The morning was quite bright, but cold. The Kanchanganga peaks were shining brightly from the balcony. Got out of my room, to check for the breakfast and to my surprise the dining area was flooded with a gang of trekkers all ready to embark on their journey.
A chat with this group revealed that TAS is the initiative from TATA to promote trekking, mountaineering and also develop leadership skills. Although most of the crowd was from UK (Uttarakhand) and West Bengal, I met a lady from Mumbai as well, who stayed in Colaba. She had done few treks from pinnacle trekkers. This group, though started originally for Tata employees, does accept people, who do not have any links to Tata and is quite a success.
After butter and jam toast and tea, it was time for exploring Darjeeling. I had booked my Heritage train ticket to Ghum earlier from the internet. The train time was 11:30. My running nose was a bit of a concern now, as the cold had choked it. But then being an ardent explorer as I knew myself, it was time to leave aside these petty concerns and get to know this beautiful place more.
I got down the winding roads of this mountainous location, down to the railway station. The tourists had already gathered to experience this unique mountain rail. There were couple of trains, waiting at the station. One of them was more of a passenger train than a joy ride train to Ghum and it went upto Kurseong. An old, but cute steam locomotive attracted everyone’s attention. The machinery looked so complicated, yet the engine was in a perfectly working state. The engine must have been very old and witnessed generations of people visiting this beautiful hill town.
Although a trip to Ghum by the heritage rail is quite a short trip, it does give you a flavour of fun ride in this train, which makes every effort to introduce you to the beauty of mountains, flora and fauna and one can really enjoy this leisure time, as the train slowly moves down the hill. If you have a bigger group then this ride can be a real fun.
Some of the coal based locomotives engines are still operational and it was interesting to see them in action. Took me back in time and I could imagine how the first train in Britain must have run and what a novel invention that would have been.
It must have been lot of effort to lay those routes on the difficult mountainous terrain. Most probably the first train running between Siligudi to Darjeeling would have gathered significant attention, giving credits to the engineers involved. The charm and the attraction is visible even today when tourists try to capture those moments of train ride, in their camera.
Met John and his wife here, who were coming to India for the second time. John stays at south coast of England and has a sailing business. After knowing that I am from IT background, he expressed his dismay for Iphone and iOS as he spent significant amount of time preparing an App for his company and said that they have made things really complicated. He was quite happy with Android though.
The view of clusters of buildings, houses, resorts and hotels all along the slopes of mountains reminded me of Shimla and Ooty. In fact Ooty also has significant tea estates. The Nilgiri trees of Ooty are replaced by pine trees here. But then the Darjeeling train is considered to be much more charming in compared to Nilgiri Train in Ooty. During the initial course of the train it travels right in front of the shops, along the road just like a tram. The slow speed helps you capture every moment as you watch the mountain ranges and thick forests along the slope.
The view from the Batasia loop was quite beautiful. Ghum station maintains its old looks and also has a tiny museum, introducing tourists to the locomotives and carriages it used earlier and some of the beautiful moments captured by artists during those early days. The museum gives quick introduction to how the route was build and the difficulties overcome to complete this modern marvel.
My plan to visit the Zoo and HMI was foiled, as on Thursday both of them are closed. Since I was almost on my way, I decided to explore few other parts of Darjeeling and allow myself to be at leisure, just like a local. The shops of woollen sweater and caps are prominent. The Chole Bhature at Big Bite were lovely and I was ready for my second leg of the exploration.
One of the things I loved about Darjeeling was the school uniforms. The kids looked really polished and attractive in those carefully designed neat uniforms, be it in red or blue. In fact even the DEd students, aspiring to be future teachers looked quite elegant in their Sarees and Coats. Most of the people here carry the Mongolian origin with small eyes and a face going close to Chinese or Japanese decent. Girls generally have straight, long and black hairs and seem to be working hand in hand with guys as I could see a lot many women shop keepers and traffic police.
The kids look really lovely with fair complexion and rosy cheeks. The schools here have their heritage in the British rule and they form an important part of the Darjeeling culture. Although people are not very rich, I did not see any beggars and people seem to have enough resources of work to make a decent living. The roads here, is a complicated maze of alleys, motor-able roads, footpaths meeting each other at few junctures.
I spent some good amount of time at shrubbery garden which gave stunning views of the mountains. Although this is a good spot for Kanchanganga mountain range views, I was not that lucky and due to foggy weather the view was quite obscure. The spot also seems to be a good hideaway for couples and lovers to spend some private time in the midst of nature overlooking mountains. The garden makes the atmosphere more romantic by playing melodious songs. They seem to conduct few cultural programs as well in the evening.
On the way back I did some shopping at the market picking few woollen items for the kids. Few of the caps accessories looked quite cute. The cold seemed to be part of their culture and they had sweaters, caps, mufflers, scarf’s and all kinds of winter wear for babies. A purple-white sweater seemed quite attractive. I would, anyway would have needed it during trek and it made sense to buy it.
Although the youth hostels Broadway rooms are made out of wood at night generally it’s freezing cold and I kept thinking why don’t they have heaters over here. I liked the Dal Tadka and Egg masala, which I had at night, but the breakfast was generally very dry with very little butter or jam on your toasts.