Saturday, May 3, 2014
Darjeeling: Magnificent Mountains, Toy Train Stations, Tea Gardens And A Cry For Freedom
It was a rainy, foggy day. The most stunning part of the day came in the evening when a guy pointed out Kanchenjunga faraway at a distance. It seemed like a marble stairway to the sky since it was way taller than the other mountains. The first comparison that came in my mind was with Taj Mahal. Kanchenjunga (Third highest mountain peak in the world, 29500 feet) like Taj, has a majestic pull that's indescribable. You can't do anything except watching it amidst silence.
The joyride in the toy train from Darjeeling to Ghoom (highest toy train station in the world) was a mixed bag. The rain played spoilsport to some extent but once the rain stopped and the cloudy fog gave way to delightfully serene clear sky, it was a treat. Darjeeling Himalyan Railway was established by Britishers in 1881. It must have been an arduous task then to build such a railway line in a dense hilly terrain. It was awarded World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. The British Steam Engine still powers the toy train that runs from Darjeeling to Ghoom twice everyday.
I woke up early. I thought it must be 7 am since the sunlight had seeped in through the windows but I was shocked to realise it was merely 4:30 am. Sun rises early in the East. I went back to sleep. It was exhilarating to run on the hilly road. I was pumped up for the day.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute was launched by the first Prime Minister of India, Mr Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954, an year after New Zealand's Edmund Hillary and India's Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest (29800 feet), the highest mountain peak in the world. Mount Everest was named after the first Surveyor General of India Mr George Everest in 1856. Mount Everest is also known as Chomolungma (Tibetans) and Sagarmatha (Nepalese).
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute has a minefield of information on how several brave hearts attempted to climb Mount Everest before Hillary and his guide Norgay finally achieved what was considered impossible. One newspaper clipping caught my attention which stated that a Britisher George Mallory had actually climbed Mount Everest in 1924 but he never reached back. Seventy five years later in 1999 his body was found on top of Mount Everest.
Japanese Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist Temple nestled amidst thick trees and greenery. The structure is magnificent and the peaceful ambience makes you gape in silence. I saw this written on one of the walls: "No Nuclear Weapons In Our Beautiful World." Considering that Japanese have had a bitter experience of being inflicted with two nuclear bombs at the end of Second World War, they are the best ambassadors to dissuade other nations from even contemplating the use of Nuclear weapons ever again.
The visit to a Tea Garden was a wonderful experience. Scenic and pacifying. We were treated to some freshly brewed green tea and masala tea. Watching the foggy clouds flirting with the curvy rows of tea plantations as you drink the world famous Darjeeling Tea makes you at peace with yourself.
The evening was spent at Chowrasta that could be called as the Mall Road of Darjeeling. Horse rides, tea and curio shops, restaurants, it was simply buzzing with people. No vehicles are allowed in this area.
I noticed that Gorkhaland has been written on top of most of the shops in Darjeeling. The local population out here is comprised of Nepalis, Bhutias and Lepchas. Somehow they don't identify themselves with the Bengali culture. Locals generally feel that they are given a step brotherly treatment by the West Bengal government since nothing much has been done in the name of development in this region despite being such a major tourist hub and premium tea destination. I noticed that the toilets at the tea garden and the Darjeeling railway station were in a very bad shape. Garbage is clearly visible at several places and the general traffic management is below par. The demand for a separate Gorkhaland has been on for quite some time as the locals feel that they need an administration that identifies with their immediate cultural and economic requirements.