What do you do when you need a respite from the daily urban grind, and want to escape into the quieter corners of nature, only to lose yourself in its tranquility and forget about the world? My answer has always lied in my second-most favorite place in the country- Darjeeling. For someone who had grown up and spent his entire life along the coast, it came as a surprise when I fell in love with the mountains. And Darjeeling made that happen, the very first time I visited this charming hill station. No wonder they call it the Queen of the Hills, because she sure has all the charm tucked up her sleeves to make her visitors feel at home.
I flew to Bagdogra airport and managed to get a comfortable and affordable cab from Siliguri to Darjeeling. A car is the only option to travel this road. The route between Siliguri and Darjeeling is known to be one of the most difficult terrains in the east. Although it is only 80 KM, it takes nearly four to five hours to drive through the narrow, winding roads, across the steep slopes. I took NH 10 from Siliguri which directly touches Darjeeling town. There was also the option of Matigara-Kurseong Road, but I have experienced bad traffic on this route earlier.
It was a perfect day in summer to head out on the mountain roads. The route between Siliguri and Darjeeling is one of the most scenic ones and makes for a perfect road trip. As soon as I crossed the urban environment of Siliguri, I was presented with the fresh, natural surroundings of alpine forests and clearer horizon. Along the way, I passed some interesting places like Kurseong and Jorpokhri Wildlife Sanctuary. The sleepy town of Sonada was also quite fascinating, with the slower and simpler life, that what we are used to. The soothing shades of greenery and the blue sky, with the mountain peaks popping in intermittently, was all I needed to comfort my sore eyes.
I had found a cozy homestay with a local family right outside the town. I have always found homestays to be a better option for a deep dive into the local culture and way of life, not to mention, the delicious and fresh home-cooked meals you can get even on a vacation.
The car passed through the main thoroughfare of the town. With the summer vacations, the town center was buzzing with tourists and locals. Usually, the winter months are less crowded. But it was interesting, nevertheless, to watch the activities unfold. I continued on the narrow streets lined with cottages and old bungalows until I crossed the town area and landed in the quieter suburbs.
A Day Around Town
The next morning, I woke up to the sparkling summer sun, kissing the horizon over the misty valleys. Even in the summers, the early morning and night temperatures are quite cold. After a homemade breakfast, I went out for a long walk. Despite having visited Darjeeling quite a few times, this lovely town never seems to get monotonous for me. And every time, I enjoy the walks through the hills, watching the local engrossed in their daily chores, the children finding little joys in simple things, and tourists trying to make the best out of their tours.
After scouting through the local markets and catching up with a few people I befriended earlier, I went to my favorite spot in town- the Batasia Loop. No matter how old one gets, a toy train ride through the tea gardens is always fun and exciting.
I came back around sunset, only to find that my hosts had arranged for a small barbecue on their backyard with the rest of the guests at the homestay. It was a great evening to spend with some lovely people and soulful music.
It would be a sacrilege to be in Darjeeling and not stop by for a sunrise view at Tiger Hill. So, I had to do it the next day. No matter how many times I see this, every time, the colors of the rising sun and the views of Kanchenjunga feel different. I camped up with the other homestay guests much before daybreak. As the sun cracked through the foggy sky, a thin golden ray shone right upon the might peak like a flaming arrow. Slowly the peak had a golden glow around, casting a sight that words would never suffice. So I would leave it there.
Although I was there only for a couple of days, it felt to me as if time had stopped. The peaceful vibes of the Himalayas do wonders to your sense of the world. And as I ride back to my city, I can’t wait to return to this enchanting land, in the warm embrace of the Queen of the Hills.