable market walked back uphill to M.G. road and to my hotel.On arrival at my hotel i was surprised to see a load of tourists checking into the hotel, the tourist season having begun with the “Orchid Show” and “Pineridge hotel” packed to capacity. On arrival at my hotel the rains began, a heavy shower, very unseasonal rains in Gangtok. Had a hot water bathe and dinner was beer and snacks.I was hoping that the “Nathula Pass” trip would not be postponed due to rains as the mountain roads become dangerous for driving.
|Tourists at Tsomgo(Changgu) Lake .The lake side covered in thick ice and snow.|
|In the snow at picturesque “TSOMGO LAKE”.|
Wednesday(19-3-2014) :- The dogs woke me up at 0300 hrs and whiled away my time watching T.V and later having a luxurious hot water bathe. Gangtok has lots of street dogs and at times they bark at unearthly hours.I just hoping that the “Nathula Pass” tour would not be cancelled due to overnight rain. It was a pleasant bright morning and breakfast was a snack/tea at a take-away restaurant a few meters opposite my hotel.Rang up taxi-driver Rai as he was to collect me at the hotel and take me to the main shared-tour taxi stand.Later Taxi-driver Santosh.Tamang my main Gangtok tour organizer rang me saying that the shared jeep tourist car would collect me from the hotel on its way to collect other co-tourists.At approx 0800 hrs a jeep came and picked me up and drove to Hotel Fair view on Kazi road to collect some other tourists. After collecting the tourists we headed towards the main taxi stand in Deorali.It was a long wait of almost one hour for the next batch of tourists, a young couple with their two kids.This was my first “Package Tour” and made acquaintances with the Sarkar family from Calcutta, a couple with their young school going son and daughter accompanying them.The family were avid travelers within India, always going on a vacation during the children’s holiday.My binoculars fascinated the kids.We finally began our road voyage to Nathula pass at approx 0930 hrs, a delay of a hour and a distance of approx 56 Kms from Gangtok.”Nathula Pass is situated at a altitude of 14,450 feet , hence a long drive up the mountain highway in a tourist convoy of jeeps.We were a total of 12 tourists in the small jeep including the driver. At approx 1015 hrs we reached the main security check-post where the tourist permits are scrutinized for entry to “Nathula Pass”. The weather was bright and sunny. .
|Serpentine convoy of Tourist jeeps. Notice the snow.|
The winding highway road boundary guard resembled the “Great Wall of China” from a distance, a uniform pattern in the railing guards.It was a beautiful drive in a jeep convoy of numerous tourists up the treacherous mountains.As we gained altitude for the first time this year i came across snow-fall on the sides of the road. We had a short stop at a restaurant for tea where i relished noodles which in hindsight proved a useful energy meal for the entire “Nathula Pass” tour!after the restaurant stop we began our uphill mountain drive a beautiful convoy of tourist jeeps.At approx 1200 hrs we finally arrived at Tsomgo lake situated at a altitude of 12,310 feet, the entire landscape covered in snow. We were told that the road to “Nathula Pass” was closed due to snow and hence“Tsomgo Lake” would be the final destination.Akin to the normal “Package tour” agenda our tour driver told us to report back to the jeep at 1400 hrs for our return journey back to Gangtok.We all headed in different directions, myself the rare lone tourist, the rest all families of couples.
