Sayonara Darjeeling!

It was 7 am by the time we returned back to the Hotel after our early morning excursion to Tiger hills. We were preparing to check out from the hotel today. Our driver was dot on time to pick us up and take us for the last round of sightseeing in Darjeeling. As we settled bills we bumped into every person who, in some way, served us and helped us have a good stay. With a big smile on our faces and good experiences we said good bye to the hotel.
Today's agenda was no different from yesterdays - sightseeing! We dropped by at the Batasia Loop/Eco Garden, Dunggon Buddhist Monastery and headed towards "Triveni view point". Before I jump to Triveni there are few things about Darjeeling worth mentioning. I found the town to be extremely charming with very friendly people and beautiful sceneries. It is a typical hill station one would like to visit for taking a break from the usual schedules. Like I already mentioned in my previous posts, we found the people having the same sense of dressing. Young guys with spiked gelled hair, bright color mufflers and smart caps and to compete with them were the round-face, fringe-cut, small- eyed girls with heavy eye makeup and dark lip color contrasting their complexion. I am totally motivated in getting a fringe cut myself (Not yet done!). So, Bye Bye Darjeeling, It was nice to meet you :) Here we come Triveni!

Suraj ki pehli kiran..

Yaaaawnnnn! Its 3 am and I am sooooooo sleeeeefy! Vishnu woke up promptly and got ready and i was still feeling lazy. Woke up quarter to 4 and managed myself to look presentable. By the way, today Nov 3rd is pati dev's birthday too! What a way to celebrate hubby's birthday (I thought!). Our super punctual ram bhaiya was already waiting for us and I had no clue why we had to go to some place this early in the morning! It was pitch dark at that time and ram bhaiya was driving at 45% angle (climbing up). He showed his driving skills on extremely steep curves, where both Vishnu and I would almost say our last prayers and Ram bhaiya will zoom with ease..phew!
In 45 mins we were at "Tiger Hills" - There were lots of tigers here at one point (During British rule) and that’s why the name. It is the highest point in the Darjeeling area with a smashing height of 8000 ft above sea level. We were here to watch the "Sunrise". Being in Chennai I have always enjoyed sunrise sitting at the marina and was hoping an equivalent experience. We were the first enthu-patanis to get there and by 5 am the place was packed! The temperatures were at an all time low and the swift breeze made my teeth chatter!
Though it was cold, the sky was clear and grey. We had the Kanchenjunga on our left, a small tip of Mt. Everest behind, the China border in front of us and the sun on our right! We kept circling around the hall to capture the beauty of all of them. The silver moon was still glittering in the sky like a beautiful bindi and as the first sun rays showed their presence, the grey sky was turning into a golden yellow. The mountains were changing colors too. From grey, to orange to yellow to silver to bright white! The clouds above the sun had a "Golden lining" and were shimmering with pride as the sun finally showed his face to us! It was like a huge diamond ring popping out from far. A Picture perfect - Mountains, Sun, clouds and few birds chirping high above the sky. The most beautiful sun rise i had ever witnessed. The crowds cheered loudly as the sun rose and the noise had suddenly turned to a "wow" in chorus!
Waking up so early in the morning and going through the dangerous ride was simply worth it! What a start to this day!
We couldn’t capture the beauty into the camera (we didn't have the right lens) but captured it in our eyes :) ...This is just the beginning of the best birthday Vishnu could ever have. More fascinating things happened to us today and watch this space for more updates :)

Darjeeling still rocking

Its day 2 in Darjeeling. We woke up to see a beautiful view outside the hotel room. The weather was cooler than last night and I could find the need to grab a sweater :) Our driver - Ram bhaiya, was exceptionally punctual. He said he will be picking us up at 9:45 and he was there sharp! We ate a hearty breakfast and set out for our first day of sightseeing in Darjeeling.
Our first destination was the "Peace Pagoda". Let me mention to you that I am not a "History" person, so I personally did not try to find out the meaning of a Peace pagoda or the reason for its existence. But honestly, the pagoda was a masterpiece. It depicted the 4 main parts of Buddha's life and the sculpture was gold plated. Amazing indeed! We got into our usual photography mode, took loads of pictures :) and yes, the beautiful Kanchenjunga was more clear that day.
Our next destination was the famous "Rock garden". Very well built and a beautiful picnic spot. i have never ever been to a rock garden before and this was my first, so whatever I saw was bench marked as the best:) The entire place was filled with tourists but we had enough space for ourselves to strike some real funny poses :) We spent more than an hour there walking a complete big loop of stairs around the falls. With a kutti trek we completed our excursion to this refreshing place :) and then Ram bhaiya signaled to go for the next "tourist spot" of the day

