There are certain places you dream of visiting once in your lifetime and then there are these other places you accidentally come across and want to visit again and again your entire life.
Chitkul is one of those places.
It was two weeks before my 22nd birthday I decided that I do not want to spend a fourth consecutive birthday in a city I dont even like that much. I wanted to spend my 22nd some place like home, some place that felt just quite right.
In April 2016 a friend visited chitkul and after seeing the photos and knowing that it is the last inhabited place in India, I was already sold.
So I started my journey on the 30th of August 2016 and left for Chandigarh from Delhi carrying a backpack, a best friend and loads of expectation. And both Sangla and Chitkul lived up to my expectations, rather beyond my expectations.
I reached Chandigarh at around 1 in the morning (31st August) and started inquiring about buses to Chitkul. Good lord! Nobody knew of the existence of such a place, which gave me immense pleasure and I responded with little smirks everytime someone gave me a “Where on Earth is this place” look.
Finally , I met some sane inquiry officer who told us that bus to Chitkul has already left, Excuse me! What?
After an hour the other officer told us the bus will arrive at 5am.
So, a bit confused we accidentally boarded a bus with destination Sangla, which is 20 kms away from Chitkul.
I left Chandigarh bus station at 5:30am on 31st and reached Sangla at 7pm. The bus ride started getting exciting and picturesque one we entered Kinnaur. This highway has been declared as the “Most Dangerous Road in the world” by History Channel.
I was a bit disappointed when I reached Sangla and saw just this small.town with nothing exciting. But, I was wrong, wrong about Sangla just like folks these days are wrong about Nationalism being same as Patriotism.
So I wok up at 6 the next morning and decided to wander about this “not so happening” place called Sangla valley, the heart of Kinnaur .
I walked till the last hotel or guest house on the the main road and took this little road downhill from where I could see a temple kind of a structure. I went inside and it was a pretty interesting place of worship with Nag temple on one side and a monastery on the other, in the same premises. It was the time for.morning prayers and the sound of “Nagarah” was in the the air. . I sat there and spoke to few old ladies who came to seek blessing of the nag god.
The structure of the temple was quite peculiar, one found nn pahadi or himachali region.
There was this small shop outside the temple and I asked for tea but the shopkeeper instead asked his wife to take us upstairs to their house for teas and a warm conversation. She gave me a tour of their ancestral house which They were planning to renovate. This disappointed me and I asked them not to, I dont know if they were even convinced by my not-so-convincing puppy face.
She then showed me the album of her brother in laws wedding and how the Nag god was brought outside the temple to shower blessings upon the newly wed.
I left the place and trespassed someone’s apple orchard to get near to the baspa river. Spent an hour there and decided to go back to the guest house, with of course few flcked apples. While paying the rent I had a little chat with the manager and when he came to know that I was from Jammu and Kashmir he told.me about the small settlement called Azad Kashmir, half an hour away from main sangla. I got so excited and decided to ditch the 12 PM bus to Chitkul.
My imagination and expectations went wild and I thought of numerous things about this place called Azad Kashmir.
OK, so this was literally crossing rivers to reach your beloved.
2 river streams, quite a few apple orchards, one village and a wild forest to be specific.
When I finally reached there I could see just handful of houses there. And the on thing I saw was the board of MNREGA.
I peeped through the wall of the nearest house and started calling out for the man loitering around in the house.
He cam out and saw me suspiciously as if I was there to rob him off the apples he had kept for drying on the floor. Although his suspicion was quite legit if we consider my shady peep throughs.
I told him the whole story of how I was from Jammu and Kashmir and how I got rather way too excited knowing of this place
He invited me in and asked his wife to prepare a cup of tea. He then told me something that ym rainbow scented mind didnt want to hear, the place did not have people from either of the Kashmirs. It was just them, pahadi/Himachali people.
He then told me the origin of the name. The first settlers there were the Army personnel and they named it so because the place was as calm and peaceful as real Kashmir.
I then bid them good bye and asked if I could take a picture of the dry apples there. They were making scotch out of it and not for sale but for personal family use.
While going back to main Sangla met a woman who started a conversation with me and when i left after 15 minutes , she called me back and gave me 4 out of 6 pears she had just bought. I kinda melted right there,yeah!
