The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Mamata

Well, truth be told, its not exactly the sounds of her that have enveloped the hills in a warm cocoon, its more her visage.

When you land down at Bagdogra airport, the first sight that attracts/assaults (choose as applicable) you is her charming visage welcoming you to the Himalayas.

And just in case, you are unsure of the gravity of the welcome, its hammered home with the scores, nay hundreds, nay thousands of banners – once every few metres – all with her coquettish/roguish (choose as applicable) smile.

But one thing’s for certain – that new bypass/road via Rohini is of international standards (the good nations, not Pakistan or Bangladesh or Somalia) and it cuts off the travelling time to the mountains by half….all without a single bump (landslides don’t count)

This was my third journey to the Himalayas in the last four years – and the first during the winter.

Suffice to say, weather wise this trip was the best.

Within just one and a half hours of leaving the airport, I was where I was going – Kurseong. Now, I know what you are thinking – why Kurseong?

The North Bengal-Sikkim belt of the Himalayas has some fantastic places worth visiting – Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Sandakphu, Rishop, Lava, Lolegaon, Gangtok, Namchi, Pelling, Yumthang, Ravangla etc. Kurseong lies quite low on the traveller’s index.

So why Kurseong?

Its simple people.

UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Anyone who knows anything about me knows three things – I am more or less always sick, I bleed blue/the Chelsea logo is engraved in my soul; and my passion or hobby is to travel to UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Not the natural ones mind you, it’s the historical/cultural ones that pull my strings. I love witnessing first hand the examples of the zenith of human creativity, of human endeavor, of human dedication and determination and of human will power.

India has25 such sites.

  1. Agra Fort(1983)
  2. Ajanta Caves(1983)
  3. Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi(1989)
  4. Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park(2004)
  5. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus)(2004)
  6. Churches and Convents of Goa(1986)
  7. Elephanta Caves(1987)
  8. Ellora Caves(1983)
  9. Fatehpur Sikri(1986)
  10. Great Living Chola Temples(1987)
  11. Group of Monuments at Hampi(1986)
  12. Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram(1984)
  13. Group of Monuments at Pattadakal(1987)
  14. Hill Forts of Rajasthan(2013)
  15. Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi(1993)
  16. Khajuraho Group of Monuments(1986)
  17. Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya(2002)
  18. Mountain Railways of India(1999)
  19. Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi(1993)
  20. Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat(2014)
  21. Red Fort Complex(2007)
  22. Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka(2003)
  23. Sun Temple, Konârak(1984)
  24. Taj Mahal(1983)
  25. The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur(2010)

 

I had been to 22 of them.

Kurseong is no 23.

Bodh Gaya is no 24, last week of November.

But why is Kursong so special you ask?

The Darjeeling Himalayan Mountain Railways.

It supposed to run from Siliguri to Darjeeling. This is West Bangladesh so naturally, it doesn’t.

It runs from Kurseong to Darjeeling.

Last year, I had been to Darjeeling and had tried to get tickets on this but couldn’t. The railway people told me that the Darjeeling – Ghoom (highest station) – Darjeeling route gets sold out months in advance.

So I bought the Kurseong – Sonada – Kurseong tickets.

The stations are Kurseong – Tung – Sonada – Ghoom – Darjeeling.

Life can be simple if you plan properly.

So, anyway, back to Kurseong.

I reached and checked into Hotel Amarjeet [an army veteran Sikh gentleman had established a restaurant; the restaurant is still thriving, they have built the hotel on top]. My room overlooked the street and to my immense delight – the railway tracks.

That’s right people, I was more or less literally on top of the Mountain Railway.

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From my room, you turn left, you can see the Kurseong station (about 3-4 mins my waddling/1 min walking for healthy people) and if you turn right you can see the train engine shed.

I was so happy I immediately ordered lunch.

[This restaurant is good, very good. Portions are good, price reasonable, ambiance non-existent but the taste good people, oh the taste]

After lunch, went on a sortie of the station. It’s a charming little place where you won’t find a single railway employee but you will find hordes of pensioners, teenagers, doggies and a particularly stubborn mountain goat.

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The market starts from the station. With nothing else to do(my ticket was for the next day) I decided to loiter around the place. It was when I went in for coffee at a restaurant that I found about His Highness Sir Sri Sri Lord Ravindra Jadeja the Great’s weaving of his magic wand leaving the Saffers bamboozled.

My cup of happiness overfloweth.

There was only one thing I could do at such a situation –collapse.

My back was doing its normal hippo dance, so I staggered back to the hotel, took my pain killers and fell flat for the next 12 hours or so – interrupted by dinner of course. Hey pain or not, the Cheapo needs his food.

The slumber was broken up by – you guessed – the tooting of the horn.

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Oh what joy! It was the 7Am train leaving the shed on its journey to Darjeeling (don’t worry, I had booked tickets on the 3PM train – the Cheapo does not do early mornings)

So with a heart full of vim, vigour and Volini pain relief spray and a belly full of toast, omelets and coffee (complimentary from the hotel, all part of being Cheapo) the Cheapo went out for that most quintessential part of a tourist’s itinerary – sight seeing.

First stop: Dow Hills, famous for a wee girls’ school, a tuberculosis sanitorium and a deer park (just a garden now).

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Second stop: Forest department museum

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Third stop: Netaji Museum

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Fourth stop: Makaibari tea estate and factory

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Fifth stop: A Christian worship place locally known as Gerato (grotto) replete with the Irish cross

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Interval – momos

Sixth stop – Buddhist monastery

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Final Stop – Eagle’s Craig view point with Gurkha memorial

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After all that it was time to come back – have lunch – and to board the train.

A lifetime’s dream come true finally.

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To say it was an amazing experience would be an understatement.

And that’s the thing with the Cheapo people.

Yes he is almost always sick; yes he always whines and moans about the fact that he is always sick; yes he is often rude, often obnoxious; yes he has very few marketable skills and talents and yes he is weird and fat and bald

But you have to credit him with one thing – determination and perseverance (ok that’s two).

In 2010, he started with his UNESCO mission.

5 years down the line, he has not only completed almost all of India but has also been to

Cambodia

One of two

  1. Angkor (1992)
  2. Temple of Preah Vihear (2008)

Thailand

One of three

  1. Ban Chiang Archaeological Site (1992)
  2. Historic City of Ayutthaya (1991)
  3. Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns (1991)

Nepal

One of two

  1. Kathmandu Valley (1979)
  2. Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha (1997)

Germany

5 of 37

  1. Aachen Cathedral (1978)
  2. Berlin Modernism Housing Estates (2008)
  3. Cologne Cathedral (1996)
  4. Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Berlin (1999)
  5. Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin (1990)

Plus one if France

And all that with a full time job and a part time working back.

 

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