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|5th October 2008, 15:57||#1|
Join Date: Sep 2008
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mountains, forests, rains and a little trouble
The trip was planned well before the problems had actually started in the hills of North Bengal. The situation had been the 'normally unstable condition' prevailing for the past few months. As the D-day approached we hoped the balance would not be compromised.
We had a close shave back in 2001 when despite GNLF calling a 7 days bandh in the hills we had ventured out on our Sikkim tour. The worst we gauged would be getting stuck amidst scenic surroundings. The bandh never materialised and we had a peaceful, crowd free 10 days in the mountains.
But this time things were different with GNLF losing ground to GJMM, and foremost we had a two and half year old kid with us.
We didn't have any idea how different this trip would turn out to be.
It took a lot of effort to plan a holiday at everyone's convenience with three members of the family having their commitments with three different organisations. My brother had cut short his assignment by a week and my father was supposed to leave on one on the same day we returned back to Kolkata. Mine was the simplest..apply for leave.
The plan was as follows:
Day 0: 6th June, Friday - evening take Darjeeling mail from Sealdah
Day 1: 7th June, Saturday - reach NJP in the morning, start for Kalimpong. Overnight stay at Deolo DGHC tourist lodge
Day 2: 8th June, Sunday - remain in Deolo, local sight seeing
Day 3: 9th June, Monday - morning start for Lava, stay overnight at DGHC tourist lodge
Day 4: 10th June, Tuesday - morning start for Lolegaon, stay overnight at DGHC tourist lodge
Day 5: 11th June, Wednesday - morning start for Jaldapara, stay overnight at Hollong
Day 6: 12th June, Thursday - afternoon start for Gorumara and stay at Nakshatra
Day 7: 13th June, Friday - afternoon start for NJP, take Darjeeling mail and reach Kolkata on the 14th.
This was the last week we could afford for visiting the Dooars. From the 15th, tourism in the forest would be closed for three months to give the habitants some respite from probing eyes and breed in peace.
And I wanted to be in the hills during the rains.
The signals were ominous even before we left.
At my fatherís office, a meeting, which was being postponed for the past three months, very conveniently got finalised on the 14th. Somehow he managed to schedule it on the 15th, but that meant he had to fly out of Kolkata on the 14th. Flight tickets from Bagdogra were booked as a back up.
On the 4th June, two days before we were supposed to start, my brother's Alto was rammed on the right fender by an auto rikshaw. The driver fled.
On the 5th a bandh was called by the ruling party to protest against the rise in oil price.
On the 6th, the day we were supposed to start, not willing to be left behind, the opposition called a back to back bandh on the same issue. However they took pity on the common mass and announced that the bandh will be called off two hours earlier.
And the trip had not even started.
|6th October 2008, 00:11||#3|
Join Date: Mar 2006
Thanked: 16 Times
Wow! Wow!! Wow!!! I'm all set.
Popcorns popping and a cool bottle in my hand.
One of the best opening posts of a travelogues here in Team-bhp!
Hope you have some good pics to share in between those magnetic words.
Madam, please carry on!
|6th October 2008, 01:42||#5|
Join Date: Sep 2008
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Thanks for all your encouragement. This being my first post, I hope I am able to keep up to the expectations.
As assured, the bandh was officially declared off at 4pm. But all was not over yet. The sky had opened up since afternoon and the continuous downpour had started to worry us. By the time we left, the rain had stopped, but the roads were under a foot of water, if not more at places. We had a Sumo taking us to the railway station, and it had to wade cautiously through unknown depths. We managed to reach Sealdah, unharmed.
In spite of the bandh and the natural calamity, the train started at its scheduled time. That's the best part of traveling on Darjeeling mail.
After the troublesome start, the train journey was smooth and we reached NJP just about thirty minutes behind schedule.
The maroon Spacio Gold, arranged by my father's friend was waiting for us at the NJP station. It was good enough for the roads we would travel on and also to carry five adults (and a driver), a kid needing all the space in the world and our luggage (it accounted to somewhat bigger bags than normal as we were carrying warm clothes of varying thicknesses being not sure how cold it could get in the hills once it had rained, and we had to carry extra clothes to remain dry in the rains as well.).
Considering this was a rented out vehicle, the Spacio was pretty well maintained in what met the eyes. The vehicle was to remain with us throughout our trip. Our driver, Alam, was from Siliguri (that was something which could mean trouble but also had a positive side, but more on that later), and throughout the trip we saw him taking good care of the vehicle. That was pleasing.
We made an early stop at the Vinayak hotel in Siliguri to freshen up as we were to offer puja at the Sevoke Kalibari.
After our offerings to the Goddess, we started for Kalimpong at about 11:45am.
Traveling along the meandering Teesta it was difficult to imagine the bluish green shade of the river now rendered brown by the heavy silt it was carrying due to the rains. The road was good, and journey, needless to say, scenic.
