NOTE: THIS IS FOR ALL THOSE WHO WANTED BUT COULD NOT READ MY RECENT BENGALI POSTS. THESE WILL ALSO COME IN THE SAME ORDER.
Although the term “offbeat destination” has become really fashionable these days, for simple, travel-loving Bengalis like us it means a quaint, sequestered homely shelter that offers a view of the mighty Kanchenjunga (our very own Kanchan Da)… and it doesn’t matter how high Mt. Everest stands, for us Kanchan Da is the ultimate! We could also find ourselves a bit of a misfit in stylish, expensive resorts, not to forget the cost! However, if you have to search for such a place on the net, the “offbeat” tag becomes a must! Silerygaon, Icchegaon, Kolakham, Sitton, Dawaipani, Kaffer, Ahaldara… the list indeed and the choice is tough to make but the pretty little bungalow at Charkhole – Aditya Homestay made an impression instantly! And ofcourse like the free “phuchka” at the end of the paid for ones, it offered a 180° view of the gorgeous Kanchenjunga. Research further revealed that on a clear day, the view could give the famed ‘Tiger Hill’ a run for money. The picture of the neat little house on the website resembled our “wish” house – like one home with 7 rooms for the 7 families. So, Aditya Homestay, Charkhole was booked from a Facebook page for the 4th and 5th of May.
Contrary to the recent trend and to the dismay of our not so good wishers who had predicted imminent delays, Darjeeling Mail entered New Jalpaiguri (NJP) at 8:15 am sharp! As planned, Bimal Gurung and his two mates picked us up in their three vehicles to take us to our destination. But travel with an empty stomach certainly not a welcome idea! So, we stopped at Gautam’s and were soon struggling to order food that would come all at once for 16 hungry people. One chose Momo, the other Toast and omlette…it was poached egg for someone else and chhole bhature for the ones who need a bit more to sustain till lunch! Wish life was that easy… when the momo comes, egg poach wants to have some of that while momo feels an omlette couldn’t hurt! Which Bengali has ever been able to get over the connection between momo and hills? And so momo emerges a clear winner by the time we manage to walk out of the place! A word of caution though – if you are in a big group with a large number of cars, this place is ideal, but it is certainly a dampener in terms of quality or quantity of food.
Now this is purely my personal opinion that the sight of the Coronation Bridge is as sanctimonious to Bengalis as reaching Darjeeling itself. Why else would hundreds stop their cars on the bridge, add to the traffic and take pictures of themselves standing on this hallowed bridge. We, of course, managed our emotions well and moved on with the gorgeous and green Teesta flowing calmly on our right! We crossed the heavily guarded Lower Teesta (Rambhi) Dam and the roads seemed to move steadily up bringing with it, a cold hilly air with a concocted smell of pine, fir, oak, birch as the flat lands seem to belong almost close to the horizon! Higher we moved, closer the clouds seemed to come…almost passing through the windows of our vehicles. Here is a short video of that part of the journey. The value of this for parched souls like us who breathe the concrete-dust-dirt mixed air of the cities through the year, can easily be deciphered from the waiting list status of any train coming to this part of the state.
We travelled through a curtain of clouds through Samthar and stopped at the Panbu Dara View Point. Unfortunately, a view point loses its meaning on a cloudy day like this one for its just white that hits the eyes, wherever one looks. And since this was remains unticked, it stays as a reason to come back here again to see the mighty Kanchenjunga on one side and Teesta spiralling down from the hills to the plains on the other; hills rolling like waves on one side and the entire area of tea-gardens and forests of Duars resting peacefully on the other. Those with a sharper eye sight might even be able to spot the Coronation bridge and the Sevoke Rail Bridge in the distance. But when the heart is merry, even a completely cloud clad, misty white viewpoint-without-a-view can be something that brings extreme joy to the heart – and we were glaring examples of that!
One another rather sweet thing happened. Dogs are believed to have sharper olfactory sense than us humans is a known fact, but that they identify those that are warm up to them is something we learnt on this trip. And since a majority of our kids and some of the adults generally indulged these four-legged Roadesian friends, the kids in the group came across and befriended quite a number of them through the different locations we covered in our tour, starting from this point.
After getting our hearts and lungs full of cloud at the Panbu Dara View Point, we started for the last 5 kilometers of our journey.