Darjeeling is back in the news and not for the right reasons. This time it is alleged imposition of Bengali in the primary schools of Darjeeling. After all, being a part of the state of Bengal where the official language is Bengali and English its districts necessarily have to follow suit. But the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha which runs autonomously the district administration has made an issue of it. As a consequence peace has again been disrupted in one of the places of great tourist interest.
This is the second time violence has been witnessed in Darjeeling.
TheBatasia Loopfirst time was when Subhash Geishing-led Gorkha
National Liberation Front was fighting in 1986-87 for a separate state called
Gorkhaland under the Indian Constitution. The city faced terrible times with
unchecked violence, rioting, loot and arson.
|Batasia Loop (from internet)|
A trip to Darjeeing reminded me of the beautiful picture post-cards my eldest brother used to have of the Darjeeling Himalayan railways. The
those postcards are still etched in my mind – of the train with its steam
engine emerging out of the surrounding forests, of the steep hills it would
strain to climb puffing out huge clouds of black smoke and then taking the
spiral climb in its stride which, I later found, was in fact the loop at Ghoom
close to 8000 ft above sea level.
|cozying up in the guest house|
Thankfully, we were lucky to have decided to visit the place well before the sad turn of events as narrated above. For us it was a long haul from Delhi, more than 30 hours to the base station of Siliguri and then by road to Darjeeling taking around another four hours. We didn’t take the
much-acclaimed narrow gauge train
as it did not look very attractive suffering as it was from lack of proper
maintenance. The train was yet to acquire the World Heritage status. The road
was interesting as it wound its way through some vegetation that one could call
forests and then out of it only to indulge in some labored rather stiff climb.
It takes one all the way up to around 8000 ft. near the railway station of
Ghoom from where one can see that famous Batasia Loop, a marvel of 19th
Century engineering where the railway line spirals itself over it and into a
|A view of houses on the hills|
|In the massive Botanical Garden|
There aren’t many sites to see, at least not when we went more than 35
years ago. Now
things of tourist interests have been added for whatever worth. At that time
there was only the Kanchenjungha, the third highest mountain in the world which
one could gaze at, the Botanical Garden and the tea gardens. If one found
oneself at a loose end one could take a walk down the Mall. For those who had
never seen a tea garden a visit to one of them could be rewarding. The gardens
look beautiful located as they are on slopes and the tea bushes are
interspersed with taller trees
|A view of the tea gardens|
Darjeeling tea is a unique product giving enormous tactile pleasure and, I think, prepares one for meeting all the exigencies of life. It is one of those fragrant products of the country which has earned repute at home and abroad. There was a time when the British would swear by it but the tea is now a favoured beverage practically in all corners of the world. I
recall that on our way to see the
house of Anne Frank in Amsterdam I happened to see a signboard over a shop
proclaiming “Darjeeling”. Seeing “Darjeeling” writ large on the signboard
pepped me up as would a sip of Makaibari or Lopchu tea from there. It used to
be coffee that the Europeans preferred leaving tea to be enjoyed by the
islanders across the Channel. No, now it seems Darjeeling teas are favourites of
the connoisseur Incidentally, Anne Frank became posthumously famous when her
diary written about the goings on around her during the last Great War was discovered and published in numerous languages. . She
in her tiny hideout in her house before the family was exposed and
arrested by Gestapo.
|The Darjeeling Mall (from internet)|
|On the verandah|
The Mall of Darjeeling is, well, like the malls of other hill stations. They are good walks with incredibly beautiful Himalayan views. A stroll on the Mall in Darjeeling enables you to see the Bengali glitterati in their best. The best exposure to the Mall here was given by Satyajit Ray in his film Kanchenjunga. He filmed the aristocratic looking Chhabi Biswas taking a stroll on the Mall in a three piece suit haranguing a young man whom he wanted to propose to his daughter.
The sight of the first rays of sun touching the mountain peaks can be fascinating. Just to see such a sight there is a place only 11kms. away from Darjeeling called Tiger Hill. On a dark cold morning we mounted a rather biggish jeep and commenced our tough journey towards Tiger Hill, the summit of Ghoom. It was still dark when we reached the place.
We waited for about half an hour gazing
at the indistinct shapes of the peaks against the indifferently lighted sky. Soon
the spectacle commenced; as the first rays of the sun touched the peaks of
Kanchenjunga became a little clearer and distinct. And, then the sunrays hit
them, gradually turning them from yellow to gold and later fiery red. The most
incredible sight was that the sun was still below the horizon as its rays hit
the peaks and then, as we looked for it, it rose from a level below us. My
camera could not capture the scene as I wanted. Nonetheless, one could see as
many as three peaks – Kanchenjunga, Makalu and Everest, with Makalu appearing taller
than Everest as it was closer to us by many miles
|Another view of mist in Darjeeling|
Darjeeling is a place to savour its salubrious climate and pleasant weather, more so before the onset of autumn. One has to enjoy it – yes, enjoy it sipping its tea sitting in an expansive verandah watching Kanchenjunga changing its shades. We did just that and enjoyed to our heart’s content the fantastic aromatic teas of the place.