For us, a trip to North Bengal was forever in the ‘To Do’ list for as long as I can remember. Just as the winters in Jaipur were fading away, we set our long-pending plan in motion, on a whim. The little that we have travelled together has mostly been about getting away from the routine for a couple days. This was our first ‘vacation’ together.
We don’t go seeking adventure and thrill. For most in our generation, that’s a ‘boring’ way to travel. For me (us), the people we meet, the stories we find, the experiences we have while seemingly doing nothing of interest, are what makes traveling worthwhile. To each his own, I say! Besides, in the husband’s case, there was a heavy dose of nostalgia associated with this trip.
Darjeeling was the first stop in our 9-day-long itinerary. The cab we took from Bagdogra dropped us off near the town station on the cold, and wet March evening.
Weather in the hills is unpredictable which kind of adds to the charm. The chill in the air was rather refreshing, after being in transit for almost 24 hours, a large part of which was spent waiting at the Delhi Airport.
As we stood navigating Google Maps to figure out the location of our stay, a local cabbie approached us. The husband was confident that the place wasn’t too far and had even figured out the way to reach it but the skeptic in me didn’t want to take the risk of getting lost with luggage et al, in the dark. The cab dropped us near our hotel, well actually a homestay. A minute long walk down the steep slope – which turned out to the extension of the way Mr.B had figured out – took us to the apartment building that houses Serenity Home.
Our initial reaction was that of disappointment. Who stays in a flat in the hills! And then we entered our neat room with the wall to wall glass window. The most stunning view of the hill town – tiny dots of light in in the distance – welcomed us.
The homestay was not very far from Mall Road and yet afforded us the luxury of staying away from congested area where most economic stays are located. It was a very basic setup with the option of having typical home-cooked Nepali meals, if we so wished. But we had other plans.
10 minutes later, we had freshened up and headed uphill in search of momos, to be followed by a stop at the well-known Joey’s Pub, oft frequented by the man who introduced neo-Bangaliana to the indigenous film industry of Bengal (pity he’s creativity has gone down the drains lately). Everything in the hills shuts down relatively early. We ate our first meal in the hills at Penang’s, barely a few steps aways from Joey’s Pub, instead of going to one of the more recognizable places further up.
You have to walk up a narrow flight of stairs to enter Penang. It’s more a locals’ favorite than a tourist attraction. And it is also surprisingly spacious inside. The warm yellow light and comfortable sofas – resembling that of a diner – were rather inviting. Just as we seated ourselves in the mostly empty restaurant – it was almost closing time – a small, smiling man came towards us with the menu. Momos were over, he said apologetically. So we went in for thukpa and a plateful of pork sides. The food arrived fairly soon and the first mouthful of that delicious light broth signaled to us what a great trip this was going to be!
A friend joined us, just as we were digging into the sides. Our smiling host came back, to enquire if we needed anything else, although it was a few minutes past their closing time. We ordered another plate of sides, sinful pork fries. His smile broadened towards those small eyes, almost making them invisible, while we gushed about the food. As we took our leave, he asked us to come by the next evening for the momos (and we did).
With the warm fuzzy feeling that a good meal always entails, we entered the small, and crowded Joey’s Pub. Perks of having friends in the right places is sorely understated! Notwithstanding the full to brim capacity, the lone helper arranged seats for us, quite soon. We had a lot of catching up to do.
As we rambled on over rum and toddy, The Beatles and Bob Dylan did their routine in the background. We were the last ones to leave, a good two hours later, slightly high and extremely happy at the prospect of hiking through the woods to Senchel Lake — a well-kept secret not too many people know of, let alone access — on the morrow.
Back at Serenity Home, we threw open the windows, letting the mountain chill come in. Mr.B lit his umpteenth cigarette, as we gazed at the settlements afar. Strangely, we didn’t feel half as tired as we do in the plains, if we are even fourth as much active through the day! Not wanting to stretch our day further, we retired to bed.
I don’t know what made me wake up early enough to see the orange of the rising sun struggling to pierce through the thick fog, as a flock of tiny, white birds kept circling the tree right beneath our window.
Mr.B showed no sign of waking up, so I curled up underneath the blankets again, to steal a few more winks, which was not nearly enough considering I was to doze off at Glenary’s in the afternoon!