Sunday, 19 July 2015

Darjeeling Trip: Toy Trains to Tea Estates

Any trip to Darjeeling can not be considered complete without visiting it's tea estates, for which the place is renowned all over the world. The heritage toy trains are also a major tourist attraction of Darjeeling. The scenery, that unfolds before your eyes, while taking a ride in the toy train, can be a surreal experience. During my trip, i had the opportunity to explore these two famous T's of Darjeeling, i.e. Tea Estates and Toy Train.

Tea Estates

As we all know, Darjeeling is one of the largest producer of premium tea in the world and the place reaches to all Indian homes through the rich aroma of tea produced here. While having Darjeeling tea sitting at your home may be a stimulating experience, a stroll through the tea gardens and interaction with tea workers may also be a memorable one. 

Tea Garden at Mirik, Darjeeling

There are many tea estates in Darjeeling area and some of them were established in the post-independence era by our colonial cousins. In fact the tea plantation was introduced in this area by the Britishers only. One can visit these gardens after taking permission from the manager of estate. Some tea estates in Darjeeling area also offer vacation packages to tourists to experience life in the gardens along with stays in heritage bungalows, plus musical and cultural activities that are rarely found anywhere else in the world. 

Some of the most renowned tea estates are : Makaibari, Glenberg, Happy Valley, Singtom and Gomtee.

Toy Trains

Apart from the tea gardens, Darjeeling has one more major tourist attraction, which finds it's place in the wishlist of each tourist travelling to the hill station, i.e. the toy trains of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR). It has been accorded UNESCO World Heritage status due to engineering acumen and creative skills employed in it's construction, making it the 2nd Railway in the world to receive such status. The toy trains are also the legacy of the British rule. Operating on narrow gauge tracks since 1880s, these steam engine toy trains offer unique ride through breath-taking landscapes, picturesque mountains, villages and shops on the way with children waving at you. 

Though DHR operates toy trains between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling covering total distance of around 80 kms, the most preferred section by the tourists is Ghum (the highest railway station of Asia) to Darjeeling, a 7 km long track. The train moves along the hilly terrain with snail's pace, taking around 2 hours to complete 14 km journey from Ghum to Darjeeling and back. The train operates 04 times a day between Ghum & Darjeeling. One advice for travelers wishing to board these joyride trains - Please book your tickets in advance, as you may not get it over the counter due to heavy rush of tourists.  Online Ticket booking may be made through the website of IRCTC.

Tourists, while reaching Darjeeling city by road, can see the toy train running parallel to the Hill kart road and climbing up to the famous Batasia loop. 

It stops here for 10 minutes giving the tourists opportunity to capture the magnificent views of Darjeeling town and snow caped ranges of Mt. Kanchandzonga. Batasia loop has itself been developed as a tourist place with manicured garden and a war memorial at the centre.

Toy Train near Batasia Loop

View of Mt. Kanchandzonga from Batasia Loop

Joyride Train 

View of Darjeeling Town from Batasia Loop

War Memorial built in the honor of Gorkha Soldiers
The place has been picturized in many Hindi and Bangla movies and the most notable of them is the song "Mere Sapno Ki Rani" from the movie Aaradhana picturized on the superstar Rajesh Khanna, Sharmila Tagore and Sujeet Kumar. You can compare the Batasia loop of 1969 (the year, Aaaradhana released) and now. I will leave you with the melodious and evergreen tune of the legendary music composer S D Burman. Enjoy!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

यात्रा और यात्री (Travel and Traveler)

 साँस चलती है तुझे
 चलना पड़ेगा ही मुसाफिर!

चल रहा है तारकों का
दल गगन में गीत गाता,
चल रहा आकाश भी है
शून्य में भ्रमता-भ्रमाता,
                 पाँव के नीचे पड़ी
                 अचला नहीं, यह चंचला है,
एक कण भी, एक क्षण भी
एक थल पर टिक न पाता,
                 शक्तियाँ गति की तुझे
                 सब ओर से घेरे हुए है;
                 स्थान से अपने तुझे
                 टलना पड़ेगा ही, मुसाफिर!
         साँस चलती है तुझे
         चलना पड़ेगा ही मुसाफिर!

थे जहाँ पर गर्त पैरों
को ज़माना ही पड़ा था,
पत्थरों से पाँव के
छाले छिलाना ही पड़ा था,
                 घास मखमल-सी जहाँ थी
                 मन गया था लोट सहसा,
थी घनी छाया जहाँ पर
तन जुड़ाना ही पड़ा था,
                 पग परीक्षा, पग प्रलोभन
                 ज़ोर-कमज़ोरी भरा तू
                 इस तरफ डटना उधर
                 ढलना पड़ेगा ही, मुसाफिर;
         साँस चलती है तुझे
         चलना पड़ेगा ही मुसाफिर!

