Through the hills and forests of North Bengal Part 1

NOTE: THIS IS FOR ALL THOSE WHO WANTED BUT COULD NOT READ MY RECENT BENGALI POSTS. THESE WILL ALSO COME IN THE SAME ORDER.

We, Bengalis have a god-gifted right on “going on a trip”. Ironically, even if we manage to roam the world around, we have a strange loyalty towards DiPuDa (Digha-Puri-Darjeeling), to which, very conveniently, has been added, the Ma of Mandarmoni. With DiPu and Ma sweating it out profusely in this insane heat and humidity, the only one left for us to turn to is Da! The flight of freedom of such a ‘trip-loving’ community after two long years of Covid restrictions has woefully resulted in Darjeeling almost bursting at the seams! And so, the neighbouring Kalimpong town has come up gallantly to the rescue, sharing the load! And who wants more when you have the Queen of Hills (regaining a lot of the old glory with the snow this winter!) right in your northern backyard! Therefore, at the slightest opportunity, good old Bengalis pick up their woollens and monkey caps and flock to the towns! And for some, like us, it is almost tiring to see the picture of the crowded Mall area or tourist spots with a million people roaming around! The call of the hills, however, remains rather irresistible for travel enthusiasts. And predictably, the moment the dry, pebble filled Teesta River bed shows up shortly after the rail bridge right outside the borders of Siliguri, the heart smells the hills!

With solo trips becoming an in-thing nowadays, for some, a trip means a group one! But of course, travel mates need to be like-minded and hence having friends as travel companions is perhaps the best option for our kind! People talk about “Childhood friends” but for me, friendship does not have a time tag, what does have a timestamp, however, is the time the relationship starts! Not exactly a time, truly, more of a “moment” – the moment that determines how far the friend will walk with us! My life, fortunately, is a collage of numerous such moments with my friend list being enviously long! And what better than most of them being travel enthusiasts!

After a rather long wait, post the unbelievably traumatic Covid experience, therefore, we, a group of 7 family friends, decided on a short trip to the northern hills, following our yearly ritual of a group trip. For our group of 21, including 7 kids, a home stay with just about 6 or 7 rooms is generally the perfect fit, lest other boarders feel inconvenienced by our enthusiasm! So we booked a home stay in one of the off-the-track destinations in the hills for January, train tickets for both the to and from journey and bang! Back comes Covid! Hoping against hope, we called the home stay to ask if they would, by any chance, postpone the booking for a later date and as luck would have it – they DID!

The challenge now was bigger – how to accommodate the dates for all these 7 families dodging their commitments, work, school, business and so on, and so forth! To add to the joy of travelling, the general demand was to add two more days and one more destination. Research followed, leading us to one more quaint hamlet nearby and we spent no time making the bookings and the tickets (considering Darjeeling mail tickets vanish the day they open up). What followed was three months of painful wait! Luck, however, does not always favour the brave and no matter how badly you want something, what happens is only what is meant to happen. Due to unavoidable family circumstances, one of the families needed to back off. Another one, the ‘love birds’ we call them decided to spend some exclusive “WE time” before our “WEEEEEE time” took off! They decided to reach our first destination at the end of their short romantic escapade’.

So, after an almost endless wait and endless discussions (just how much warm clothes to carry given the forecast for rains, would an umbrella or a raincoat be a better fit, what to carry for dinner on the train journey to New Jalpaiguri (NJP), how much booze to carry, and so on). So, at about 8 in the evening, we boarded the Darjeeling Mail from Sealdah towards our summer break  destination— Charkhole-Tandrabong!

Check here for a short video of our train journey.

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