We were waiting on the bus stand from 4:3o for the 5pm bus to Chitkul. It was 5 but no bus. That day the Chief Minister of Himachal had to deliver a lecture in Sangla, hence the place was a bit crowded. So, we had loads of people to talk to, amongst whom we met these two primary school teachers. 5:30, no bus.
6, the bus came and very enthusiastically I boarded it just to see that the whole bus was occupied with ITBP personnel and only a few locals who too left in Rakcham.
While on the way to Chitkul, the bus was driving through the river stream.
We reached Chitkul at 7:30 and went straight to bobby bhaiya’s guest house but he was nowhere to be seen. A local guy about to leave for his home in Rakcham called him and gave us company till bobby bhaiya arrived
A voice of reason and a lover of nature, Bobby Bhaiya originally from Nepal was born and brought up in Shimla.
It was 1st September and my birthday was 4 hours away. It was chilly so we tucked ourselves and slept like horses and of course, missed the 12 am birthday clock strike. Also, because my phone was completely out of network.
I woke up at 7, had a cup of tea which got cold in 2 minutes and sat on the terrace of the guest house looking at this small village of which hardly anyone knew about, one of the most remote areas in India.
We then left to wander about chitkul village. A river stream runs across the whole settlement where the houses are of typical pahadi architecture, made up of Timber and Stone.
after reaching the end of the village we trekked to the mountain, at 3500 meter. Sitting there overlooking Chitkul on one side and a mountain on the other, beyond which lied Tibet. and I though to myself. One day, Tibet, One day.
After 2 house we trekked back to the village and saw red carpets, microphone, canopies and people. “Who’s getting married, Alok Bhaiya.” “CM is coming to deliver a speech.” “DAMN!”
We saw Bobby Bhaiya hiding in his Attic room. “I hate crowd and people.” “What? are you like our BFF?”
we then headed towards the “Last Road” of India, no we didnt react Tibet because most of the road is under the watch of ITBP. so we just sat on the edge of the road and appreciated the beauty of this untouched placed, Chitkul, where people very happily call themselves hindus and Buddhist both, where they are away from the regular urban life worries and where they are close to the most beautiful thing Nature!
Chitkul is a place where you would love to visit Solo, with parents, your beloved or BFF. because this time, its the places that matters and not the people you travel with. Its the place that makes all the difference. Chitkul is magic!
Snow Months: November to April.
Travel and Stay:
Delhi to Chandigrah Bus (ISBT Kashmere Gate): Rs. 250
Chandigarh to Sangla: Rs. 550
Sangla to Chitkul: Rs. 40
Baspa Guest house (Sangla): Rs. 500 per night
Kinner Heights or Bobby Bhaiya’s Guest House: Rs. 500 per night.
Anticipating that we would miss our 4pm train due to delay done by one of the travel companions (because well, this one takes the concept of quality time while bathing way too seriously) we were walking towards the Old Delhi Railway Station faster than the speed of light (ok, that’s an exaggeration).
But as usual, hail Indian Railways, the train started 15 minutes late. We were on time. My two friends and I were on board to Ramnagar, where after four hours we would meet Ayu, The Great!
Well, the train journey was like every other train journey. A grumpy middle aged man who wouldn’t give up his window seat to someone who wanted to sit together with their friends, which does not make sense, because he did not use that window the entire journey (not even to rest his head while sleeping); young couples with their even younger kids jumping all over the place like excited and hyper bouncy balls; a girl reading SSB book for entrance perhaps; and just some other extraordinary Indian population. Four hours passed by looking at these excited kids, talking to bhelpuri uncle, and staring into emptiness outside the train door. Ayu was there at the station to take us to the mesmerizing resort Aahana-The Corbet Wilderness.
When we entered the gates of Aahana, I immediately remembered my previous trip to Corbett on the same dates a year back, with Sneha, Queeny and Shreyaa and how we were amazed by seeing the grandeur of the resort- same was the reaction of my current trip partners. They were awestruck .
Well, we started with the nightly ritual of Aahana , listening to the musicians besides the bonfire but this time we had came with our own musician, who took the controls of the guitar and started flirting with the Beatles tune. No one can get enough of music, can we? So we had to stop filling our souls with music, so that we could start filling our empty stomachs, with some great Aahana food.