शूल कुछ ऐसे, पगो में
चेतना की स्फूर्ति भरते,
तेज़ चलने को विवश
करते, हमेशा जबकि गड़ते,
                 शुक्रिया उनका कि वे
                 पथ को रहे प्रेरक बनाए,
किन्तु कुछ ऐसे कि रुकने
के लिए मजबूर करते,
                 और जो उत्साह का
                 देते कलेजा चीर, ऐसे
                 कंटकों का दल तुझे
                 दलना पड़ेगा ही, मुसाफिर;
         साँस चलती है तुझे
         चलना पड़ेगा ही मुसाफिर!

सूर्य ने हँसना भुलाया,
चंद्रमा ने मुस्कुराना,
और भूली यामिनी भी
तारिकाओं को जगाना,
                 एक झोंके ने बुझाया
                 हाथ का भी दीप लेकिन
मत बना इसको पथिक तू
बैठ जाने का बहाना,
                 एक कोने में हृदय के
                 आग तेरे जग रही है,
                 देखने को मग तुझे
                 जलना पड़ेगा ही, मुसाफिर;
         साँस चलती है तुझे
         चलना पड़ेगा ही मुसाफिर!

वह कठिन पथ और कब
उसकी मुसीबत भूलती है,
साँस उसकी याद करके
भी अभी तक फूलती है;
                 यह मनुज की वीरता है
                 या कि उसकी बेहयाई,
साथ ही आशा सुखों का
स्वप्न लेकर झूलती है
                 सत्य सुधियाँ, झूठ शायद
                 स्वप्न, पर चलना अगर है,
                 झूठ से सच को तुझे
                 छलना पड़ेगा ही, मुसाफिर;
         साँस चलती है तुझे
         चलना पड़ेगा ही मुसाफिर!
                                      - हरिवंश राय बच्चन 

The Road not taken!

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair, 
And having perhaps the better claim 
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 
Though as for that, the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way 
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.

                                          - Robert Frost

Monday, 18 May 2015

Music of the Mountains - The Art of Sikkim

Apart from it's magnificent and scenic Landscapes, Mountains are known for it's soulful and mellifluous music. Sikkim, a tranquil hill station in Eastern Himalayas is known for it's beautiful blend of music and dance forms of three communities - Lepcha, Bhutia and Nepali. Folk dances and songs have been ingrained in the culture of Sikkim. The music and dance forms of Sikkim have the ability to transport the audience to another world and leave them spell-bound like it's snow-caped mountain ranges, fast-flowing rivers, flora and fauna. 

It is often believed that in order to know the people of any region, it is better to know about their songs, dances and other forms of entertainment. If you are in Sikkim, I would suggest you to discover the melodious music and elegant dance forms. If you are lucky enough, you will get to watch dancing and singing performances of local artists, while roaming around M G Road. During my stay at Sikkim, i got to witness many wonderful performances, some of which, i still remember.

Here, I have attempted to present some Bhutia and Nepali songs, which are immensely popular in the hilly state. I hope, you will enjoy listening these folk songs.

Music of Himachal and Uttarakhand does also fascinates me, though i have not heard much. If you would like to share your thoughts on music of the hills, you are most welcome. 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

An Unforgettable Trip to Tiger Hills, Darjeeling!

In our sojourn to Darjeeling, the first day was spent on travelling from Gangtok to Darjeeling and roaming around Mall Road of the city. On 2nd day, we had to visit Tiger Hills in the early morning to catch glimpse of Sunrise in the Mountains. It is said that if you are in Darjeeling, you must visit Tiger Hills. We had also heard numerous times from our friends in Sikkim that the views of snow-caped ranges of Mt. Kanchanjangha and Mt. Everest at sunrise from this spot were breathtaking and worth-watching, so we were quite eager to visit the place. 

We had to start at 3:00 AM from our hotel in order to reach Tiger Hills before the sunrise, as the place is around 15 km away from the main city and secondly, the sun rises as early as 04:00 AM in the Mountains.Tiger Hill is nothing, but a sunrise point in Darjeeling from where whole range of Mt. Kanchanjangha can be seen bathing in the golden rays of the sun.

