Darjeeling is part of a Bengali lifestyle like a sumptuous Kolkata Mutton Biryani dish with an extra potato? Haven said this, being a partial Bengali, it’s not complete until I took at least one journey of my life to Darjeeling-The unequivocal queen of the hills in India! And it has been a while I visited the mountains. Well, I wasn’t shackled at home because of containment. But mountain trips required a PCR test, and frankly, I avoided it. So wandered in the plains. However, the time had come to meet the Love of my Life, “Himalayas”.
That’s why I organized a family trip with my grandmother (my mother’s mother) and my aunts. Being a partial Bong, I grew up knowing there’s a mountain out in the backyard! And in a manner of speaking, Darjeeling is synonymous with being our own Pahar (mountain). Another important reason is when Bengali intellectual culture pauses to welcome the colourful amalgamation of Gorkha and Bhutanese cultures- Darjeeling occurs. I planned the trip during Holi and Easter week, which allowed me to manage my leave more quickly. Work from home can be hectic at times. Trust me!
The fun of this journey was that we were travelling by train. Also, it’s been quite some time since I’ve travelled by train. Hence, I booked tickets for NOQ SDAH SPECIAL(02378) because most trains were cancelled due to COVID-19. Finally, the D-day arrived; on March 26th, I boarded took my flight to Kolkata. On my arrival at Kolkata airport, I booked an uber for Seladah station as I had to catch my train from Seladah station to New Jalpaiguri. As usual, my Mom was over the call with me till I reached the station as a safety precaution.
Well, a wave of nostalgia passed across, looking at the crowd, the coolies in red and black uniform, the railway announcement, platform with people’s expectation. I paused to soak up my train trip memories while my dad was working in Railways. But as usual, my mother interrupted my thoughts. As she wanted me to bargain with the coolie that was charging a bomb. So the focus shifted to the coolie, and we set a reasonable price. Though the satisfaction was overwhelming. Anyhow, I used to be excited about a train journey as a child, and today I could feel the same adrenal surge again.
Lastly, the train arrived, and we got on board. While boarding, my eyes were stuck on the large bag my Masi was carrying; Mom clarified there’s bedding in it. Yeah! How could I forget as a result of COVID-19, Indian Railways ceased to provide bedding. Also, I was not happy looking at the coach because it looked more like a sleeper coach than AC 2tier. They took down the curtains too, damn it! But you can’t do anything, as COVID-19 has changed many dynamics.
The entire coach echoed various sounds of the water or tea vendors, passenger looking for berths, or police dog’s whoof during the patrol. It was pretty enthralling. We all settled in our berth, & I had my dinner that my Mom carried from home. Finally, the train gave a jolt, signalling the journey has begun.
It was 8 am when I woke up. A tea seller was offering tea to my family members. I, too, took one & started to sip while looking outside the window. Green paddy fields passed by, where farmers ploughing, wooden huts with children playing and some small & big rivers. I finished my tea & went to brush my teeth. The train journey is fun, excluding the toilets, as they are never cleaned properly. But still, you have to use them. Shit!
Finally, our destination arrived, New Jalpaiguri. And I had to bargain with coolie on price point again. While doing this, I realized it’s actually the cost of one flight ticket. Unfortunately, nothing can be done except bargaining. While heading towards the exit, my driver called. His name was Hari, a happy young lad. I met him at the parking, post settling all luggage & ourselves we drove towards Darjeeling. It was a 3hrs drive from the railway station.
Darjeeling is spread just like the party strips over a soak mountain edge. Immersed by the dynamic emerald tea ranches mounted on the elevated Kanchenjunga. That we all know, right? And what most of us do not know is that not just fair mountains; but Darjeeling offers gigantic differing qualities in and around places. This web journal is developed considering almost those few gadabouts looking for chastity, looking out for one of a kind place, and needing to taste the culture savour at each step.
This time the place of stay was chosen by my Mom. And it was not forest Lodges, PWD rest houses, or state Tourism Lodging accommodation. Instead, it was Boutique Hotel in Darjeeling. It’s a heritage hotel situated in Limbugaon. Initially, a summer palace of the Maharajas from the Burdwan Kingdom of northern India. Burdwan Palace (Rani Koti) Residency is an exclusive gate-away for travellers seeking tranquillity and scenic natural beauty with provisions for all modern amenities. On the way to the hotel, we stopped at Margaret Deck. If you are a teapot person, this is the perfect place to rejuvenate.
Margaret Deck is a colossal deck overlooking the massive field of the Margaret Trust Tea Gardens. It is shaped like a ship’s deck, offering a panoramic view of the rolling hills in front. I sat leisurely gazing at the blue horizon. Margaret Deck could be a tea luxuriate, an initiative taken by the Goodricke Tea Pot. In any case, there’s a fascinating history behind the title. The tea plant can be followed back to the early 1860s when Mr Cruickshank was its bequest chief. Margaret came from Mr Cruickshank’s daughter’s name. Margaret, who entirely adored these lavish tea gardens. And now Margaret’s Deck stands tall as a mute witness to the girl’s eternal love.