The next day was supposed to be a big one. A 5am morning safari, where we were not as lucky as the last time and didn’t get to spot a tiger but the newbies were happy seeing the first ray of sun cutting through the fog and having a delightful conversation with the rich flora and fauna.
The catch of that day was when we went for cycling on the road that ran parallel to the National Park – no that’s not the catch- the catch was, while returing to Aahana, our path was first crossed by a giant Tusker followed by its kids and then one more Tusker. We couldn’t contain our excitement but according to Ayu we should be petrified, so well, we became petrified, yes! and waited for the kings and the queens to leave so that we could peddle our cycles as fast as we could till we reach our resort.
So, when you come to Corbett make sure to :
1. Stay at Aahana (Winner of numerous Travel and Tourism awards) even if you don’t step out of the resort, the resort is a travel destination in itself. The Bijrani Range of the Park is right behind it, and you might even see some wilderness from your balcony.
Although, if you are on a limited budget trip then there are numerous reasonable guest houses there.
2. Not miss the safari. There are morning as well as night safaris. And if you are luck , you will get some very interesting and entertaining driver and forest guide. National Park is closed during the month of October, when the authorities do their regular surveys and checks.
3.Watch the sunset from the river bank.
4.Explore the nearby Negi village. People there are one of the most heart warming people I have ever met. So, while wandering around the village we spotted a wedding house and decided to go inside, the people were highly welcoming and made us meet the bride and other family members (one of whom asked me to marry her son)
In the evening we left for Nainital, and it took us around 1 and a half hour to reach the town in a car. The twinkling lights and the crystal lake welcomed us along with chilly winds.
We strolled around the town where we could hear the Azaan of Masjid, Bells of the church, Prayers of a Mandir and Gurbaani of a Gurduwara at exactly the same moment. Nothing can make you trip better than something like this, isn’t it?
Shopping a little at the famous Tibetan Market where people sitting around warm bonfires shared even warmer conversations and neighborly love.
We decided to go for a boat ride in the Lake and I very confidently asked the guy to let me row the boat and to everyone’s disappointment as usual, I could not do it.
When life brings you to a wedding, crash it! We found a wedding to barge into in Nainital as well. We got ourselves clicked with the groom and the bride; danced with some seriously drunk people on Punjabi DJ, hogged the food and left for our own good.
The next day we left for the famous China Peak, but known for being a little spontaneous and random in life, we went off route and rather chose this path on a normal hill alongside the road. We decided to trek this untouched part of a hill no matter what. Not prepared for such a trek, my poor shoes sacrificed themselves and with no option around I had to make the sole stay at place with some piece of cloth I found in the hill.
When we finally reached the top, I could feel the freshness of the sun piercing through my body and the melody of birds filling my soul with tranquility.
I would have stayed there the whole day but you don’t always get what you want, rigt?
The downhill trek was a disaster, holding each others’ hand, tripping over the stones, falling on each other, sometime to serious measures. Before leaving we decided to put a rock somewhere in a tree and write our names on it, one of us also placed a two rupee coin with it. I don’t know why that was done but at that time it felt in sync. The saddest part of this trek was the number of plastic bottles we found up there. Really? Spare some places at least. Actually why some? Be a little civilised and do not litter.
Some things and places you should go to in this beautiful small town:
1. Visit this shop ‘Himjoli’ run by an NGO that sell locally produced items like diaries, cushion cover decorated with tradition Pahari paintings and thread work, made by people who are supported by this NGO.
Visit the bakery shop – Baker’s Hut- the only place that sells blueberry cheese cake in the entire town.
if you are lucky you might barge into this guy who was the first one to go o Mount Everest from Nainital. I met him in a tea stall near the High Court
And the High court too is a beauty of British Architecture.
Crash a wedding!
The next morning hours we left for Ramnagar and from there in the Evening we took an UPSRTC to Delhi. Oh man! If you have never travelled in a local U.P Bus you have seriously missed on half of the fun in your life. You will see these spectrum of people there, from thugs who receive to pay for ticket to the socially responsible conductor, a funny old man threatening the trouble makers and what not. Its just so much fun! And the cherry on the top was the wedding we passed by while on the road.