We started at 03:00 in the morning, sacrificing our best hours of sleep. As the vehicle was hired in advance, we reached at the spot well before the sunrise, thinking that we were the only early birds. However, after walking some distance towards the hilltop, we realized that we were wrong, as a huge gathering was already present at the venue, wrestling for occupying the front seats. All the seats in the building erected at the sunrise point were occupied by the time, we reached there. It was a chilly winter night and we were shivering with cold, being in an open space at the highest point in Darjeeling area (altitude of 8482 ft). All including me were waiting eagerly for the sun to rise and hoping for a clear sunny day, so that the snow-laden mountain peaks can be seen in the most beautiful form.

Tiger Hill Pavilion

It was around 04:15 AM, when the sun rays dawned upon us and a long agonizing wait came to an end. Suddenly, people started running to find a good view-point, from where both the rising sun and the giant Himalayan ranges could be captured in cameras.

The view of sunrise making everything look orange was spectacular and it's reflection on snow-white mountain ranges turning them into a giant gold heap left us completely spell-bound.

Sunrise as seen from Tiger Hills

Though the mountain peaks were covered by the clouds, we managed to capture some good images of those peaks. Just being there itself was a wonderful experience.

Mt. Kanchanjangha ranges

In the next post, we will explore famous Batasia Loop, Tea Gardens and other tourist spots of Darjeeling. Till then Sayonara!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Darjeeling: The queen of Hill Stations in India!

After a series of posts on Mysore, a heritage city of southern Indian peninsula, now is the time to travel up the Northern hills of Mighty Himalayas and this time, it is Darjeeling, the queen of Eastern Himalayas. Darjeeling is one of those places in India, which needs no introduction, as it has many facets to be famous and known by all. I have been exploring various parts of mystic Sikkim during my stay at Gangtok for 03 years and a trip to Darjeeling was on the cards from the day one, being the neighboring area of Sikkim. 
What i observed during my several trips to Sikkim and Darjeeling was that Sikkim was relatively untouched and less explored territory, where one could unravel many gems of natural beauty, whereas, Darjeeling had certain heritage value apart from having plenty of  natural landscapes, flora and fauna. The place is famous among all classes of travelers for it's six T's - Tea, Teak, Tourism, Tiger Hills, Trekking and Toy Train.

To explore these six T's of Darjeeling, one fine morning, we, a group of 08 persons started our trip to Darjeeling from Gangtok. It was a 4 hours (nearly 95 km) smooth ride mostly on serpentine and curvaceous NH-31A, the lifeline of Sikkim, which connects it to the rest of India. For us, it was like, first going down the hill into the planes and then again going up the hill, as Darjeeling is comparatively at higher altitude. Topographically, there is no difference between Sikkim and Darjeeling. The only difference, one can make out between the two is that the later falls in West Bengal district.

With in two hours of our journey, we had crossed Rangpo, a border town of Sikkim and had left NH-31A after Jorethang for the road (Lebong Cart Road) leading to Darjeeling. We had gone hardly a few kilometers from Jorethang and a beautiful sight of confluence of Teesta & Rangit, two major rivers of Sikkim greeted us.

Confluence of Teesta & Rangit Rivers
As we were moving up the road leading to Darjeeling, the weather was getting colder and fog was engulfing the surroundings. Soon, we crossed Lamahatta eco-tourism park and a good travel destination in itself, regarding which i will write separately. 

After another hour's journey through the famous Hill Cart Road, we had entered dazzling Darjeeling. At the entry point, our vehicle's papers were checked at the check post and we entered the city with high anticipation of fun and joy in exploring the famous hill station. As we were slowly snaking up the hills, a narrow-gauge railway track along the road grabbed our attention and we instantly realized that this is the track on which the famous toy trains of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway ply. soon, Ghum Railway Station was before our eyes. 
Ghum Railway Station
Ghum Railway Station is the highest Railway Station in India located at the height of around 7400 ft. A joy ride in the toy train from Ghum to Batasiya Loop, Darjeeling offering magnificent views may be a wonderful experience for travelers. 

We had reached there by 02:00 PM and decided to look for hotels for our night stay. Darjeeling has plenty of all budget hotels and it didn't take much time to search hotel rooms. After settling in the rooms, we started exploring local markets and famous Mall Road, popularly known as Chowrasta.

The Chowrasta is the heart of Darjeeling town. It's a flat land where tourists and locals come to enjoy in the sun and watch the wonderful views of the mountain peaks and valleys all around sitting on the benches. Here, you will find some of the old and heritage stores lined up on one side, and open view on the other with many pine trees all around. If you want to feel the real vibe of Darjeeling, Chowrasta is the right  place for you. You may also notice many young local fellows with their ponies offering horse rides to tourists.
Chowrasta at Darjeeling
Cultural Programme for tourists at Hawa Ghar, Chowrasta
We took a stroll in the bustling mall road, did some shopping of woolen clothing, for which the place is also famous for and enjoyed the cultural & musical programme going on at Chowrasta. We returned to our hotel taking colourful memories of Mall Road with us and thinking to visit the place again, if time permits. 

