Thursday, 29 August 2013

Darjeeling, here I come to you.

A mini, photo travelogue in the troubled times.
Anirban Mitra.

I had been planning a long weekend at Darjeeling, my all-time favourite repose destination, more for a vacation than anything else.

I went there as a kid, as a grown up…and in spirit and essence, every time while watching Satyajit Ray’s film : ‘Kanchenjungha’!
And BBC's wonderfully warm film on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways rejuvenates the lovely memories of the place.
As a small boy, I remember my father buying me from the Mall - a superb, velvety, grey color cap  and delicious milk chocolates from Graham’s Home at Kalimpong - the sweetness of which has remained with me. When I grew up, I felt Darjeeling with a matured sense of appreciation -enchanting as ever, with the old charm still alive amidst all indiscretions of politics and power.

Then of course, the political scenario warmed up with the local leaders demanding an independent state and a separation from Bengal. With a declared temporary respite of the agitation during the 15th August weekend to celebrate India's independence, there was a hope for a clear, peaceful 4 days and I decided to take a chance.
Although recently in the spotlight for not really the right reasons, the charm of Darjeeling as a hill station, yet another British creation in India, has never ceased to enthrall its many visitors, even in compromised times.

The place was first conceived as a sanatorium for the soldiers during the British Raj owing to its temperate climate, attracting British residents seeking to escape the summer heat of the plains. Since the days of the Raj, Darjeeling developed briskly with the first road connecting the town with the plains being constructed between 1839 and 1842. It subsequently went on to become the most significant, commercial cultivation spot of tea and induced a number of British planters to settle there. The place also had the distinction of being the formal summer capital of the Bengal Presidency. Scottish missionaries undertook the construction of schools and welfare centers that are of considerable repute even to this date with students around the globe. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is one of the loveliest hill railways in the world and it still operates on the narrow gauge whistling through the twist and turns of the mountains.
Dotted with the many imprints of the Raj and with a pristine English charm, Darjeeling attracts foreign and local tourist alike, in thousands, throughout the year.

My decision to go ahead with the vacation, which at first appeared to be a rather risky undertaking, with media updates every now and then on the resuming of the tension at the hills, ultimately turned out to be one of my most pleasant tours and certainly my best stay at Darjeeling so far.

After a long spell of closure, the relaxation triggered a fresh lease of life and activity at the hill. The vehicular traffic started to ply, the shop shutters went up and the restaurants offered nearly whole of their delicious repertoire. Well, almost.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner at Glenary’s – the view of the hills, the afternoon at the Keventer’s CafĂ© staring at the Chowrasta and longing for a glimpse of Kanchenjungha to appear from within the clouds, those ham toast sandwiches, sausages, puffs, muffins, pastries and the aromatic tea perfectly complimented the long, undisturbed walk down and up the winding roads, the shopping of Tibetan bric-a-brac and a leisurely stroll at the Mall staring at the handsome ponies and the people.  Children with red cheeks.

The long queue at the ATM counters testified the brewing abnormality of the apparently peaceful break pregnant with the possibility of new unrest, threatening to reappear any moment. Many businessmen and affluent people had left for the plains for a forced vacation, but it were the local people who stayed and suffered the most. The hotels offered rooms at half the normal rate and even less, the waiters at the food joints brimmed with joy over small tips; the crowd looked melancholy and depressed. The flock of students resuming schools and the smile of their moms cheered up the scene a little. The fluctuating weather of rain, shine and cloud seemed to echo the mood of the times.

Armed with a pocket camera, taking a break from my heavy SLR and other obligations at the heat and dust of the Calcutta plain, I soaked in Darjeeling and clicked away, in love with the place.

Enclosed are the vignettes of my impression of this very special visit.

Chiaroscuro of Darjeeling Sky

A remarkably calm afternoon at the Mall.

The famed Glenary's of Darjeeling:
serving Bakery products, Continental, Indian and Chinese delicacies.

A family lunch at the Glenary's

Fried Fish and Chips @ Glenary's.
Cheese Pasta with Beacon added, made a lunch :-)

A tourist takes notes during morning tea at the Glenary's
Glenary's Club Sandwich. Cooked ecstasy.

A Technicolor view of Darjeeling

The Mist

Gathering of local people at the Mall

Students in Mist

A scene at the Mall

View of Kanchenjungha from Keventer's Cafe

Ladies appreciating archived photographs at a Studio

Portrait of a young man

Traversing the winding road up and down the Mall

Keventer's Cafe -the essence of nostalgia.

A street scene

Your's truly at the steam locomotive Yard.
On the sides are 'Himalayan Bird' and 'Queen of the Hills' - made in Glasglow, England, a hundred year back.
Photograph courtesy, my sister : Kamalika Mitra.

A view of the hills at dusk.

The Victorian fountain during night. The Mall.

Panaromic view from Darjeeling Railway Station.

The picture of silence.
Returning from Darjeeling to Bagdogra airport.


(Anirban has a multitude of  interests and fields of work :-) but his writings are as casual as this one, and his passions -plenty and abound. This blog will try to accommodate the expressions of some of those eccentricities!
The images (c) presented here are just casual snapshots of the traveller in him and not of a photographer per se.)