That technology and nature cannot have a peaceful coexistence was so evident from the barren hills near Kalijhora, the Teesta Low Dam stage IV work in full swing. It was heart-breaking to see the beautiful landscapes being vandalized by mankind, for a different good.
Lunch was difficult to get by as all the roadside restaurants were overflowing with the huge numbers of tourists. Somehow we managed to have a bite.
Reached Kalimpong at about two in the afternoon and it took another half an hour to reach Deolo (or Dello).
Deolo and Durpin are two hills connected by a ridge with the town of Kalimpong in between. At 5,600 feet, Deolo is the highest point of Kalimpong. The temperature was soothing, slightly on the chilly side. The DGHC lodge is very well located with a 360 degree open view. This was my first visit to the place, and I was impressed. I was looking ahead at the stay in the pine wood paneled rooms with a view.
The pleasure didnít last long. We had our first shock.
In spite of having a confirmed booking from the DGHC office in Kolkata, they didnít have a room for us. A call to the DGHC official in Kolkata, an offer to stay at Durpin DGHC tourist lodge, refusals, an exchange of heated words, a lot of apologies and finally all 5.25 of us were packed into a single room with extra beds, along with the promise that the other room will be provided the next day. They did however keep their promise. The room was large even with five people, so it was not uncomfortable at night. Going by what was to come, at least we managed to save some money.
A few shots taken in the afternoon before we settled down for the night.
The tourist lodge
|6th October 2008, 08:42||#7|
Awaiting Email Confirmation
Join Date: Sep 2007
Thanked: 19 Times
I used to think we had it bad in kerala with bandhs, but after seeing the intro in this thread, I feel for you guys in WB. I really do.
Very promising thread to be followed here. Great pics, Taut narrative.
What a way to kick off your T BHP membership!!!!!!
Will keep hitting the refresh button while I'm sitting here.
|6th October 2008, 09:12||#8|
Senior - BHPian
Join Date: Nov 2006
Thanked: 3,354 Times
The DGHC lodge looks like a great place - but what is DGHC? And how does one make bookings?
Waiting for your next instalment of the story!
|6th October 2008, 09:14||#9|
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Chennai / Dubai
Nice write-up; has that element of suspense making us wait for "what next?" and absolutely lovely pictures. Keep them flowing !!
|6th October 2008, 09:24||#10|
Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: SF Bay Area
Thanked: 2 Times
DGHC : Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council
I was reading about it in some other context.
But it could be a different DGHC altogether.
Absolutely beautiful travelogue. And amazing pics too. Do carry on!
|6th October 2008, 17:15||#11|
Join Date: Sep 2008
Thanked: 0 Times
Thanks again to all of you. So here we start again...
Next morning, it was still misty and there was no sign of Kanchenjungha on the horizon. We didnít expect to have a clear view at this time of the year. A glimpse would have been more than satisfactory.
After a quick breakfast, we decided to walk down to the Durga and Hanuman temples located not far from the tourist lodge. The primary reason behind the decision to walk was for the sheer pleasure of walking amidst the clouds. The obvious reason was we didn't have our vehicle with us as it had gone down to Siliguri the night before taking an ailing boarder from the lodge who had requested for help. The Spacio would be waiting for us at the temples to take us further.
On the walk.
However before we could reach our destination, it started to drizzle and the 'safety car' had to be called in. We reached the temple grounds on the Spacio.
At the temples.
The clouds didn't allow us the view of the distant mountains in Sikkim though.
From here we went came down to Kalimpong and drove around the small town. It was still drizzling and the cameras were kept under cover. Not that we could shoot much if we wanted to as the clouds had completely covered the town by then. This being the rainy season, the famed orchids were not to be seen. The town appeared sleepy with its colonial buildings, its winding, hilly roads, steep staircases connecting different levels, and complete with the damp weather and dark clouds keeping everything under wraps. It had all the reasons as to why anyone would like to visit the hills during the rains.
We had lunch at the Mandarin. The food was quite good and by the time we were finished, the sun was starting to smile from the clouds.
Post lunch, the next destination was Durpin, the sister hill of Deolo.
The road was good, gently winding up to the 4,500 ft and as like any other place in North Bengal, the area was dotted with military camps, arrows pointing towards the officersí mess.
At the Durpin monastery, the sun was shining bright giving back the blue reflection to the skies. How different it looked and felt from a few hours earlier.
On the way back from Durpin we visited the Pine View Nursery, which reared a very exclusive collection of cacti ranging up to a few lakhs of rupees.
View of Kalimpong and Deolo from the nursery grounds.
When we reached Deolo in the afternoon, the first bells of alarm had started to ring. My mother had started with a fever while the TV channels were broadcasting news of the clash between businessmen and GJMM supporters at Bagdogra. GJMM had called a 24 hours bandh in the hills on the next day. And the worse was yet to come.