We fought our way to a busy bazaar on the Darjeeling roads, apparently it was school disperse time and we were blocked by far too many school students. I should mention that he was busy watching the gals and I was busy watching the guys :) We did notice similarities in dressing sense amongst the crowd and were wondering if the schools had specific classes teaching the same :) After all the noise and traffic we landed at "Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park" and "Himalayan Mountaineering Institute". The zoo was very impressive. A well maintained, nicely organized zoo :) One place where both Vishnu and I became kids and jumped for every creature we spotted. Some of them we loved watching were the Snow leopards, Indian Tiger, Red Panda, Clouded leopards, Himalayan Wolf, Black Bear and pheasants. After this visit, we called every dog on the street - "Wolf", cat - "leopard" and monkeys - "langoors" hehe. Nevertheless, the place was worth seeing :-)
Inside the premises of the zoo is the HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute). We visited the museum which had the list of legends that have ever climbed Mt. Everest! It was interesting to see the tools and the equipments the mountaineers use, pretty fascinating. The HMI canteen offered some good soup and fried rice for the poor starved souls (us) with live music. Yes, the cook was apparently a part time musician and he played the guitar! Some lovely Hindi songs (yes Hindi again!) and a nice short and sweet lunch just made the trip to HMI a memorable one.
As we came out of the HMI and zoo we were hoping that this was the last destination for the day, cos our legs had started to ache (remember the walk and trek in rock garden). Our bodies had gone through too much of exercise and wanted to just relax. Alas! The driver bhaiya didn’t feel the same and drove us to the famous tea gardens. As usual, the photographer and the model started their session and completed pretty quick with a piping hot tea :-)

We reached the hotel soon, and decided to attack the "mall road" a little earlier than yesterday (so that I can get some shopping done, of course!). The mission was successful. We shopped handbags, sofa covers, Buddha table piece..blah blah blah and Vishnu was already worried that the lugguage we got was not enough to fit in the new stuff;-) And yeah, he also kept reminding me that we had more places to go during the trip where I can shop and stopped me from buying more stuff! GRRR..We returned back to the hotel, had an early dinner and slept early as our driver bhaiya was gonna come at 4 am next day! Yes! 4 am!! (The only time I woke up at that time was to eat during Ramzan fasts and tomorrow will be an exception!) So, see u tomorrow @ 4am.. Good night!

Darjeeling ka jadoo

Our drive to Darjeeling was very smooth. Good roads, nice sceneries and frequent chai breaks made the drive easy on us. Most part of the route was adjacent to the “Himalayan Toy train” tracks and we kept singing the Rajesh khanna hit “Mere sapno ki raani…”. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any train on those tracks (the trains run early in the morning and we were on the roads post noon). Our driver had a huge collection of Hindi songs; I specially enjoyed it because most of them were peppy numbers and big time hits of Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna and Shashi Kapoor :) (Don’t bother if you don’t know them, Google if curious)

After a while we started spotting hills which lead to little bigger mountains and to much more bigger mountains. Like a mystery, they were getting unfolded from the dark one by one. As we were approaching Darjeeling we spotted “Kanchenjunga” and we went “WOWWWWWWWW”. I had never seen such a gorgeous and spotless beauty! I had absolutely no words to describe this gigantic creation of nature. We kept sighting the mountain from every possible angle. Our camera just could not capture the white snow capped mountain as it matched with the sky color.
We finally reached our hotel and took our own sweet time to get ready and get set for a small walk in the town.

We are very used to being late :), we come from the concrete jungle where we come back from work late, and we sleep and also eat late. Habitually we got ready at 6:30pm (Which I think was very early for us). When the receptionist spotted us going out, he was taken aback and said “Madam, itne andhere mein kaha jaa rahe ho? Shops sab bandh ho chuke hain??”.. And I went “:-O” (Don’t imagine my face doing that, instead think of the yahoo emoticon version of this ;-)..)Later did we realize that the sun sets early here and people are early to home, early to bed and early to rise. We still took a chance and walked out in the dark.

The town was deserted, we felt as if it was midnight on the roads. A curfew to be precise! We did feel a little scared on the dark roads and felt out of breadth by just walking up a few galis (streets). We finally made our way to “The Chaurasta” - The place is little elevated and acts like a tourist spot as it provides a good view of the town. We could not do much of photos due to scarcity of light and headed back to the hotel pretty soon. Like hungry scavengers, we straight went into the restaurant for a delicious meal. And to add on to the flavor, we had pianist playing lovely all time favorite Hindi songs (Yes, Its Hindi again).. I felt so much at home and enjoyed my supper.