|Yaks walk leisurely on slippery iced rock cut steps.|
The beauty of Tsomgo lake surrounded by a carpet of white snow is indescribable in print where photography or painting can do justice. The entire landscape was crowded with tourists, the weather gradually getting cloudy.Walked up a flight of iced slippery steps which led to the Alpine Cafeteria( 12,900 ft) which was closed, my hunger pangs growing in the chilling freezing ice surroundings. Many tourists were taking Yak rides and akin to mules on dry land the yaks are absolutely sure-footed on dry ice. It amazed me watching the yaks walk leisurely up and down the flight of iced steps with a tourist on their back. A slip on the part of the yak could endanger both, the yak and its rider.For the first time in my life i understood the utility of the Yak to mountain dwellers during freezing winters.Walked around the lake area savoring its beauty and remoteness. Saw a beautiful small hut built by the army called “Changgu hut” and entered the same mistaking it to be a luxury cafeteria for tourists.The presence of a few army-men in uniform didn’t make me realize that this was a private army social club and not a luxury tourist cafeteria .I took a photograph of the “Tsomgo lake map “ framed on the wall and was immediately accosted by a army-man.He asked me for my credentials and told me to delete the photo taken inside “Changgu hut”.I was afraid of erasing the entire photograph collection and hence told him to do the same. He approached a young girl who immediately erased the photo with a few movements of button jabbing and i was thankful that a foolish misunderstanding on my part was solved amicably.This tour was a bizarre tour of “Photography disputes”, first instance being the “Elephant video shoot” in the Doars region of W.Bengal and now a Army club photo-shoot misunderstanding.This area of Sikkim is military sensitive due to the “Indo-China Border” and thankfully i was not arrested as a anti-social element.The sky and valley suddenly got dark and cloudy with thunder in the sky.Strolled around the lake-side area and suddenly saw a familiar face in the tourist crowd,. Mr Murali and his wife were leisurely walking in the ice and this was the third instance that we bumped into each other.Took a photograph of us both, a bizarre co-incidence of totally unknown tourists meeting on three different occasions on tour.
|Our Tourist jeep covered in snow due to hail-storm.|
Suddenly it began to snow heavily which gradually developed into a hailstorm and instead of relishing lunch in a restaurant i rushed towards the jeep as did all other tourists. Everyone was worried of spending the night stuck at Tsomgo lake in freezing cold due to the hailstorm and road blockage.At approx 1330 hrs all the co-tourists arrived in the jeep and we began our slow return journey of approx 40 Kms(25 Miles) down the mountain highway to Gangtok. For the first time in my life i heard the sound of hailstorm hitting the roof of the car and the windshield wipers used to wipe of snow rather than rain water.There were traffic jams and long stoppages en-route but luckily not a permanent halt of the tourist jeep convoy.Observed a chain being tied to the back-wheels of a tourist jeep in order to enable good traction in the slippery iced highway.This was a real experience for all of us and we didn’t regret missing the sightseeing tour of Nathula pass as this was unbelievable real life adventure in Sikkim.A huge army truck was also in the convoy, its large wheels clearing the highway off snow due to its weight akin to a tractor.
|The “Iced Highway” down to Gangtok from Tsomgo Lake.|
Finally at approx 1730 hrs we reached Gangtok. Roads in Gangtok are mostly all One-way roads and hence the driver dropped us away from our hotels. I shared a taxi with the Sarkar family and was dropped off at my hotel, end of a memorable tour of Tsomgo lake with a lucky escape of returning back to Gangtok on the same day. Had a nice hot water bathe, the same neutralizing my feet which had almost become numb due to seepage of ice water into my shoes and the long 4-hour journey back to Gangtok.I was literally starving having not had lunch and spotted a plush confectionery shop “Cookie Man” opposite my hotel open for the first time since my arrival in Gangtok.. Entered “Cookie Man” and purchased a vegetable puff, returning back to my hotel room to relish the same.Later purchased a beer bottle from a shop next to the hotel and drank the same in my comfortable large room.This hotel had a excellent location, situated in prime Gangtok with my large room having a excellent view of the street below, the weather being cool and hence windows open. After the beer headed towards M.G road for dinner, my last day in Gangtok. Dinner was at “Chopsticks”, a plush Tibetan restaurant situated on the first floor of a building on prime M.G road.Dinner was a local Tibetan specialty “Fingreuth blackmushroom with rice”. Consumed my dinner watching T.V. in this plush restaurant.
|Dinner at “Chopsticks”.|
This was the plushest restaurant i had visited during my entire tour, a excellent eventful day being celebrated with a quiet dinner. After dinner walked around M.G road and spotted a man walking a beautiful young bull-mastiff dog.Took a photograph of them and later of a black labrador roaming alone without its owner. Stepped into “Maharajahs” sweets shop and purchased some Bengali sweets. Returned back to the hotel eating cone ice-cream, the ultimate glutton.Watched T.v and finished the sweets, the dinner compensating for the missed lunch.It was a good nights sleep and on waking up in the morning realized that the water supply was shut.I had filled two buckets and realized that at maximum tourist capacity the hotels water system supply couldn’t cope with the demand for hotel water among the lodgers.This was otherwise a excellent hotel located in prime Gangtok.
