Driving up from Bagdogra to an altitude of 6,700 feet above sea level, on a narrow single carriage road, with numerous hairpin bends and a steep climb, with the valley on one side, the tea estates on the other and the railway tracks of the Darjeeling Himalayan Rail running parallel on the road, the weather getting cold and our feet slowly getting numb, we knew we were rather close to getting to Darjeeling. The excitement had begun, yet another Indian hill station to tick off my wish list of places to visit.
After a 3 and half hour climb, we finally got to Darjeeling and checked into The Central Nirvana, a place true to its name and definitely one which puts your body to the test (why I say so is because every time we had to get to the main area or back to the hotel, we had to climb up a steep slope and then up a flight of around 50 stairs!), but, it was totally worth the exercise we had on our holiday. The large glass windows of our room overlooked the valley with clouds like huge cotton balls playing hide and seek amidst the sun kissed hills, the view was simply spectacular.
We woke up to a rainy morning, which dampened the atmosphere but not our spirits. We decided to set out to Tiger Hills, with a hope of the rain stopping sooner. Well, our Prayers were answered and by the time we got to Tiger Hills, the sun was out and the rain had stopped. What’s so special about this place is that it has a backdrop of two special mountain peaks, the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest and the highest peak in India, Mount Kanchenjunga.
We then went on to visit The Japanese Peace Pagoda, a two storied white structure, showcasing the four avatars of Lord Buddha, built in a traditional Japanese style amongst the coniferous pine trees, of over 150 feet tall. The question of how these trees brave the wind, the rain and snowfall (back in the day) and still tower over the hills at a 90-degree angle, is what amazed me.
The Batasia Loop was yet another picturesque locale not only because of its breath-taking view but most significantly because it embodies a spiral railway created to lower the gradient of ascent of the world-famous Darjeeling Himalayan Rail, also more well known as ‘The Toy Train’, culminating at India’s highest railway station at Ghoom, situated at a spine-tingling height of 7,300 feet, giving one a panoramic view of Darjeeling. It also consists of a war memorial dedicated to the Gorkha Soldiers of the Indian Army who sacrificed their lives after the Indian Independence in 1947.
Among the other tourist attractions in Darjeeling, we visited the Barbotey Rock Garden situated around 10 kilometres away from the city, which consisted of a garden built out of cut rocks, with waterfalls flowing at different levels. The Ghoom Monastery was also a serene spot famous for its 15 feet high statue of Maitreya Buddha adding to the essence of the place.
Being a foodie by nature, I’d like to make a special mention of a restaurant called ‘Glenary’s’, not only because of its lip-smacking dishes and desserts of all varieties but also becausethe view from Glenary’s and the antique finish of the colonial place looked as if it were a scene straight out of a movie shot in Switzerland.What also makes this place special is its History. Originally the place was named ‘Vado’, as it was started by an Italian, Mr. Vado. Some years later, a German, Mr. Pliva agreed to make it a joint venture in turn changing its name to ‘Vado and Pliva Confectioners’, but in a twist of tales, when Mr. Vado decided to step back, the place was then renamed ‘Pliva’s’. After passing through multiple hands the place was taken over by The Edwards Family and named ‘Glenary’s’, under which it now runs. If one has to ever make a trip to Darjeeling, a visit to Glenary’s is a must for sure and as for directions to get there, the smell of the freshly baked muffins and bread wafting in the air will steer you straight to it!
As Paulo Coelho once said, “Nothing can substitute experience”. Indeed,the trip was totally worth it. While the moments have now passed, the experiences remain captured in our memories.