The Deck itself is segregated into two segments – one space where we had our tea tasting session and the eatery that serves mouth-watering neighbourhood delights. There were cups of pale yellow, dim brown and gleaming gold tea organized flawlessly before us on the table. We were educated that the glasses diverse tea colours were made utilizing the same cultivate’s clears. The contrast is that colour was brought by the leaf picking organize – enticing. On the other hand, the aroma of the nourishment made our tunnies roll at the eatery. The delights were going with by different tea cocktails, which was utterly splendid.
We enjoyed a perfect continental brunch with a cup of muscatel tea special in this garden before heading to our hotel. However, as accompaniments, try out the cookies, cakes, croissants, quiches, grilled fish, scones, brownies and cheesecakes.
On the way, we placed our lunch orders at the hotel, because by the time we reached, it was 2 pm. The property location, as well as the property, was alluring. Also known as Rani Kothi, the palace was built during the 18th Century. And is ideally located next to the Grand Palace Dome, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday routine. Walking around the place, I noticed it offers an environment of elite seclusion with a beautiful garden—also the view of the entire Darjeeling town with the mighty Kunchunjunga on the backdrop.
As I entered the hotel, I loved the historic decore, which was primarily European. An imperial staircase that leads you upstairs. There are two wings, each side has 3 bedrooms and 2 toilets, and it’s interconnected. There was a significant seating era with an overlooking terrace, where you can sit & immerse in the beauty of Kanchenjunga. I fell in love with the rustic heritage of Darjeeling. Later we freshened up & had lunch. Since today’s was at leisure, I decided a stroll at the Mall in the evening.
Darjeeling has been known for its tea gardens producing “Champagne of tea”. Interestingly, most of these estates were laid during the colonial days and are still thriving. Apart from the tea estate British colonial administration had left behind many historical landmarks & heritage buildings. Hence I decided to explore them to catch a glimpse of the old colonial aura. Suggestive one should wear good walking shoes & carry a bottle of water during self touring. And should be prepared to walk along the hilly roads, which may be pretty steep at times.
Well, there are several well-known landmarks along the Laden-La road. And one of them is the Darjeeling Municipality building. The building has a famous Clock tower form on the frontal side. You might recall once you watch the movie Barfi. This vast clock was constructed in 1850, which played a lovely music tone followed by dings of the bell every hour. Later that time, the place used to be the Town Hall of Darjeeling.
I further walked down on Laden-La road to witness a UNESCO heritage site. Yes! You read correctly; the Darjeeling post office is a UNESCO heritage site. It was open in May 1921 & is the oldest in the region. I click few pictures before taking the roundabout corner that led to Gandhi road, which is the main road of Darjeeling. In earlier days, this road was known as Tanga road. Tanga in local means horse-drawn carriage since it was the only mode of transport in those days.
On Gandhi road, I noticed the Planter’s club, which was established in 1886. A club where business tycoons, known personalities, British planters and their wives spent most of the evenings or stayed in the colonial rooms. Interestingly the nook and corner of mall road have a history of their own.
As I walk up towards the Nehru road, I came across two Century-old restaurants- Keventers & Glenary’s. I walked past Keventers since it was on my breakfast list; hence I will come back later.
However, I did stop by Glenary’s, founded by an Austrian named Pilva. It is a famous bakery, & a tea room, and has a multi-cuisine restaurant on the top floor. I did pick up some muffins, pastries, rolls, & and handmade chocolates. Lately, Glenary’s has expanded with a basement bar & disco named -‘ The Buzz’.Apparently, I could not explore it since travelling with family comes with few restrictions. Anyhow, something should be left for the next time.
As I walked up towards the mall area, I crossed the oldest studio of Darjeeling- The Das studio set up in 1927. In the mall area, you could see a lot many old shops. One of them is Habeeb Mullicks & Son’s, famous for their handmade curios & exceptional jewellery. As I entered the shop, I was dumbfounded with the collection & ended up shopping few trinkets.
I had to end my trip of exploring the Mall road, as the sky was darkening, threatening rain. But I did some tea tasting & buying from the Gloden Tip Tea shop before returning. Upon returning, I had an early dinner & headed to bed since the next day was adventurous. I planned a trip to Sandakphu & Phalut via Sanglila National Park.
How to Reach
The nearest airport is Bagdogra, approximately 95 km away from the city. From the airport, hire taxis to reach the city.
New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railway station to Darjeeling. New Jalpaiguri connects with many cities in India. You need to hire private cabs from the station to reach Darjeeling.
Darjeeling is well-connected via road with Kolkata city & other closeby cities such as Gangtok and Kalimpong. Buses, private cabs, shared taxis ply to Darjeeling from these places.