|“DEOLA HILL PARK” in Kalimpong.|
Thursday(20-3-2013) :- At approx 0545 hrs made my way out of the hotel for a morning walk deciding to explore a short downhill road that would definitely lead to “Lalmarket”. It was a long downhill walk and was surprised to reach right into the centre of the meat market, a congested place with a puddle of water due to rain.. A truck had arrived with a load of slaughtered beef, the carcasses not skinned , the animals freshly slaughtered.It was akin to being in a abbotair and i saw a butcher transferring a head of a bullock from the truck to the shop.A ghastly sight but the hard facts of human non-vegetarian food.From the butchers abbotair returned back to my hotel having tea on the way.Packed up my bags and checked out of the hotel at 0645hrs , an excellent stay barring the water problems .Caught a taxi to Deorali taxi stand, the fare being Rs 100 .On arrival at the taxi stand was accosted by a taxi driver and boarded a shared taxi to Kalimpong. Kalimpong was actually not on my planned tour itinerary, a saved extra tour day being the reason for visiting this hill-station en-route to Siliguri.Thats the greatest advantage of “Solo Travel” compared to “Packaged group tours”, the fact that travel plans can be adjusted or changed according to time availability and tour budget.At approx 0730 hrs the jeep taxi departed for Kalimpong collecting other passengers on the way.At 0900 hrs we arrived on the Sikkim border town of Rangpo and later entered into the State of W.Bengal.A little further ahead into W.Bengal we stopped at a village restaurant for breakfast.A classic Gorkha village restaurant in the midst of dense teak forest.Breakfast was “Sabji(Vegetable)/tea”, cheap and excellent
|Exit “Sikkim Border” and into “State of W.Bengal.|
. After breakfast we headed towards Kalimpong, a uphill mountain drive. Kalimpong is situated 4100 ft above sea level and is a sub-division of Darjeeling district .It was the gateway of trade between India and Tibet before the annexation of Tibet in 1959 and later the Indo-China war in 1962 that resulted in closure of the “Jelep Pass” .Reached Kalimpong bus and taxi stand at approx 1045 hrs , a very congested locality.On alighting the jeep headed straight to the nearest lodge near the taxi/bus stand, “Lodge Himashree”.Had to walk up a flight of three storeys in the desolate building suddenly hearing the loud bark of a German shepherd dog from the fourth floor where the lodge owners resided.A lady’s voice told me to wait in the lodge reception lounge, a eerie quite floor with me being the only lodge guest.After a brief wait the owner Mr K.K. Daga arrived at the reception and explained me the deficiencies of his neat and clean Old World lodge.I would be entitled to only a single bucket of cold water a day for bathing and one bucket for toilet use.In Mumbai i get water on just opening a tap in my flat and here was the owner of a entire 4 storey building suffering from acute water shortage. Thats life and living in some city’s or buildings in India, acute water or electric load shedding.Travel educates .Mr K.K.Daga took my identity voters card for registration in a thick hotel ledger book , the same book to be handed over later to the police station for verification, a first in my life-time of travel. Kalimpong was located in a strategic position on the Bhutan-Tibet/China- Sikkim border and hence the systematic police checks on guests and tourists residing in the city.The room rental was Rs 300/day.Classic black and white framed photo’s of Kalimpong over the decades filled his reception lounge walls.There was a prominent photo of a younger Mr K.K. Daga with the former Chief Minister of Sikkim Mr Bahadur.Bhandari and Kalimpong Gorkha President Mr C.K.Pradhan(G.N.L.F). taken in the early 1990’s.He had formerly been a manager in a tea-estate in Assam.His family had been settled in Kalimpong since generations and he was definitely a prominent original local settler of this small city .
