Acclivity

The idea of riding again on the curves of the mountains brings goosbumps.

Begusarai, a small town in Bihar, lies on the northern bank of the Ganges River. Traditionally it had been a communist stronghold and was once referred to as ‘Leningrad of Bihar‘. I spent a night in a hotel room and left the city the next morning.

From the busy streets of Begusarai in Bihar, I resumed my ride towards the Himalayas. The road running along the Bihar-West Bengal border has some good as well as bad patches. The area is not much developed and has very fewer options to eat along the road. After Purnia, I crossed the West Bengal border. As I rode further, the landscape became more green & highways became more smooth. The scenery changed drastically in the West Bengal. I was dehydrated so ate a whole watermelon on the way, took a little break before riding northwards.

Only after Bagdogra, I could see the distant blue mountains engulfed in the mystic clouds. I had conquered the Ganges Plain, and I was heading towards the famous hill station – Darjeeling. Many twists and turns over the hills took me to the Kurseong town located at 4700 feet high. From there I could see the Himalayan Railway track running along the road but didn’t saw Toy Train. The rain forced me to cover my bag and ride slowly over the turns.

Toy Train Tracks

The first guest

When I reached the queen of hill stations – Darjeeling, I found out that the hotel which I booked on Booking.com got overbooked. That was the last thing I expected after a day-long journey from hot Bihar into wet West Bengal. Parking on the narrow sloppy road was already a problem and I did not like the alternate option suggested by the same owner.

In all that panic situation, I got a better option on OYO, with parking facility, wi-fi and very near to the mall road. Quickly I rode towards the hotel, parked my bike and went inside. To my surprise, I was their first guest. So, I got a really warm welcome with overwhelming hospitability.

Darkness spread faster in cloudy weather. I freshened up, came out with an intention to explore the hill town at night. The roads were like a narrow maze, hard to recognize on a map. One staff from the hotel came along till mall road and gave me some free tips.

No vehicles are allowed on this road, but I took my bike with me for a walk, of course with the engine switched off. First thing I noticed on Mall Road was a huge golden colour statue of the Nepali poet Bhanubhakta Acharya. Born in 1814 and died in 1868, he translated Ramayana from Sanskrit to the Nepali language. This Chowrasta is at the heart of Darjeeling, where we can sit, eat, shop and just stroll around leisurely.

Everything happens for a reason – I always get the best from the worst situations.

Bhanubhakta Acharya Statue on Darjeeling Mall Road

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

The first hill railway in India, Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is one of the first ones in the world as well. This beautiful B-class steam locomotive was built by Sharp, Stewart & Co. in the late 19th century. Many Bollywood movies like Barfi, Parineeta and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman depicted the railway. Who can forget ‘Mere Sapano Ki Rani’ song from 1969 film Aaradhana sang by Rajesh Khanna for Sharmila Tagore?

Well, to have a closer look at the famous Mountain Railway, I rode to the Darjeeling Railway Station. The last train just came honking into the station. The diesel engine was attached to it. People were getting down, taking pictures with the train. I wished I could have done this journey by train but that was not my mission. Similar Mountain Railways I saw in Matheran near Mumbai and Ooty in Tamilnadu.

The Toy Train – a narrow-gauge railway (2 feet) is based on zig-zag and loop line technology runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. This 88 km long railway is built between 1879 and 1881, with 6 zigzags and 5 loops. This little monster climbs from 220 feet from the plains to about 2200 feet in the mountains.

On the way back, accidentally I took a wrong turn on one-way and police caught me. For a while, he was busy managing traffic. Then he checked my documents and realized that it was a genuine mistake, so he allowed me to go without a fine.

In 1999, UNESCO declared the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway as a World Heritage Site.

DHR Steam Engine

Peace Pagoda

Next morning, I ascended to the Tiger Hill when the city was hidden behind the thick curtain of clouds. Tiger Hill viewpoint is the highest point in Darjeeling hills with an elevation of 8482 feet (2590 meters). Located 11 km from the hill town above Ghum, the Tiger hill offers stunning views of Sunrise over snow-clad peaks. But unfortunately, when I was there, the fog had blocked the view and I was not able to see anything.

They say, on a clear day, we can see the colossal Kanchenjunga along with other highest peak including Everest. But obviously it was not my day. Even though I felt bad and disappointed but I did not have time to cry over it. Instead, I enjoyed the ride over the slopes leading me back to the town. I did not want to ruin that tranquil morning.

My quest for the peace took me to this beautiful stupa known as Peace Pagoda. Situated on the slopes of the Jalapahar Hills of Darjeeling, it offers an amazing view of Darjeeling landscapes. It is designed for people of all races and creed to help them unite in their search for World peace. With 28.5 meters height and 23 meters diameter, this pagoda becomes the tallest free-standing structure in Darjeeling.

Peace Pagoda was built under the guidance of Nichidatsu Fujii, a Buddhist Monk from Japan in 1992. Designed by Dr M. Ohka from Japan, it took 3 years for construction on the slopes of Jalapahar Hills. It showcases 4 avatars of Buddha, carved in the walls and polished in the gold colour. This peaceful white structure looks awesome amidst the thick rows of Pine trees and flowers.

The disappointments are part of a journey and we should learn to make a peace with it.

Peace Pagoda

Darjeeling Tea

The weather was not so great to enjoy the beauty of Darjeeling. Since morning I was riding over these slopes and narrow roads. A lot has been planned but I could visit very few things. The time has come to move ahead towards Gangtok. I came back to the hotel room, packed my stuff again and went for breakfast.

The view from the restaurant balcony was stunning. I had the privilege of being the first customer of this hotel, surrounded by very nice people. I met two warm siblings from this cold city, working in a hotel where I stayed. A small chat over the breakfast, made me think about my life from a very different perspective. They couldn’t complete their education and have to support their families at this early age. But the smile on their face and the enthusiasm towards life was worth admiration. Their earning is very less if measured in Money, but the love and respect they deserve is incalculable.

While checking out of the hotel, the staff requested me to spend one more day in Darjeeling. I didn’t like Darjeeling much, it’s like another hill station filled with tourists, but the people were all awesome & I will remember that always. Finally, the time came to say goodbye to this colonial styled Hilltown, to Mountain Railway and to famous Darjeeling Tea.

Sometimes it’s a place and sometimes the people in there, makes the travel memorable.

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