We were advised by the locales not to worry as the problems were expected to be more on the Darjeeling route than Kalimpong. Moreover tourists always had a special license we were told. Our driver was worried since he was from Siliguri and so may not be favoured by the Ďstrikersí. At some point he had received a GJMM logo by contributing to their fund. This he had then used to cover a crack on his wind screen. He was hoping the sticker would come in helpful, just in case. Well, it did, but in a way he could never have thought of.
Next morning we were supposed to leave for Lava and everyone was tensed, specially worried about the kid.
Night lights flickering in Kalimpong - from Deolo Tourist lodge
|6th October 2008, 23:04||#12|
Join Date: Sep 2008
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We woke up early as usual with a slim hope of viewing Kanchenjungha and the sunrise. Not all was in vain. Through the clouds we could have just a glimpse of the majestic range, though not much of the sunrise.
The cloud was playing havoc that morning, flirting with hill sides and created some interesting textures.
This didn’t last long and soon it became windy and we were engulfed in the rain clouds.
We started for Lava after breakfast. Get as much close to the Dooars, was the message from everyone. We met tourists who had come down to Kalimpong from Darjeeling the night before. People were expecting more trouble, and there were a lot of nerves going around.
The road surface was moderate on the winding route to Lava perched at 7200 ft. There wasn’t much traffic due to the bandh and it was mainly drizzling with intermittent sunshine. The occasional view of a gang of young people by the road-sides pushed up the adrenaline. Alam was determined not to make any stops, so all photographic opportunities were forgotten and the cameras remained packed up. It was logical not to display our cameras amidst the turmoil, more so since it had started to rain.
The hills are covered with extremely dense pine forests in this area and mingling with the clouds it looked surreal. Not something whose majesty could have been caught on camera anyway, I consoled myself.
As we moved up the mountains through the rains, we went through the same rain clouds hovering on the pine tops and which had rained on us below. It was an amazing experience, being engulfed in the rain itself.
At times the visibility was no more than 3 feet. The fragrance of the pine forest mingled with the smell of the clouds and the dampness and the chill in the air induced a feeling which can be described nothing less than heavenly. My dream of visiting the mountains during rain was coming true. I was enjoying the experience not bothering about the visibility - there were others to do that.
It took us almost two hours to make the 35 kms to Lava. By this time the drizzle had turned into heavy rains. Not sure about the location of the DGHC tourist lodge, we started first from the log houses belonging to the forest department. They looked inviting, but we had reservations elsewhere. As we moved into the more densely populated hamlet of Lava, the visions of the log houses up in the forests appealed more.
Couldn’t believe we were actually looking at the DGHC tourist lodge when we reached there. A big contrast to the normal standards of the DGHC tourist lodges, these were three tiny cottages, quite shabby with an attached bathroom in each - and it was smelly. The pine wood panels were there all right. The lack of space and proper drainage was evident in the little we saw of Lava and the rains were not helping at all. The cottages looked over a cliff, which must have given a spectacular view (we believed) when clear. But at that time, all we could see was a white curtain of clouds and mist.
Somewhat disappointed, we left our luggage in the cottages and went to look for food. The incessant downpour could not be contained by the umbrellas we were carrying. Most of the shops were closed because of the bandh. We found a Bengali hotel (in the typical Dada-Boudi style) with half down shutters. Met a group of tourists who were on their way back from Lolegaon. They had stories of how they were overwhelmed by leeches. We had expected them to be there during the rains, but not a few of them lurking in our beds at night.
Lunch over we returned to the DGHC lodge. As soon as we reached the cottages, the caretaker rushed in to say that the 24 hour strike had now become an indefinite one and all tourists have been asked to leave the hills immediately. My mother’s fever was quite high at this point and she was now on a regular diet of Calpol. All she needed was some rest, which was the last thing we could afford. We could already see the Mahindras, Omnis and Sumos filled with tourists already moving towards Damdim. Alam said we had to start immediately to reach the Dooars before nightfall, and the road was not good for a 10 km stretch which could mean more time. My mother was happy to go ahead with the idea. But we didn’t have a place to stay as our bookings were from the day after. With the kid, the fever and the turmoil, we couldn’t take the risk of looking for lodgings at night. We were sure they would be difficult to come by as lots of tourists like us would be stranded in the Dooars.
My father called up his friends in Kolkata, and got a contact number in Siliguri. The person in Siliguri assured us he will figure out something and get in touch with us. We didn’t yet know how that ‘something’ was going to be. That the holiday was completely wrecked was very obvious, and my mother’s health was another worry.
By 2:30pm, we had hit the road to Damdim. Alam was confident that once in the Dooars, we could relax. The trouble should end in the hills. He had a lot of experience in the hill’s political scenarios, and we believed him.
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