A interesting Old World lodge where after decades i got to view a hotel ledger and stay in a lodge that had the ambiance of the 1950’s as seen in old Hindi movies. Mr K.K.Daga gave me a brief idea of the tourist sites in Kalimpong .Kalimpong town is basically on a mountain ridge having two large hills at its sides. The northern part is called Deolo hills while the southern part is called Durpin Dara hills. Decided to visit the Deolo hills immediately and Durpin Dara hills the next day.Made my way out of the lodge and walked in the northward direction towards “Dr Graham’s Homes” in Deola hill assuming it to be trekking distance from Kalimpong city. Inquired directions with a taxi driver and he agreed to take me right up to Deolo hills park and also explain the various tourist sites en-route to the peak.Ultimately it was “Taxi drivers” who became my local tour guides during this entire tour akin to local hotel tour travel agents that i contacted on most of my solo International and National tours.Taxi driver Mr Uday.Mangrati was informative giving me a brief description of Deolo hill and its surrounding areas.Our first stop was at the city water reservoir, a perennial source of water to Kalimpong city.Three lakes on Deolo hills provided water to the city and this was one of those lakes.The gate at the entry to the small lake was closed and got a brief view from outside, a clean lake.From the lake it was a uphill drive and we passed along the estates of ” Dr Graham’s Homes” a famous school in Kalimpong.Most of the small local cottages with sheet metal roofs had wonderful potted plants on the outside as horticulture is one of Kalimpong’s biggest exports.While driving Mr Uday.Mangrati explained me the method of returning back to town after visiting Deolo hill and “Dr Graham’s Homes”, showing me the shared taxi stand outside “Dr Graham’s Homes” school gate.
|Typical Kalimpong village cottages on Deolo hill.|
We finally reached Deolo hill situated at a height of 5,591 ft, the highest point in Kalimpong.The taxi fare amounted to Rs 600,excellent for the distance and the guided explanations.There was a garden on the hill and there were advertisements and booking stalls for “Tandem Paragliding” which was conducted from a take-off cliff close to the garden on Deolo hill. . First decided to have lunch in a small restaurant near the entrance to the garden.Lunch was Chicken momo with “Hit Beer” , the beer factory being owned by Hindi actor Danny.Denzongpa.After lunch as i was walking towards the garden gate noticed a familiar couple. I had previously met them at the Gangtok flower show and obliged them by taking their photograph with their camera, something i also told other strangers to do for me on my “Solo travels”.They were from Ahmedabad and akin to the Murali couple from Chennai seemed to be on the same travel route as me.Entered the park, well maintained and large with a magnificent view of the valley below.There was a signboard inside the park indicating the construction of as rope-way from Deolo hill(Garden) to Relli valley below.Strolled around the garden which had a large guesthouse for tourists. Spotted a young man with a “Marwari horse breed “ offering horse-rides to tourists. Took a ride on this well built and excellent temperament horse, a simple trot near the guesthouse.A canter was definitely out of question due to space restrictions and tourists.After the ride walked around the park enjoying the views, the weather getting a bit cloudy.A beautiful cross bred terrier dog decided to play with me ,definitely owned by the tourist guesthouse.At approx 1330 hrs made my way out of the park on a solo trek downhill to “Grahams Home” school estate.Asked for directions as the downward spiral road had one or two different bifurcations.It was a steep walk downhill through narrow country paths. At a hill-side i spotted a huge pig in a pen, the largest pig i had seen on a private farm. Took photo’s of this boar and further away noticed a cow shed. The Deolo hills had numerous small farm plots with cultivated land most of it formerly owned by the “Graham Home” school estate.
|Local Kalimpong Gorkha Miss Bina.Rai in her cowshed.|
As i was wandering across this small farm the lady of the farm , a Gorkha approached me and i introduced myself .Miss Binu.Rai gave me a brief tour of her small farm-house speaking in Hindi..The huge boar which was 85 to 90 kilo’s was destined for slaughter for her relatives wedding. Pork is the favourite dish in the North-East region of India and Bhutan.The cows were a source of milk and other milk products. Binu.Rai was extremely helpful in explaining me various aspects of Kalimpong life and agriculture. The weather got cloudy.She told me that this type of non-seasonal rain was good for the local maize crop planted on small plots. She showed me a tree with yellow fruits like small oranges that they locally called “Kashmir Lemon” and plucked one from the tree for me to taste. It was as sour as lime.She also showed me her local liquor brew distillation furnace.Preparing local home-made alcoholic liquor is common in the hill farms.She later invited me to her house and introduced me to her sister,a typical village farm-house with gobbar and wood fuel for cooking.Thanking her for the excellent farm tour i bid farewell and she showed me the pathway to “Dr Graham’s Homes”. As i began my downhill descent the drizzle began and i was just hoping not to get caught in the middle of a rain-storm! Walking downhill i took a wrong path and luckily came across two young children who guided me on the right path.After Taktsang monastery in Bhutan this was my next solo trek in totally unknown territory and terrain.Finally reached a paved road that had some beautiful houses in its vicinity and inquired with the occupants the way to Dr Graham’s home.They set me on the right path and i finally entered the school estate that seemed to occupy the entire hill.A pathway in the estate led to the “Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel”, a old Anglican church.“Dr Graham’s Homes” was founded in 1900 by Scottish missionary Dr John.Anderson.Graham.It was initially started as a home for abandoned Anglo-India children akin to most Anglican educational institutions in India.
