Getting high - Darjeeling

I awoke to light streaming on my face through a heavily tinted car. On drawing the windows down I realized what a stunning drive this was! Crisp cool morning air that steals all remaining sleep, passing through flat rice fields, teak and tea plantations the road starts to climb into the foothills of the Himalaya. The thickly forested land was originally acquired by the British who introduced tea growing to this awesome scenic land and eventually Darjeeling developed into a hill station.

Darjeeling ( from Dorje Ling - The place of the Thunderbolt ) sits pretty with the gigantic Himalayas; a typical hill station, displaying interconnected steep stairways, trails to walk on, Gothic architecture, home to many Tibetans in exile. There is a large and thriving Buddhist community along with the predominant population of Nepalese descendants, Lepchas and refugee Tibetans – all of them sporting smiles brighter than the sun. I felt so poor compared to them. And shamed. Such happiness with so little.

Given we had a very short time here in Darjeeling, we tried to pack in lots. But could not venture to its outer limits -the Shangri-la called Sikkim. These places will always be there and will be kept for a future journey for us to enjoy fully. This trip was a flirtatious tryst with time. Soaking in the splendid views - balm for the city tired spirit.

Some of the world’s best teas are produced here in the East. I was privileged to see quality teas of which one was priced at Rs.55k /kg! Now that was definitely some select picking. The food was typical Tibetan - we munched into soup noodles 'thukpa' and steamed dumplings 'momos'. The only thing I could not bring myself to have was the 'yak butter coffee' - I pined for the very least, an Udipi coffee.

Higher altitude Darjeeling offered a wonderful Himalayan panorama. Mountain views surrounded me with Kanchenjunga at 8580m towering on the horizon. We visited 2 tea gardens, the Dali Monastery, the seat of the Drukchen Rimpoche ( head lama of the Drukpa Kaygu sect) which had a huge Buddha Statue and offered stunning views of the rolling hills. Of course the camera worked over time here. And this visit certainly took me back to the time I was in Bhutan amidst pure untouched nature

Despite not being a mountain person – being high in the hills and mountains brought with it tranquility, balance and a sense of calm. Or perhaps it was the influence of all those deep red robed monks and monasteries:)


Calcutta -City of joy revisited

Calcutta evokes memories of English breakfast, club culture, gentlemanly people, good food and of course Mishti doi - the unfailing delight.

I was a tad sad to see a decrepit airport which must have seen better days am sure. It felt like the airport belonged to another era- caught in a time wrap. Last I knew Calcutta was still a bustling metropolis of India so why was its airport so not in tune with the times?

Our welcome and adios for this trip began and ended with Kolkata- we went on to Darjeeling, Kaziranga, Meghalaya-Sillong, its interiors and back to Calcutta. The imprint of colonization and the ensuing western culture is most overtly seen in the East of India. From building exteriors to museums and colonial homes to the way people dress on weekdays and Sundays – very charming.

In Kolkatta (todays name for Calcutta) the joy for me was the food! I discovered puchkas and jhaal muri outside Victoria which were very different from the pani puri and bhel puri of Bombay. Took me a while to appreciate the unique taste as it has a generous helping of mustard oil which is alien to me. Had phenomenal breakfast one morning at Balwants dhaba next to a gurudwara- the most amazing katchoris (stuffed dal small pooris) with aloo sabzi which were mind blowing awesome! Tea was served in earthen small pots –kulhads. Just for the unique experience this is a must visit place. We also visited the old coffee house on College street- my god it was a world from a past era - you gotta be there to experience it! We had a fantafabulous lunch in Bhojohori Manna and I could have gone to heaven right away! The raw mango pulp juice I had there along with a unique ice cream made from the first molasses of sugarcane - awesome! As you can tell- it was a non ending feast of delightful food journey there! How can I miss mentioning Flury’s. A sweet, clean, good food institution (over 100years old) – we packed stuff from there and brought back to Bombay and gorged on it. Despite the huge fire that engulfed the old Flury’s building it was up and running within 24hours of that horrid day

One sight that left me half smiling and half sad- we were waiting in traffic for the lights to turn green. At the same lights, scores of people all bundled behind a rope with a young man in uniform (traffic related) shrilled his whistle ordering them to cross the road by dropping that rope – humanity surged forward as if in a race! Parallely an announcement over the loudspeaker instructed them when the lights turned amber - “dooooon't crooossss the roooaaaddddd…” the rest I couldn’t catch as we had moved on

The high point in this Calcutta trip was the game we got to see between my favourite KKR team and next favorite DC team in an electrifying huge stadium of Eden Gardens. It is no news how Dada is revered here in Calcutta, but omg only if you are present in Eden do you know how big a God he is here! I absolutely think he was our best captain and had to go thru unnecessary tests all his life proving his worth! What a match it turned out to be! An edge of the seat game which KKR won – no articulation of those emotions in the stadium can do justice to the community feeling and sharing of joy and happiness when Dada Ganguly won the game! With adrenalin pumping, Calcutta dancing on the streets with joy after this brilliant victory, we made our way into the jam packed streets singing Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo as we made tracks into the night happy with a satisfying day behind and knowing the sunrise ahead would be amidst the monks and monasteries of the Darjeeling hills awaiting our arrival:)