It was peak summers of 2009 in Hyderabad, 480 Celsius was a normal temperature one would expect then. People were getting baked inside their homes without an AC, which is still a luxurious need in India and people who were out were getting roasted, so no matter where one was, it was getting very difficult to stay in Hyderabad. So my family and I thought of running away to a distant land, where it was snowing, and the options were within the country and hence were limited. We were considering hill stations in north east and yes Kashmir was not even an option. So after a lot of research we finally settled on Gangtok.
Apart from the fact that it was cold there, another reason was it was close to Kolkata, my hometown so we planned a visit there on our return. Since tickets were booked in the last moment we did not get AC sleeper class and were going to travel by normal sleeper class. And trust me, train journeys are to die for with so much of hustle and bustle around. The journey was a little long though, two complete days to be exact. It was going to pass by at least that is what we felt; we are born optimistic aren’t we? We boarded the train and from then onwards our bad luck had started, we were being welcomed to Hell. There was unimaginable crowd, and everyone wanted to get up first as though we the seats were unreserved, but may be they were. We found our seats and found that they were already occupied by an Assamese family. We politely showed them our tickets and they apologized and got up, and then requested, “can our children sit here, we would sit near the toilets, but let them sit here, we will take them once the TT comes and confirms our tickets”, we looked at the cute faces of the kids and consented to their request. This was our first mistake.
By the time the train started we were all sweating like hell, and the toilet smell was already haunting us, and the whole passage near the toilet was filled with students from north east, but at least by then the train had started. It’s a part of us to share snack items with our co passengers, and that’s what we did. We shared chocolates, soft drinks, and chat items with the assamese family, but unfortunately the children were not too accustomed to such food stuff and passed out on the seats itself, yes our back luck had crossed all leaps and bounds. Her mother was quick enough to clean everything and apologized to us, this quality of people is to die for. My family did not mind much because it was me who got soaked in the hot liquid. Anyways a day in the train had passed and nights haunted us the most. It was hot, the sleeper beds were sticky and not too comfortable and thanks to our railway minister then, Laloo Ji who had introduced the middle berth above the side berth. But the idea had soon flopped so the bed was there but was unused at least that is what we thought until people started demanding us to open them. We resisted, fought but they won.
The morning made me feel nostalgic seeing the tea waalas carrying mud cups, hawkers selling puri sabji, these little things sets train journeys and India apart from the rest of its kinds. The next day had a similar story and I had concluded that such a beginning to a trip was a very bad omen. We had reached Siliguri the next morning, we had a lodge booked there, and the cold winds were prevalent, which made me feel a little good. But the feeling that we are going to high altitudes soon and our car journeys are going to be across the roads with sudden twists and turns were giving me tremors. I forgot to tell you about my motion sickness and the weird thing that happens to me is I feel giddy, and my stomach churning inside but unable to vomit. But I had to go, so we set on our journey from Siliguri to Darjeeling. The beautiful sight around with greenery and only greenery gave true pleasure to our eyes. It was chill and we were mesmerized by the beauty around; Flowers whose colors could be new additions to an artist’s color palette. I was truly amazed and my weird feeling had disappeared but I was hungry.
Our driver stopped near a dhaba after a 2 hours of drive. We were greeted by people inside and we expected good food too. We wanted to try the delicacies there, MOMO was one of them. Momo’s are steamed food. I was very excited to see the way they looked, a white flower which has a lot of babies inside but was shy to open up. I put one whole momo inside my mouth out of anticipation, but my bad luck was still sitting on my head, it was not really delicious. I was carrying my Sony headphones so that I could listen to music and be lost in another world and not really feel dizzy while going up and down. But to my worst bad luck ever, I forgot the head phones at the MOMO station. Well but the only good thing which kept me going was that the distance to Gangtok was reducing. So we reached Darjeeling which was like a place we got in bonus while going to Gangtok, and thanks to the massive protests in Darjeeling conducted by Gorkhas who were demanding for a separate state GorkhaLand, somewhat like our very own Telengana protests. So the gorkhas were burning down houses and the tourists spots were no longer maintained, and the entry to many places was free of cost. But the only interest of ours was to see the sun rise at Tiger hills, and thinking about that heavenly moment gave me Goosebumps. We went to Tiger hills at morning 4 and it was chilling more than my deep freezer, and even a small uncovered finger was giving us shivers, we had 7 cups of tea each to beat the cold, each priced or indeed over priced at 10 per cup. But all in vain, since it was very foggy and the sun had risen after playing hide and seeks with us.
After all this happenings I really lost hopes about gangtok. We packed our bags and headed to our final destination Gangtok. The first lovable sight which enriched our minds and followed us till we reached , was the long, beautiful and never ending Changu lake, the sight of it took our breath away, we kept looking at it for atleast half our journey and wondered if this lake really would end. And then it was time for the second surprise, snowfall, yes when it was raining fire balls in other parts of India, and it was snowing in Gangtok, I had seen, touched and felt snow for the first time in my life and it was trance like. We were finally at a place, about 1700 ft. about ground from where we could see Kanchenjunga, and a lot of other snow covered peaks which we had till now seen only in pictures or movies. The view was a true pleasure to one’s eyes. We also saw a lot of Yaks but I did not dare to climb on them, given my phobia from big animals. One ride to and fro to the Devi temple at a higher peak on the yak would cost you `700.It was bargain able though since many were not risking their lives by sitting on that white fur covered animals and also the snow fall. The Lake around was covered with ice, such an amazing sight. Our final place to visit in the night was the Mg. Road, a very famous road in gangtok for its shopping spots, but more than shopping I felt I was in some foreign country, there were flowers in between the roads, the stonework on the road was mind blowing.
I somehow was feeling that it was after all not such a bad idea to visit the north east, the journey was not that simple but it definitely was worth it. In words of Sir John Milton “Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained” was what had happened. After all we had seen snow, we had made snowmen, we had seen one of the most beautiful lakes in our country, had visited tea gardens, and most importantly had dodged the heat of Hyderabad. Though all in all the trip was amazing I felt bad for my head phones and also for a very beautiful city Darjeeling which was being ruined by foolish minds, who were actually spoiling a major tourist spot after all toy train had started there the first.We humans complain, crib about bad things happening to us, but our ability to forget all of it upon coming across nice things really sets us apart as a race.