Darjeeling never fails to mesmerize me, each time I visit her. Our last visit in July 2011 was left incomplete with the heavy monsoon showers forcing us to bid an early but reluctant farewell to the hills. The lament, however, kept the spirit of the wanderer alive within us that ensured a revisit this year in February. And so we were here again; Satarupa, Koel and me, stealing a little of our own time for ourselves and delving into the beauty of this enchantress they call ‘Darjeeling’.
As I take a leisurely stroll down the Chowrasta, I wonder; “What is it in this place that fascinates me most?” Is it the aura of the mountains that surround me, some canvassed in a distant blue while the others clad in a lustrous green often textured with camellia sinensis (tea shrubs)? Or is it the restless yearning to catch a glimpse of the snow clad Kanchenjunga that chooses to play hide and seek with her admirers with the help of the clouds? Is it the hastelessness with which a tourist sits on one of the many benches placed in the corners that overlook the Mall Road, observes fellow tourists or listens to a local Pahadi playing his flute? Is it the whistle of the steam engine that echoes between the hills as the toy train rides you through joy and rhythm uphill to Ghum? Or is it the rich English heritage of this place that has been well preserved in bits and pieces through the culinary par excellence served at ‘Keventers’ (101 years old), the ‘Clock Tower’ above the Nagarpalika or the classic ambience presented in ‘Glenary’s’.
It is also at one of these places one may often befriend a stranger at the coffee table. For us, it was Rijanka and her teenage daughter, two Dutch ladies, who traveled this far on their India darshan safari. The curiosity of these two ladies to learn about Indian culture soon brought us together across a table, sharing experiences and becoming friends. Wait! Does this sound familiar? May be from an Anjan Dutta screenplay.. !? Well, I agree that I love this man’s vivid description of the enigma of this terrain through his movies and songs, but hey, my narration is original and is an honest attempt to capture the colors and delights that garnish this place. And as a matter of fact, there is much a chance for any visitor like me to return from these hills having made a friend from amongst the many foreign tourists that are often spotted in and around Darjeeling in casual pajamas, ganjees and chappals, even during these cold winter days.
For us, destiny had more to offer beyond these, including a brisk hike uphill the Lamahatta eco park, and an opportunity to witness the Lamas praying in ceremony at Dali Monastery and a Sunday morning prayer at St. Andrew’s Church.
These incessant beauties may be enough to charm the regular tourist, but for me it is the breath of fresh air that embraces my soul, the freedom to cultivate my capricious thoughts and the peace of mind this place offers, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, that makes me fall in love with Darjeeling. And so, each time I come here, I leave behind some task unfinished that will bring me back to this place. This time, I leave behind my dream to parasail through the Himalayan air and raft through the white waters of the Teesta.
Darjeeling, I leave my dreams in your refuge…..