I think this trip and weddings had some serious connection.
How to reach these two destinations:
I took Uttrakhand Sampark Kranti at 4PM from Old Delhi Railway station till Kathgodam (9:00pm) and then from there by road to Nainital. A bus from I.S.B.T Anand Vihar also goes to these two destinations.
Kandur, someone to whom every kashmiri wishes the first Good Morning of their day. This local bread maker is the saviour of Kashmiri foodies. The business is generally run by the whole family, and their shops and houses are under the same roof. They start their job early in the morning at about 6 am and make the first lot of breads- called Tandoor Tchot (earlier in the photographs) and Lavaasa (later in the photographs). The bread making keeps on going on throughout the days, in intervals, to meet the breakfast and evening tea demands of the people.
Sold at nominal rate, this is one of such cultures of Kashmir which will not fade out in at least coming 30 years. Generally, the making task is done by the men of the family and sale of the breads by the women.
Sitting there in lap of the Himalayas, smirking at the chaotic and packed cities from far back, this small town of the Gharwal region is unarguably the most blessed town and enjoys the privilege of that favorite child of the family. (of Himalayas)
I hope this untouched part of Uttarakhand remains far away from the commercial influence. It is serener than the Nainital lake, it has more positivity and more spiritual vibes than Rishikesh, a weather that fills you with satisfaction and undoubtedly it tops the list of happiness index.
To reach this abode of angels, you will travel through the terraced hilly fields until you are at the highest point of the hill, there is nothing beyond this point. Pauri is the last destination at a height higher than an Aries’ ego.
After entering the town, the first thing you will experience is the hustle bustle of bus drivers and tempo drivers calling for customers to tourist spots like Srinagar, Rishikesh, Dehradun, Kathgodam and Delhi.
And you will also enter a town that sings of simplicity, breeds on calmness and propagates love thy neighbor. Love thy human.
Once you reach Pauri and live there even for just a day, I am sure you would never want to leave the city: surrounded by the Himalayas, covered in pine trees and resting under the clear blue sky. Waking up early in the morning like rest of the pahari people in the country, sipping tea in the balcony while overlooking the fog covered Himalayas is a daily routine of Pauri residents… sitting there until this fog uncovers the beauty beneath.
Pauri was the most simple, effortless and easy going trip I have ever had. I have nothing to brag about the restaurants there or the best hotel, because there are hardly any. And moreover, all of this got overshadowed by the simple yet delicious home cooked authentic pahari food ( the most delicious s vegetarian) and of course the view from balcony which looked nothing less than an entrance to heaven.
Walking around the town sitting in the middle of the road because we knew there hardly will be any vehicles around; climbing random small hills and figuring out ways while walking; ending up in a dead end place with nowhere further to go; fear of being chased by some wild animal; then finally sitting on the edge of a hill which seemed more like the edge of the earth and ceasing the moment.
While travelling I make sure to visit the outskirt areas, a village besides the town. So, in Pauri too I did the same. A downhill trek to this small village called Bangla. Again a placid place, with quite receptive and welcoming people, listening to Gharwali songs at full volume. Many of the people have their ancestral houses there… abandoned. But ultimately they return to it after their retirement. (Like one of the resident, a retired Army official)
Walking along the wheat fields surrounded by terraced hills, this was maybe the first time I climbed up a barren terrace farming hill and sat on probably the 50th step for an hour, absorbing the fresh air, penetrating into the tranquility of the place. We had our pahari lunch, some tea, explored the village, where in some houses women were preparing spices, some were beating the corn, while some people were having a little chat over their houses’ short walls.
To be honest, I cannot fabricate my experience in words here, maybe because Pauri is a place that you can just feel; carry the feeling for the rest of your life; relive each moment but not write much about it.
On the morning of 16th December 2015 after having our breakfast we hit the road to Sikkim. We were exhilarated beyond limits, we were practically now traveling to another state all together. But all the excitement went into the drain when the bridge which connects West Bengal and Sikkim was getting repaired.
“It will take three hours,huzoor and there is no other way to go.” said the driver.
“WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?” was Ayu and My reaction.
