From my childhood days, Darjeeling was known to be a place of natural beauty and charm. It was also a dream hill station to see which I had nurtured a secret desire. Later, when I learnt that Darjeeling is not only a hill station, but is also the Queen of the Hill Stations of India, that desire grew stronger.
Finally that golden moment arrived, and in the hot month of May 1983, all of us (myself, my wife, two daughters and ten month old son) went by Howrah Mail from Bombay in First Class (The First classes of those days were overall better than the AC First Class of later years) and reached Calcutta in the morning of 12th May 1983. After having taken my favorite breakfast consisting of bread, butter, jam and a double egg omelette in the Howrah Railway Station canteen, I pushed off alone, leaving other members of my family-group in the 1st class/upper class railway waiting room instructing them to be there till I returned.
I sailed across river Hooghly in a motor boat to the Railway Office to confirm my onward reservations to New Jalpaiguri. The reservation was already confirmed and without any hassle, we boarded the AC 2 Tier coach of the train, which was brand new, on the night of 12th May. The train took us to New Jalpaiguri station on 13th morning. I chose to travel by cycle rickshaw to Siliguri, no less a reminder of my school life more than 25 years ago than for sheer fun. From Siliguri we travelled by the famous Toy Train (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway) and reached Darjeeling sometime in the evening of the same day. It was cold and there was heavy drizzle. I had done reservations in West Bengal Tourist Lodge/Hotel by myself. We stayed there till 17th morning. Our room was warm enough to sleep in comfort with a blanket on.
I do not want to write here the everyday itinerary/details of how we spent those 3 days and 4 nights at Darjeeling. Only the things that were first to me then and made impressions on me, I shall mention briefly. We had hired a jeep for all the days of our stay. The jeep would pick us up daily in the morning and after a day’s excursions/local sightseeing would drop us back at the hotel.
First of course was the Darjeeling hill station itself. Second was our experience of riding on the toy train. Third was the sighting of the snow peaks of Kanchenjunga, the third highest Mountain range in the world. We could see it everyday from the place of our temporary residence. Fourth were the tree-sized rose plants – the rose trees I would better call them – studded with hundreds of rose blossoms. We do not see such rose plants on the hot plains of India. I did not know at that time that I was to see similar plants in the Hyde park of London a couple of years later. In one of the excursions, we went to a Jhil (lake). There we saw a jungle of rose plants, of small medium and big sizes, surrounding that lake. The lake had broad English style side-walks/footpaths all along its periphery only to be marred by human excreta strewn all around, a characteristic feature of Indian culture.
On the way, both back and forth, we saw sprawling tea gardens over miles and miles and the labour picking tea leaves. On another day, I saw orchids, white and yellow, growing – rather creeping – on tall trees in a botanical garden in the town of Darjeeling. On 15th May, we went to the Tiger Hill to view the sunrise. Though there was a big rush of vehicles lined-up en-route, our driver managed to reach us in time. We saw the magnificent sunrise from a height of about 8000 feet above sea level.
On the last day (16th of May) of our stay at Darjeeling, we went to the main marketing area (mall) of Darjeeling and made a few purchases. Specifically, we bought 2 kilograms of pure Darjeeling Orange Pekoe which are chemically processed from the buds of tea plants. The aroma of this tea is awesome. It goes without saying that such teas are not that easily available in the Bombay market even now. I have been drinking Darjeeling leaf/bud tea for more than 30 years and I can differentiate one from the other by their aroma and taste.
One remarkable thing about Darjeeling hill station is that its central business area bore a striking resemblance to a small pretty town called Malvern situated in the West Midlands county of England. I had visited that place during my stay in England. Second remarkable thing in this tour was when we boarded the train at Howrah while traveling to Jalpaiguri. Our co-passengers were a not-so-young couple. The lady greatly admired my daughter Varsha’s nose. She was under seven years then. Years have passed and my children have all grown; so also me. She is very much okay, settled happily in US with her husband and two very lovely sons. The third novelty was the viewing, with my family, of a U-rated Hindi film using VCR and Cassette, a technology which was the very latest at that time and had, in fact, not yet come fully to the Indian market.
-BY Dr. Sachidanand Das