Next Morning, we had to start for Tiger Hills, a tourist spot, from where the magnificent view of the ranges of Mt. Kanchanjangha can be seen in a sunny morning. In the next post, i will take you all to Tiger Hills and many other tourist places of Darjeeling. Till then Adios!

नालंदा के खंडहर! (The ruins of Nalanda!)

नालंदा विश्वविद्यालय के अवशेष!

कल्पना का गीत:

यह खँडहर किस स्वर्ण-अजिर का?
धूलों में सो रहा टूटकर रत्नशिखर किसके मन्दिर का?
यह खँडहर किस स्वर्ण-अजिर का?

यह किस तापस की समाधि है?
किसका यह उजड़ा उपवन है?
ईंट-ईंट हो बिखर गया यह
किस रानी का राजभवन है?

यहाँ कौन है, रुक-रुक जिसको
रवि-शशि नमन किये जाते हैं?
जलद तोड़ते हाथ और
आँसू का अर्ध्य दिये जाते हैं?

प्रकृति यहाँ गम्भीर खड़ी
किसकी सुषमा का ध्यान रही कर?
हवा यहाँ किसके वन्दन में
चलती रुक-रुक, ठहर-ठहर कर?

है कोई इस शून्य प्रान्त में
जो यह भेद मुझे समझा दे,
रजकण में जो किरण सो रही
उसका मुझको दरस दिखा दे?

इतिहास का उत्तर:

कल्पने! धीरे-धीरे गा!
यह टूटा प्रासाद सिद्धि का, महिमा का खँडहर है,
ज्ञानपीठ यह मानवता की तपोभूमि उर्वर है।
इस पावन गौरव-समाधि को सादर शीश झुका।
कल्पने! धीरे-धीरे गा!

-- रामधारी सिंह "दिनकर"

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Ten ways to remain happy in Life

As we all know that the happiness is the best gift one can give to and receive from others. In today's world, when we have started joining the blind race for achieving materialistic well being, happiness has become a scarce commodity. Happy are those people, who live life on their own conditions, live simplistic and contented life. Late Mr. Khushwant Singh, noted writer and columnist was one such person, who lived life on his own terms, aired his views on everything bluntly and straight-forwardly and inspired a whole lot of our generation with his witty and humorous take on different aspects of life. At the advanced age of 96, he gave us 10 rules to stay happy in life in his article "how to live and die". I think, these practical rules are more relevant in today's world, especially for those, who are in constant pursuit of happiness, but don't know the right way. 

Here i am reproducing his article for the benefit of those, who have not come across this fabulous piece of writing by Mr. Khushwant Singh.

How to Stay Happy in Life:

First and foremost is good health. If you do not enjoy good health, you can never be happy. Any ailment, however trivial, will deduct something from your happiness.

                                                                                                                                                           Image Courtey:

Second, a healthy bank balance. It need not run into crores, but it should be enough to provide for comforts, and there should be something to spare for recreation— eating out, going to the movies, travel and holidays in the hills or by the sea. Shortage of money can be demoralising. Living on credit or borrowing is demeaning and lowers one in one’s own eyes.

Third, your own home. Rented places can never give you the comfort or security of a home that is yours for keeps. If it has garden space, all the better. Plant your own trees and flowers, see them grow and blossom, and cultivate a sense of kinship with them.
                                                                                                                                                                  Image Courtesy :

Fourth, an understanding companion, be it your spouse or a friend. 
If you have too many misunderstandings, it robs you of your peace of mind. It is better to be divorced than to be quarreling all the time.
                                                                                                                                                              Image Courtesy :

Fifth, stop envying those who have done better than you in life—risen higher, made more money, or earned more fame. Envy can be corroding; avoid comparing yourself with others.
                                                                                                                                                        Image Courtesy:

Sixth, do not allow people to descend on you for gup-shup. By the time you get rid of them, you will feel exhausted and poisoned by their gossip-mongering.
                                                          Whoever gossips to you, will gossip about you!                 Image Courtesy :

Seventh, cultivate a hobby or two that will fulfill you—gardening, reading, writing, painting, playing or listening to music. Going to clubs or parties to get free drinks, or to meet celebrities, is a criminal waste of time. It’s important to concentrate on something that keeps you occupied meaningfully.
                                                                                                                                                                     Image Courtesy :

Eighth, every morning and evening devote 15 minutes to introspection. In the mornings, 10 minutes should be spent in keeping the mind absolute!
                                                                                                                                                                       Image Courtesy :

Ninthdon’t lose your temper. Try not to be short-tempered, or vengeful. Even when a friend has been rude, just move on.