Anyways, left with no choice we walked around while the ushering sound of Teesta filled us with antiquity. A little talk here, a little glancing at people there, eating loads of chocolates, clicking photos of people, capturing their untold stories and laughing along, we managed to pass these 3 hours and Bravo! We now entered Sikkim.
Nepali songs were playing in the car all along the journey and our driver singing along , was the best experience. Before we reached Gangtok we stopped at Namchi, a well planned and clean city which has been chosen for the Smart City Project.
There, meeting Swaroops friend over lunch we went around his cafe which was still under construction
.Again, on the road we finally reached Gangtok at around 7 in the evening with nowhere to go. using his friendly contacts, Swaroop finally managed to arrange a hotel, ‘Sonam Delek’. The hotel is in a perfect location with view of Kanchenjunga from the balcony.
With following day supposed to be a long one and an immensely tiring journey we had just come from, nepali songs still bursting in my head, I passed out!
Next morning, an Army vehicle came to pick us up and off we were to Nathu La. The Driver was from Haryana and had before served in Kargil . At 14000 ft and two lakes while on the journey and lots of Yaks lazily standing in the middle of the road, Nathu la looks exactly like Ladakh.
Also, it has the highest ATM in the world, just a random fact.
When we finally reached the India China border, were asked to keep our cameras inside and then taken upstairs to the office/guest lodge. That place, I am not kidding, had the most chilly, skin biting cold wins I have ever experience…and… I LOVED IT. I wouldnt have asked anything better to fulfill my cold and winter weather loving soul.
But my friends, on the other side Ayu started having difficulties in breathing so we had to pack up soon and move.
While going back we stopped at a military canteen and had lunch. We were so hungry that i am not sure if we even tasted the food nicely.
After reaching Gangtok we had our lunch and moved on to explore the streets of the city. Gangtok too is a very well planned city, where people are not allowed to cross the roads randomly and have to use the over head bridges only. Oh yes! And they do follow all the rules.
Excited for shopping as always, to Ayu’s disappointment the popular shops were closed by the time she started her shopping spree.
We had our dinner at the Coffee House on M.G Marg- delicious food and an amazing ambiance. they have an outlet at Saket,Delhi too.
Next morning we left for Siliguri and as soon as we reached there, we dumped our bags in the hotel room and went to the city. Last night of the trip, we thought of celebrating it looking at the photographs of these memorable 10 days. And honestly, at that moment I wanted to go back to Darjeeling and start the trip all over again.
Sitting in the Siliguri Airport restaurant having our breakfast the flashback of these 10 days was running inside my head. I was taking with me a little piece of every place I visited, Stories of every soul I met and was leaving an aura of me in the winds of these places.
I did not feel homesick for even a while, for I manage to find home in every place I travel.
In India the Rohingyas are living in refugee camps in New Delhi, Hyderabad etc. In New Delhi, Zakat Foundation provided them with land in Kanchan Kunj area, where Rohingyas have been living since 2012. The only mark of identification they have is an identity card provided by the UNHCR. the latter also looks into their grievances and immediate needs. The men of the camp either work inside the camp in small constructions or are employed outside in local market.
There is a school for children in the vicinity and the fees is paid by the Zakat Foundation itself, but as one of the kids said, the foundation is planning to stop the fee payment soon.
The camp comprises of 50 families, although all share common grievances there is psychological violence inside the camp. Also, there are many activists amongst the residents who organise regular protests, sometimes near Jantar Manta while other times outside the Embassy of Myanmar. ‘We just want our voices to be heard amd get the attention we deserve.”said Mohammad Farooq who owned large farms back in Myanmar, (“I had 5-6 people working under me. I had a well established Construction business”)and has rescued around 10 Rohingya girls who were being trafficked from Bangladesh to India.
Cover Photo: Ms. Tasleema with her youngest and the oldest child. She fights against all the odds and social pressure within the refugee camp to make her daughter Mizan an educated woman. Apart from school she sends her to tuition . Her husband is a drug addict and doesnt care much about the family hence taking a very strong move , she is planning on giving him a divorce.
