“I don’t care if it is too cold to be romantic, I don’t care if it is too short for a trip to the mountains, I want nothing but the Himalayas as my honeymoon destination” I grudged on.
We got married in 22nd January 2017, a time when winter is at its peak in India. Many would consider going to the Himalayas suicidal and the least romantic honeymoon idea during this time of the year; but well, I wasn’t looking for a romantic honeymoon at all, in my mind it’s all about adventure.
Our dates were pretty tight. The marriage party was 4 days long from 21st January-24th January, on 29th January there was another ritual at my home that we were supposed to attend, the ritual of ‘Ashtamanagala’. On 2nd February we had our one-way ticket booked for Mumbai 6 months ago. The schedule left us with just two window period of 25th January-29th January morning and 29th January evening- 1st February in which we could go honeymooning. We chose the former one.
Unfortunately, in a marriage the groom ends up having no role apart from just being the groom. The guests, family, friends, caterers, photographers, decorator, tailor, make-up artist, jewellers, florists, selfie-takers and everyone else waltzes only around the bride caring and fulfilling her wishes!
The husband saw this coming and in a desperate attempt ‘in having some role’ he took up the responsibility of booking accommodations in Darjeeling.
The Night in Train
When we bought the railway tickets to New Jalpaiguri station the 3AC and 2AC were already sold. We had our luck left only with sleeper coach of Uttar Banga Express train which originates from Sealdah station.
At 7:35 PM the train pulled away from Sealdah. The night in train was freaking cold and it turned out in the marathon of marriage we have somehow managed to underestimate the harsh weather.
The long distance Indian trains are plagued with passengers who travel without reserved berth. In the depth of night when those with reserved ones are deep asleep, the others squeeze their butt in an empty part of the seat. Not to mention the thieves always take benefit of the situation.
This classic problem of the Sleeper Class coach kept us awake the whole night. This was our 5th night of insufficient sleep in a row.
New Jalpaiguri – Darjeeling
The train reached New Jalpaiguri station on scheduled time at 6.45 AM. As soon as we got out of the station building several men surrounded us. Some were trying to sell us hotel stays, some were offering transportation services, others an entire tour package. Experience had taught us they are best avoided.
Shared jeeps can be hired from NJP station to various tourist destinations like Darjeeling, Kalimpang, Gangtok (check Gangtok Backpack Diaries) etc. These jeeps can roughly accommodate 10-13 people excluding the driver. The general rate is INR 200 per seat from NJP-Darjeeling. The journey takes about 3 hours. Alternatively private AC and non AC cars can also be booked. The nearest bus station is at Siliguri which is an autorickshaw ride away from NJP. Buses to various routes ply from Siliguri.
It was the morning of a national holiday in India, the Republic day- 26th January. On this happy occasion the cabbie of the shared jeep to Darjeeling increased the price of each seat of the jeep from INR 200 to INR 250. The jeep took almost an hour to get filled.
Me and Sayan were the first passengers so we got the two front seats beside the driver.
As the jeep rolled forward I could feel the mountain girl in me getting excited. This is the first time in life I would get the two love of my life together: Sayan and the Himalayas.
The greenery of the wooded road and the blue sky put a smile on my face. The jeep was rising up an incline. We were vertically moving away from river Teesta and watching colourful houses go by on both side of the road when finally I gave in to my sleepy eyes and Sayan’s welcoming shoulders.
Ten minutes after I woke up we got the first sighting of Mount Kanchenjunga. The last time I had seen Kanchenjunga was in 2011 from Sikkim. I had been to Darjeeling once before when I was a school kid of eighth standard but Kanchenjunga was for the entire time hidden behind the veil of cloud.
The driver politely asked me to stop my paranoid camera madness and re-assured me of continuous good weather in the days to come. Little did he know he would be proved wrong.
A very steep climb and direction from locals brought us to Dr.Zakir Hussain Road. More than a road it felt like an alley. The buildings on both the sides of the road looked residential; the rustling of the bright pink flowers was clearly audible in the pin drop silence.
Mr.Banerjee impressed me with the choice of the hotel. We were given a warm welcome by the ever smiling host.
After the much needed afternoon siesta we set off to chase the Darjeeling sunset.
Darjeeling Mall Road and Kanchenjunga
We haven’t seen Mount Kanchenjunga since alighting from the jeep. Not that the weather wasn’t good, we were not on the right side of the mountain. The road runs in a loop around the Darjeeling Mall.
I was expecting a very busy Mall Road- the heart of all actions in Darjeeling, but, winter seemed to have dampened everybody’s energy. No I am not complaining, rather I was feeling happy. I like visiting places when the tourist rush is minimum; it is not only pocket friendly but also gives one a chance to socialise with the actual locals.
We followed the crowd and round the loop we went. I escalated my speed. Fear of missing the sunset grabbed me.
Whenever there was a streetside vendor in sight, “Mujhe ek mimi dena” was what the local youth crowding the vendor chanted. Now, I had to know what this mimi stands for.
Hot steaming noodles in a bowl of soup were served to all who asked for mimi! So I learned Mimi is an instant noodles brand loved by the younger generation in Darjeeling!
My legs finally took me to the point from where the Kanchenjunga was visible. The sky wasn’t lit up in the fiery yellow hue. It wasn’t time for sunset yet. We seated ourselves and watched the whitewashed peak for minutes until I couldn’t take the cold anymore and craved for tea.
The chilly wind cut through our skin as we finished walking through the loop and ended up again in the Darjeeling Mall. In the Open Air Theatre , some local children were sharpening their hip hop dance style while others were just having a good time with friends and family.
Meanwhile, we, the ‘newly wed couple’ were busy tossing coins to decide who gets to shoot the sunset.
The husband as usual had to give in.
Dinner At Glenary’s
Glenary’s is one of the most popular bakeries in Darjeeling. The ground floor of Glenary’s is for all the baked goodies whereas the first floor is for fine dining. I have a craving for all things sweet. So straight we walked in. We were hungry. Consuming just cakes weren’t good enough to satisfy our gurgling stomach.
In our frugal lifestyle we don’t fine dine a lot but we were happy to splurge on the occasion of our honeymoon dinner. Surprisingly the rate card turned out to be quite pocket-friendly!
This is the first time we were in a restaurant with a fancy fire place. We loved the ambiance of the place and had a sumptuous dinner of beef steak potatoes (INR 295) and baked cheese macaroni (INR 285).
After watching me photograph each brick of the restaurant I wonder what the fine dining regulars were saying behind my back.
Good Night Darjeeling
The handful shops that were open in the hilly town were now pulling down the shutters. The cold was penetrating through all three layers of winter garments that we had worn.
We crossed the mall road, the stable, the roadside food counters and started ascending up Dr.Zakir Hussain Road. It was almost pitch dark and pin drop silent.
Compared to the rest of India women are generally safe in the Himalayan settlements. I have faced more number of eve teasers and gropers just one block away from my home than I have in my several travels in the Himalayas. At ‘worst’ those interactions could be described as innocent flirting as opposed to security threats.
Though I have walked numerous times in the dark and silent streets of several Himalayan towns and valleys, saying I wasn’t afraid of this one would be a lie. In my mind I was calculating the possibilities of being attacked, robbed, and raped by goons. From Mr.Banerjee’s silence I understood he was probably worrying about the same.
We breathed a sigh of relief when our host greeted us with a broad smile.
“Good Night Ma’am; good night Sir.”
Sure. It was our honeymoon, how can we not have a good night? 😉
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