|A view of a part of “Dr Grahams Homes” campus.|
The present school campus has a area of 400 acres( 1.61 Sq Km) and is considered a “Mini Town”. It is self sufficient producing its own food, clothing and lodging.Met a young student of class nine on the campus. Master Tenzing.Choenden was a boarder, his parents living in Paris.He explained me briefly the various “Homes” that housed different student boarders, the school being affiliated to I.C.S.E and I.S C X11 Indian education system. I was just dazed at the sheer size of this educational institution, the largest i have seen in my life-time.Anglo-Indian children from Kolkota received free education. It now started raining heavily and i took shelter in the schools main office building. The rain gradually decreased and i made my way to the schools exit gate awaiting a shared taxi at the bus-stop. The rain again started pouring down heavily and the sky got dark. Managed to get a shared taxi and on the way got a phone-call from lodge owner Mr K.K.Daga inquiring about my whereabouts since it was raining heavily, literally pouring cats and dogs.On reaching Kalimpong town alighted the taxi and ran towards the nearest rain shelter. It was just 1630 hrs but seemed night, the sky total black.Dinner was at 1645 hrs in “Aaditya Hotel” a local restaurant.The local fish curry rice was cheap and excellent. The rain had stopped by the time i finished dinner and made my way into the narrow street. Kalimpong is a small city where its difficult to get lost.Dessert was Rasgolla’s and i later visited the oldest book-shop in Kalimpong.Had a brief talk with the owner and didn’t spot the book “Byculla to Bangkok” in his shop. He told me that various city’s have different tastes in reading habits, most importantly magazines.From the book shop walked down the street visiting various shops including a pet food shop and a florist shop. There was just a single main road in the town with steps from this road leading downhill to the bus/taxi stand.Went down these steps to the bus stand and to my lodge. Met the owners son Mr Adit.Daga at the building entrance and had a brief talk with him , a young entrepreneur by profession.Thank god i had carried my portable torch along as it was pitch dark inside the lodge building.Electricity failure due to the freak rainfall.Walked up the stairs to the third floor with my torchlight , the loud bark of the dog announcing my arrival.Entered my small room, my sixth and last hotel room during my tour.The lights finally did come onn and as there was nothing to do just switched off the lights and slept.
|“Election Campaigning” in Kalimpong. Footballer Baichung.Bhutia’s entourage campaigning.|
Friday(21-3-2014) :- Woke up early and after using rationed water for toilet purposes dressed and got ready for a early morning sightseeing of the Durpin Dara hills.Photographed the rising sun from my hotel window pane, a beautiful sight of the Sun rising over the hills.At 0630 hrs made my way out of the hotel onto the street.Breakfast was at “Suji food corner”, a small restaurant at the bus-stand that was open serving breakfast to drivers.Breakfast was “egg fried rice” with tea. Went into the “Mela Ground” , a large playing ground near the bus stand and watched the youth playing cricket while some were jogging.Later in the day a “Flower Show” was to be held on the same grounds.Hailed a taxi at the bus-stand and agreed on a sum of Rs 600 for a private tour of Durpin Dara hills, a 3 Km drive to the peak and back.Throughout this solo tour i had outsourced my local tours through taxi’s, the taxi-drivers being excellent guides as well as local organizers.Taxi driver Mr Roshan.Chetri owned a brand new 2013 Maruti wagon -R which had a “Video” fitting on the front driver reflector glass, the ultimate luxury taxi.We began our drive up the hill from the bus stand. At 0715 hrs we partly reached the top of Durpin hill where the driver stopped the car . Durpin means binoculars in Nepali.He led me to the edge of the hill to show me the “Shiv Statue” on top of a distant mountain situated at Siddhesvara Dham in Namchi in Sikkim.With my binoculars the statue was clearly visible, pure white statue that seemed near as Sikkim was close to Kalimpong in a straight line as the crow flies.