My travel companions from Delhi to Sikkim. Their lovely presence and the fights took the trip to another level. Ayu and Swaroop
thanks to Nikita for feeding me and Ayu with delicious food while our stay at Swaroop’s house in Darjeeling town
one of the monks in Ghoom Monastery.
A woman cradling her kid in the basket behin
Sarita Aunty, a worker at the Gopaldhara Tea Estate
this gentleman sure knows how to pose for a photograph. He walked along with me for 15 mins in the Pul Bazar village without speaking a word.
we had a language barrier, but after I clicked this, i could understand through his gesutre, that he blessed me
I met her at the Tibetan Monastery and she welcomed me with a cup of Tibetan trea and some local breads
Zahoor Ahmad, owns a Kashmiri Handicraft shop in the main Darjeeling market. he goes to Kashmir every year in February to meet his parents and kids.
Mingma Bhutia, an ancestor of Tibet but born in India. He is a 48 years old bachelor living alone and hasn’t married yet because he doesn’t have a settled job. Also he doesnt know his mother language and sometimes feels ashamed of this fact.He showed me around the town. firstly, took me firstly to a Tibetan monastery where a ceremony was going on and I was offered with a cup of Tibetan Tea (almost same as the Kashmiri noon chai) and some snack. We then started walking towards the Bhutia Basti, and while on the road Mingma Uncle and I shared our life stories.
Gracia has completed a 6 month course in Japan and has decided to reach her country Spain on this cycle. She entered India through Myanmar and after Darjeeling, she is headed over to Nepal and then ladakh.
December 9th 2015:
1:00am-While I was packing my stuff listening to Mumford&Sons, I received a text from the Indian Railways that the train Mahananda Express from Delhi to New Jalpaiguri has been cancelled. My dear friend, the whole train was cancelled; what on earth were people supposed to do now? We don’t know. We were just supposed to be content by IRCTC’s ‘Sorry for the inconvenience’.
The whole night and the whole of the next day we were trying our best to make some way out. Well, all’s well that ends well. We managed to get a tatkal in Rajdhani for the 10th of December. So folks, when a Mahananda ditches you,Rajdhani comes to the rescue. And off I was at 9:15 am with three of my friends. (Ayu, Swaroop and Minzur). Rajdhani, offers you four meals a day, and its edible. Yeah! Edible, thats it.
We reached Siliguri on 11th December at around 3 pm and hired a taxi till Darjeeling. The journey indeed became lengthy but I didn’t mind because once we left behind the mayhem of city, further climb reminded me of home. The roads, the beautiful hills covered with yellow flowers and the adorable people, of course.
We reached Darjeeling town at around 7.The town to my surprise is too crowded for a hill station. So many cars and so much of chaos. But it had a beauty of its kind. After reaching Swaroop’s house, we freshened up, met his folks, his aunts and had a good Nepali meal while sitting in front of the bonfire. A little chat here and there, a little laugh on our faces, sharing of some more stories, we finally went to bed.
Swaroop says he has a surprise for us; we hired a taxi and went along this road called the Mungpoo Road, amidst the hills. At one point we stopped the car and walked, absorbing the smell of morning wind (which is much needed for someone coming from the not-so-great air of Delhi). We spent almost 15 minutes searching for some waterfall which according to Swaroop is a must see; turns out we had crossed that spot 2 times already.
We then we headed towards the ‘Breeding Center’ and saw Red Pandas, Sikkim’s state animal (I would have been happier if there were Giant Pandas as well).
Our next destination was one of the Yiga Chholing old Monastery Ghoom established in 1850. We had our lunch in a Tibetan food joint run by a family. We then loitered around the famous Darjeeling market and to Ayu’s surprise and disappointment (as we were told or maybe we assumed how cheap the market is) the clothes were a bit expensive.
For the love of God! I hate waking up early in the morning but it surprises my entire being how, while I am travelling, I instantly turn into a ninja from a lazy panda. So we woke up at 4:30 am to witness the sunrise and view of the Kanchenjunga and the Mount Everest from the Tiger hill. We had to trek upwards to the hill because car parking was way down; again to my surprise Tiger hill which I thought would be a small cosy spot, was FILLED with tourists, some taking selfies while other drinking tea from the local women tea sellers who climb up to this place at around 3 in the morning.