We were finally good to call it a day and were excited for another eventful day. A nice long day came to an end and so will this post :-)

Nepal mein Do pal

After our visit to the beautiful Merick Lake, our driver took us to the “Nepal Border”. We were initially surprised and thought we don’t have any visa prepared for Nepal and we cannot cross boundaries!. But the good part was, we were allowed to go inside Nepal with just any Identity proof. The Boundary police took down our names and they said, “aish karo” :). the funny part was he asked my name i said “Sakina”, he wrote the same spelling. He asked his name and he said “Vishnu”, the person at the counter wrote “Bishnu”…

Anyways, The way it works that Indians are allowed to go shopping in the Nepal market 1.5kms from the border. There were enough and more cab guys on the other side of the border to take us to the market and bring us back after an hour or so.

Hearing the word “Shopping” did bring a broad smile on my face and we set out to see what we could loot (the shop or his purse..;-)..). I tried to be nice and allowed Vishnu to shop for himself ;)…he tried to buy shoes but unfortunately none of the shops had sizes close to his feet! The shoes for guys were half the size of his huge feet. We finally gave up and went to shop for myself (Yippee!). My first purchase was a Purple pashmina for myself. We bought couple of more stuff from the market and again got back to clicking pics :)) sometime we were back to India and the driver anounced “Ab hum Darjeeling jayenge“…..and I said “Darjeeling Hum aa rahe hain!!

NJP Chhodo Merick Lake dekho

We arrived @ NJP next day morning (Nov 1st to be precise). Clueless on what to do next I call my travel agent asking if someone has come to pick us up. After half an hour of negotiation with the wrong agent, I finally received a call from the driver who was impatiently waiting at the station premises to pick us up and take us to our first sight-seeing spot - Merick Lake.

The lake was nice and calm. The water looked clean and did have some small fishes too. The place was well equipped to be called a “tourist attraction” with lots of shops and horse riding too. The lake was surrounded by a neatly maintained lawn and was divided by a bridge at the center.

Vishnu and I started our “photography” skills and took some good pics of the lake and us :). We spent a good half an hour at the lake and enjoyed the breeze and the music of the small ripples which were formed on the lake.

This was our first, but not the last beautiful spot of the trip!…

Chennai Se NJP tak

Vishnu and I had set out from Chennai on Oct 31st to explore North East India. Our journey was very long and involved different modes of transportation. One thing we knew was, no matter how far or how long it would take, it is gonna be worth it, and guess what, IT WAS!

From Chennai we took a Flight to Kolkata. Our flight experience was pretty weird. the airlines called us up 2 days prior to the journey informing us on the change of timings. We religiously followed their time table and reached the airport 2 hours in advance (the flight timings were advanced), the weird part is, the flight was delayed for 2 hours and we finally took off at the same time as before! Grr..

At Kolkata we had 4 hours before our train to NJP and we decided to check out the most wanted tourist spot in Kolkata - The Victoria memorial. The cab ride to this place was quiet an adventure as we did not know how on earth he fit his big ass cab in between 2 lorries and 3 bikes! The cab driver stopped at a strange dark quiet place telling us “Victoria Memorial aa gaya” - We turned 360 degrees to spot where the monument was, but couldn’t spot anything except bushes and trees. Our hearts sunk thinking that we have been cheated by the Cab and he has for some reason Kidnapped us! (hehe…we should have realised that we are no celebs). The cab driver had to “literally” convince us that he brought us to the right place and because of our strange reaction he quickly took his fare and drove away. Like aliens we walked towards the trees and then found the huge monument hiding in the DARK! To our surprise, the Victoria Memorial was not lit and we could not capture the beauty in the night! :-( the only good part was the surrounding garden. We simply witnessed the ‘Colourful Fountain Dance” at the gardens and headed to Sealdah Station…

At the station we took our dinner @ the “humble” IRCTC cafeteria. (I will explain the “humble” - ness in my forthcoming posts…). We ate some quarter dozen bread omelettes (only 3 duh!) and waited for our train to arrive. As the train arrived at the station, we saw a huge crowd of people very obediently getting into a queue at the platform. Trust me, I have never seen such a disciplined queue anywhere before! This queue was guarded by the Cops (of course, what do you think we Indians were born with discipline in the blood?)- This queue was to get into the “unreserved” bogie! Luckily we had confirmed tickets and did not get into this ever-growing queue. The overnight train to NJP (New Jalpaiguri) was comfortable and yes, well lit! (Thank God!) - NJP was our starting point to our 1 week long vacation and we wanted to get there as fast as we could (or rather as fast as the steam engine could).

The train started and so was our reading time..:) We read for a few hours until we heard our co-travellers complain about lights not turned off. We bid good-bye to our beloved books and the co-travellers and proceeded to see some beautiful dreams :)

Some photos and lots more stories coming up next »