|“Zang -Dhok Palri(Durpin Monastery)|
After observing the surrounding mountains which included Mt Kanchenjunga with binoculars we drove further to the top reaching “Zang -Dhok Palri(Durpin Monastery) ” Buddhist monastery built in 1976.This monastery holds 108 volumes of Kangyur and other holy books of Tibetan scriptures that were transferred out of Tibet after the Chinese invasion of the Country.The Indian Army has a major base due to the proximity of Kalimpong to the border. Went to the topmost floor of the Monastery where the view of the lowlands and Kalimpong town is beautiful. Later drove to the “Lions Golf Course” a picturesque golf course built on the ridge of Durpin hill at a location known as “Watershed Viewpoint Point”.. It was a 9 hole golf course constructed in 2005 and situated opposite the historic Singamari tourist lodge of the W.Bengal Government.
|Historic “MORGAN HOUSE”.|
The historic “Morgan House” was really impressive, Kalimpong’s most famous residential landmark.It was built in the early 1930’s by jute Baron. Mr George.Morgan and on the death of Mr Morgan and his wife went into the hand of trustees and today owned by the W.Bengal Government..The list of celebrities who have stayed here include film stars Nargis, Kishore.Kumar,Uttam.Kumar,Om Prakash,Amit.Kumar and Raj.Kumar to name a few besides French and American Ambassadors.The house is claimed to be haunted and really looks unique with a huge courtyard.
|“Pinewood Cactus Nursery”|
The entire top area of Durpin Dara hill was occupied by the Indian Armed forces with photography strictly prohibited in certain areas.Later on the return journey visited the“Pinewood Cactus Nursery”, myself being the first visitor of the day.Entrance ticket was Rs 10 and i couldn’t believe my eyes on seeing the variety and sizes of different cactus’s grown in controlled climatic conditions inside plastic covered tents.The collection consists of Cactus’s from North , South and Central America.It was established in 1971 and has won numerous Indian and International awards.A bust statue of the founder of this exotic cactus nursery stands in the centre of this Nursery farm.The Nursery tour was the last in the taxi tour itinerary and was dropped at the Bus-Stand at approx 0845 hrs.Made my way into the hotel and my tiny room.Had a talk with Mr K.K.Daga a gentleman who had seen Kalimpong develop during his lifetime.In the 1970’s water was freely available in his building but with a gradual increase in Kalimpong’s population and housing boom the water shortages and rationing gradually became a reality of daily living..Requested a bucket of cold water for bathe and arrangement to keep my luggage as the check-out time was 1030 hrs while i intended leaving Kalimpong after 1200 hrs.
|At Pinewood Cactus Nursery.A Unbelievable World of Cactus’s.|
The single bucket bathe was akin to swimming in almost freezing water, a experience of a life-time.My old rags towel proved handy as i was not provided either soap or a towel.Checked out my luggage from the room and kept my bags in a shelf in the lodge reception room.Made my way out of the hotel and later onto the main road where i dumped my rags towel and “Long Johns” near a garbage dump. Decided to visit a small garden situated next to the main road and hence entered “Janmukti Park” situated in the heart of the bustling small town.The entire road was jammed with cars, many having political party flags fluttering.Inquired about the reason for the traffic congestion and was told that India’s ace footballer Mr Baichung.Bhutia was in the “Tirumal Congress Party” office, just a few meters away from where i stood.Waited for a while intending to click a photo of Baichung as i was a footballer myself during my youth and a fan of Calcutta(Kolkota) maidan soccer as also the English Premier league and World Football.The wait for politician/Footballer Mr Baichung.Bhutia was too long and hence drifted to my normal window-shopping walk along the road.Browsed through a newspaper and read about the demise of veteran writer and journalist Mr Kushwant.Singh at the young age of 99 years, a well lived long life. He was one of my favourite Indian authors for his wit and “Malice towards one and all”. I had read his classic “A train to Pakistan” just a few weeks ago in Mumbai. R.I.P.Visited a handicraft shop, my favourite in any city or Country.Later decided to visit the three day “Flower Show(21,22,23 March)” that began today and held on the “Mela Grounds” .