The mighty Kanchenjunga finally ose through the fog and clouds; but the Everest still hiding behind winters’ cloak. We were not lucky enough to see its glimpse.
After catching up up with Swaroop’s school friends we walked Darjeeling’s dainty, foggy and mystical roads and had our Breakfast at the famous Keventers.
Content with these mainstream touristy things, I decided to loiter around the town by myself. I had three hours. So I started going upwards the Chowrasta and asked a man for directions to some nearby monasteries. Well, that man was very welcoming and heart-warming and offered to take me around. Mingma Bhutia, an ancestor of Tibet but born and in India, took me firstly to a Tibetan monastery where a ceremony was going on and I was offered with a cup of Tibetan Tea (almost same as the Kashmiri noon chai) and some snack. We then started walking towards the Bhutia Basti, and while on the road Mingma Uncle and I shared our life stories.
He is a 48 years old bachelor living alone and he hasn’t married yet because he doesn’t have a settled job (well story of every Indian son,isn’t it?).. Also he doesnt know his mother language and sometimes feels ashamed of this fact
.On reaching the Bhutia Basti, he made me meet some of his friend and then we went to the Sikkimese Monastery where on knowing that I am from Kashmir, the caretakers got a little uncomfortable and scared. Not offended, I found it pretty funny but Mingma uncle thinking otherwise started to make me feel comfortable by sharing stories of secular nature of Darjeeling.
On our way back to Chowrasta he treated me with Wai Wai and Aloo Dum, something you might find in every local shop. We had an early lunch of Thukpa and Beef Momos before this kind stranger who knew nothing about me but shared his time and stories, said his goodbye.
Again on the streets of Darjeeling, walking and wandering without any destination I came across a Kashmiri handicrafts shop and decided to have a little chat with my fellow state man. Zahoor Ahmed, the owner of the shop told me when and how he came to Darjeeling, which is the peak season when most of his products are sold and how every year in February he goes back to Kashmir for a month. He invited me to have a lunch of paalak maaz (Mutton and Spinach) at his house two streets away.
Finally, I was reunited with my travel companions and we roamed around the same streets again until evening, had food and drinks, before we set off to home.
Oh well, before coming to Darjeeling Swaroop had made a full itinerary for us, and NOT to my surprise we didn’t follow it, rather We did much interesting stuff… how I like it to be.. totally spontaneous and missing out on the mainstream tourist attractions.
The next day we needed a car to drive to Mirik, Swaroop managed to find one whose owner he didn’t know of, we didnot have the car papers and the car looked as if it was breathing its last days.
The drive to Mirik through the Sukhia forest was, as Maulana Rumi has said, there was light and wine and sweethearts all around the beautiful pine trees. This was my encounter with ‘its the journey not the end’ in reality. Really, the Mirik lake is just like any other lake you’ll find in Kashmir, or Nainital, but the road to Mirik; Pine Trees and Tea Estates conversing, the fresh winds of India and Nepal making love, the sun rays spreading their positive vibe; all made me think of the beautiful time and beautiful people in my life.
While on our way we stopped at the Gopaldhara Tea Estate and had a conversation with the women there who get Rs. 120 per month as their wage.
During this time my phone did a funny thing and went on international roaming because Nepal was just a few steps away from there.
Lets get back to the shady car, shall we? (the car in the above picture)The princess stopped thrice on our way back and started making some very uncomfortable noise. But to the grace of the almighty, and skills of Swaroop and his friends, we reached home.
On 15th, after having our usual bed tea and biscuits served to us by Swaroop everyday, we continued to explore the left out places in the town. Our first destination was St. Joseph’s school after which we walked around the “Lovers’ Road” and finally stopped at Sonam’s Kitchen for the Breakfast (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOOD JOINT).
Our next plan was to trek downhill to Swaroop’s ancestral place Pulbazar. Everyone, literally everybody told us that we (Ayu and I) are too delicate to do this, well we accepted the challenge. Filled our backpacks with enough supply of food and chocolates we started our journey through the hills covered with tea gardens and villages filled with love and happiness.
We reached Pulbazar in 3 hours and had an early delicious dinner , sat a little under the fresh starry sky and went off to sleep.
The next day we hit the road for Sikkim………. (continued)