Indian Chill
Posted: Wednesday, October 29th, 2008 | Posted by: Ashish Rao | Views: 29904
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An average train journey on Indian trains would be comfortable, but fail to get a reservation and you would be in for some adventure of a different sort. Nudging at a passenger next to you. Using your most convincing lines to stop small mobs from squatting right below your feet . Changing dialects from Tamil, Telugu, Oriya and Bengali only to be tongue tied, ultimately resorting to sign language. 

These are some of the unusual acts you would have to use to elevate yourself from a status of being ' unreserved ' to reserved in the general bogie of the Howrah Mail. Well, at least if you are planning to back pack to one of the chilliest destinations ,Darjeeling, an over-night's journey from the City Of Joy. A paradise so lonely that time seems to stand still.
Getting there : For most travelers descending from down south and west you have to touch Kolkata. Once here, your choices are going by train or by luxury buses unless , you want to take to the skies and land at Dabolim airport. The A/c Volvo bus service would cost you Rs 750 and reach you till Siliguri. The train halts at New Jalpaiguri (NJP), ten kilometers from where you would start climbing up-hill. From Siliguri, a four hour drive by shared jeeps costs Rs 80.
As if tucked away in the skies, Darjeeling at 7500 feet above mean sea level has evolved into a happening hill haunt amidst growing consumerism. What surprises you in Darjeeling is a dense cloud which engulfs you in its near- zero temperatures. A mere stroll on the arterial by lanes of the hills and you find your senses gratified by utter silence and dense air. With sounds of breeze gently pushing cotton-like clouds ,it guarantees instant relaxation.

Getting Around : The taxis charge according to the number of spots you would want to visit . On reaching Darjeeling Town, a few meters down the street, you could hire a cab for 200 bucks to the Buddhist Temple. A wonderful display of flowers ,fruits, incense sticks surrounding the idol of Buddha awaits you in total silence. Once inside, the silence is only broken during a two hour prayer between 2 and 4 p.m. by a monk. Just beside the Buddhist temple is the famous Lumbini Peace Pagoda ,a giant structure which has a golden idol of Lord Buddha, as its epitome of peace.Although the taxi tours around the city is quite worthwhile , windy , winding streets of Darjeeling is a perfect opportunity to walk hand in hand with your loved ones. One of such walks is along the tracks of the Himalayan Bird.

The Toy Train at Hill City. Chowrastha' an open space where you can bask in the sun on benches, used to be the place where the parades happened during the British Raj. En-Route to this place, a shopping street for the shopaholic allows you let loose.
One of the strangest things one observes is the-fact that Darjeeling's night life ( which is non-existant ) starts at 5 p.m.! Shops pull down shutters by 7 p.m. as darkness looms by 6 p.m. and venturing out after 9 could be risky.

The Toy train makes 8 trips in a day between Siliguri and Darj. A part of the track jets directly into Batasia Loop, one of the places you could stop by for a pose. The Batasia Loop was constructed by the Zilla Sainik Board and sanctioned on March 22,1995. A memorial to all the soldiers who died during the freedom struggle, also houses a statue of a soldier.

Park Yourself: At 7500 feet , its almost like being in the skies and Darjeeling's hospitality has a range of lodges to suit your pockets. The most expensive of these is of course the Wind Day Mary Hotel. Next in line would be the Cedar Inn and the New Elkin Hotel. But I was lucky enough to win a free stay at Sterling Resorts for three days. This cozy resort is situated on an up hill road next to a Buddhist Monastery in Ghoom. Cottages classified as Twin, Regular,Compact and Hotel Room types offer a variety of choices. These rooms are furnished with carpets, room heaters, cable television,steaming water, prompt room service, a grocery store and Telephone facilities. With a well groomed bar and banquet hall, the resort arranges activities like Housie, Bon Fire , Party games. Even though finding vacancies during Mid-April and June is doubtful rooms are readily available at other times of the year. The twin apartment rooms also offers residents a chance to cook a meal. They also offer travel services by Tata Sumo and Maruti Vans.

Food: Your gastric desires will have a lot to choose from in this chilled out place. Although the local delicacies are mostly Momos' ,Aloo Dum and Egg omlette, soups are available in plenty. Cuisines range from Nepali, Tandoori to Bengali. Most restaurants are run by mistresses of homes. A portion of their homes gets transformed into a restaurant each hungry morning. Enter a house and be sure to be offered Momos' but you can ask for Omlettes and bread. Some of the eats you would dig on are the fried rice at Norgima Restaurant in Ghoom, spring roll at Khang Sang Ma or a nice fish meal at Fybula restaurant at just Rs 30. Tea estates on the hills offer more than 100 varieties to choose from.

Warming yourself of the cold in front of a fire, idling your brain on the toy train or just walking to catch a glimpse of the sunrise in the wee hours of the morning, may just surprise your lens with pleasant images of a school football team doing their morning jog. Apart from producing world class tea, Darjeeling is also home to Mountaineer, Late Tenzing Norgay, and the minute you spot two axes ,you know it is Ghang La', his home.

But one view to die for , at Darjeeling is the breathtaking view of the snow tipped portion of the Himalayas called Mount Kanchenjunga. Although it is visible from anywhere around Darjeeling, the town offers two great surreal views of Kanchenjunga. For a traveler who is first timer to snow Kanchenjunga offers an unforgettable visual spectacle. To enjoy this panorama one has to sleep well the previous night. And then waking up at 3 a.m. would entitle you to drive by cab to Tiger Hill', one of the best glimpses of sunrise in North India. This adventurous ride would be possible at Rs 300 or 500. But even if you cannot make it there, Sunrise' offers a new meaning from other spots in town. One of which is at Sterling Resorts itself. A patient wait on the jogging track surrounding the resort from 6 a.m. and magic unfolds. As the first rays of sunlight gently kisses the snow capped peaks , Kanchenjunga dresses itself in a rare pinkish-orange splendor. A true nature photographer would not want to miss this romance between sun and snow. Locally called the first light' ,within seconds the peak turns golden in colour.

Apart from the sights of beautiful tea estates, downhill from Darjeeling would leave you with chilly memories.
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