|“KALIMPONG FLOWER SHOW”|
The main-gate entrance to “Mela Ground” was closed and someone guided me to another entrance into the ground. It was a side entrance and the gate-keeper allowed me inside. I wandered into the ground which had a few flower exhibits and landscape plant exhibits with a few visitors inspecting the same.Suddenly a gentleman approached me and inquired if i was a exhibit owner informing me that the “Flower Show” would officially open at 1400 hrs for the general public and at present only officials and exhibitors allowed entry.Made my way out of the flower ground and headed onto the main road searching for a restaurant for my last lunch in Kalimpong. Lunch was at 1145 hrs in a small Gorkha restaurant. After a sumptuous “Pork thali “ lunch with beer went back to my lodge, collected the bags and walked to the bus stand.Booked a bus ticket to Siliguri, the same costing only Rs 80. At 1300 hrs the bus departed from Kalimpong bus-stand reaching Siliguri bus terminus at 1545 hrs.From Siliguri bus terminus boarded a shared Rickshaw for New Jalpaiguri train station.The “12344/Darjeeling Mail” was scheduled to depart at 2000 hrs and hence i was very early having reached New Jalpaiguri Station at 1630 hrs.The locality outside the station had a row of small restaurants.
|Kalimpong Main Bus/Taxi Stand.|
Spent half an hour in a cybercafe and later at approx 1730 hrs had a early dinner at “Hotel Dada Bhai” and whiled away the rest of the time watching T.v in the small restaurant.When i later stepped out of the restaurant at approx 1845 hrs heard the chirping sounds of a swarm of sparrows on a tree just opposite the restaurant.It was dusk and the birds were roosting for the night. It was decades since i saw such a large number of sparrows in one location, the birds almost becoming extinct in most localities in the concrete jungle of my home city Mumbai.
|Entrance to New Jalpaiguri Station.|
New Jalpaiguri Station had a excellent normal model of a train on rails at its entrance facing the main road.A excellent advertisement for Indian railways. Later made my way into the N.J.P station and onto bogey No S4 and seat No 14 of the Darjeeling Mail, a clean well maintained train.The overnight journey was pleasant and the train reached Kolkota at 0645 hrs.
|“HOWRAH BRIDGE” across the “Hooghly River” in Kolkata. Ferry terminal for Boats .|
Saturday(22-3-2014) :- Stepped out of the train into Sealdah train terminus. Had a light breakfast at the railway cafeteria and later out into the streets of Kolkata.Was amazed at seeing the parking lot filled with yellow coloured “AMBASSADOR TAXI’S”, the same extinct in Mumbai.It was akin to visiting a car museum.Thought of boarding a shared taxi to Howrah station but then decided to travel on the common Kolkata bus as i saw fellow travelers with double my luggage walking towards the bus-stand. I have old ties with Calcutta(Kolkata) city having visited the port a few times during my employment in the “Merchant Navy” .I could write a separate thick book on my memoirs of Calcutta(Kolkata), both good and bad ! I was a big fan of “Maidan Soccer” of Calcutta during my youth and also in 2014 but more into International football.
|Howrah Train Station.|
Boarded a rickety bus, a Kolkata trademark that hasn’t changed over the decades. The bus fare was Rs 8 and luckily i got seating accommodation.As it was early morning the roads were clear as Kolkata is notorious for its traffic jams, besides, it was election campaigning season..On reaching Howrah station made inquiries and headed towards the cloak room to deposit my luggage. There was a long queue and finally at 0800 hrs managed to deposit my luggage, a single trolley bag.After depositing my luggage headed towards the congested Howrah bus-stand and boarded a bus to Esplanade the bus ticket being a mere Rs 5.At approx 0830 hrs reached Esplanade and on alighting the bus headed straight towards “K.C.Das”, the trade-mark Bengali sweets shop of Calcutta(Kolkata).On entering “K.C.Das” was surprised to find the small restaurant unchanged barring a recent addition of A.C and interior wall paintings of Hindu religious icons.Tasted the famous “Rosgolla’s & Sandesh” of “K.C.Das” and headed towards Park Street.As i was early almost all the shops were closed.
On the way came across road-side hawkers just opening their street shopson Chowringhee road..The famous “New Market” situated on Lindsay road and actually called the “S.S.Hogg ” market was closed, the shops yet to open.A part of this market was destroyed in fire in 1985 and later in 2011 and rebuilt.Came across “Esplanade Metro station” , the only new edifice in the Esplanade locality. Came across a road-side second-hand book-seller, a tribe almost extinct in the era of Internet and “E-books”. Further up was the famous night-life and entertainment locality of Kolkata, “Park Street” now renamed “Mother Teresa Sarani”. Have fond memories of “Trinca’s” in the 1980’s, a excellent and modestly priced night-club that had live English music performers.“Park Street” is known as the street that never sleeps but i found almost all eateries and shops closed at approx 0930 hrs. Blue Fox, Peter Cat, Moulin Rouge were some of the night-clubs that i passed along , all closed.Calcutta has been the cradle for some of India’s most famous English singers , most famous being Pam.Craine and Usha.Uthup to name a few.Entered the famous confectionery shop “Flurys” and tasted their famous “Chicken Patty”.Entered “Park Hotel” and was enthralled at the beautiful fish tank at the reception having “Discus fish”, the aquarium enlightening the hotel decor.
|Remember the Hindi film “DO BHIGA ZAMIN” ?|
Inquired the room rental, a mind boggling Rs 9500/day. From Park street walked back towards Esplanade and entered the ” Oberoi Grand” where the room rates were equivalent to “Park Hotel“, the Oberoi having a grand swimming pool on the ground floor.Visited a “Royal Enfield” dealers shop and scrutinized the bikes on sale,moderately priced, easy to purchase but difficult to maintain like my “Omega Wrist watch”.”Jai Ho” to my now 10 year old “Bajaj Wind-125cc bike”, a road mule.Walked across the road onto the maidan and watched young collegians playing test cricket.I was thinking of having lunch in a hotel in Esplanade and later go back to Howrah station. I was too early and not a single major eatery open and hence decided to head back to Howrah.Election fever was at its zenith all over W.Bengal and having had the experience of the Baichung,Bhutia entourage in Kalimpong decided to leave Esplanade early rather than later in the afternoon. My train “Geetanjali Express” was scheduled for departure from Howrah at 1350 hrs .
|HOWRAH FERRY TERMINAL.|
At approx 1100 hrs boarded a bus to Howrah reaching early as surprisingly there was very little traffic.Made my way towards the “Howrah Ferry terminal” and was filled with nostalgia of the shipping years spent in this port city. Watched the Ferries come and go at the “Ferry Terminal” and the local “Maji’s(Canoe Boat men)” anchored near the pier. After spending some time at the Howrah Ferry Wharf went back to the station and sat on a chair, very early for the train.Had a conversation with a businessman seated next to me. Mr Souvik.Haldar a management educational lecturer was a local Kolkatian and we discussed Kolkata.Was sad to hear that Kidderpore Docks was redundant, most ships docking at the port of Haldia. Finally the time arrived to depart and i headed to my train on platform No 2. Entered compartment S3 and occupied seat Nos 3, the train being punctual on departure time. Completed reading the biography of boxer Mike.Tyson titled “Undisputed Truth” during the days journey.Next day on Sunday(23-3-2014) finished reading the Indian wild-life books titled “Charger , the long living tiger” by H.S.Panwar and “Know the animal inside you” by Rajesh.Latkar. Did i unconsciously foresee the death of my long living 22 year old Alexandrine parakeet “Mittoo” ? I normally always carry reading material with me on long journeys by train and this time it was these three books, one from the “American library” while the other two were from “B.N.H.S (Bombay Natural History Society)” library. The train arrived at Dadar station on time on Sunday(23-3-2014) and i was at home in Prabhadevi at approx 2130 hrs.
NOTE :- ALL MY RESEARCH WORK ON GEOGRAPHICAL FACTS AND HISTORICAL EVENTS AND PLACES IS FROM THE INTERNET AND STUDY BOOKS AND UPDATED TO THE TIME OF WRITING.OPINIONS ,PHOTOGRAPHS AND EXPERIENCES OF THE MARATHON TOUR ARE MY OWN. A GUIDE FOR OTHER TOURISTS, TRAVELERS AND ADVENTURERS.