Tenth,  Above all, when the time comes to go, one should go like a man without any regret or grievance against anyone.  Iqbal said it beautifully in a couplet in Persian: “You ask me about the signs of a man of faith? When death comes to him, he has a smile on his lips.”

I would love to hear from you on how to be happy in life and do you think these rules are easy to be practised.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Srirangapatna : The Sultanate of Tipu Sultan!

As a last post in the series of Mysore Trip, i would take you to historical Srirangapatna, a place which has kept intact the legacy and heritage of it's erstwhile famous rulers, the land, which has been associated with the likes of Wodeyar Kings, Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan. Be it indefatigable spirit and valor of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, their rise and fall, betrayal for power or struggle with British rule, Srirangapatna has seen it all. If you have started thinking that the history of the place starts with these rulers, then you have made a wrong perception, as the city also boasts of the Ranganathswamy Temple, one of the oldest and the most important vaishnavite temples of South India. The city is surrounded by River Cauveri and has it's religious significance too.

On the last day of our Mysore Trip, we planned to visit Srirangapatna, which is 15 km away from Mysore city and falls in adjacent Mandya district of Karnataka. 

Honestly speaking, hearing the name of Srirangapatna, the first name, which comes to my mind is that of Tipu Sultan and the objective of our trip was also to discover his heroics and exploits. So, i along with my two friends went to Srirangapatna from Mysore by Auto and reached there in half an hour. The first spot, we visited was Tipu Sultan Summer Palace and Museum.

The Palace and museum is being maintained by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The site is open for public between 09:00 AM to 05:00 PM.

When i had entered the palace of Wodeyars at Mysore, i was mesmerized by it's grandeur and only thought, which crossed my mind was that how opulent the lifestyle of those kings was and how rich architecture, they had developed. In fact, the interiors of the palace and the artifacts kept at display were signalling towards the fact that they had less troubled life and they preferred to maintain cordial relationship with all. However, when i entered the palace of Tipu Sultan, the thought came to my mind that this palace must have been the centre of  many important activities of that era, from wresting control of Mysore by Tipu Sultan from the wodeyar rulers to the series of wars with the East India Company in an effort to keep Britishers at bay. Nothing would have been easy for this kingdom, as the enemies were mighty and cunning too. It would have been an uphill task for Haider Ali to wrest Srirangapatna from mighty wodeyars and sustain his hold over the regime amid prying eyes of British eagles looking to annex some territory and wodeyar kings with bruised ego, looking for an opportunity to snatch back their land. It would have been more arduous for Tipu Sultan to maintain the sovereignty of his sultanate extended to Mysore, for his heroics earned him more enemies (Britishers, Marathas and Nizam of Hyderabad) and more battles to win. Srirangapatna has been silent witness to both his victory and his decimation.

Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan

Inside the Palace
After having spent some time in power corridors of Mysore Principality, we visited the tomb of Tipu Sultan. There was huge gathering at the tomb that day. Some tiny shops selling wooden artifacts related to the local hero, such as sword, horses, guns and cannons were there, just outside the tomb premises, which meant, the tomb gets regular footfalls. As we went inside the tomb, we saw the cenotaphs of the illustrious trio, i.e. Tipu Sultan, his father Haider Ali and mother Fakrunnisa. Outside the main Gumbaz, there were cenotaphs of all the relatives of Tipu Sultan, his sisters, sister-in-laws, brother-in-laws and his step mother. The tomb is a grim reminder that nothing is eternal and permanent in this world, not even an empire. The Gumbaz was built by Tipu Sultan himself for his father and mother, who was oblivious of the future that someday, he will also be buried beside them.

Gumbaz: Tomb of Tipu Sultan

Picturesque Tomb amidst well-laid Garden

The Warriors resting in peace
From there, we proceeded to the Ranganath swamy temple and along the way, we came across the place, where the dead body of the Sultan was found. Not any big monument has been erected there, only a cement board displaying the information was found.
The place, where Tipu Sultan was found dead
After having some photographs of the site, we went first near River Cauveri (Kaveri), which is considered sacred in this region and then the famous temple of Lord Vishnu. The rivers have been held in reverence in all parts of India and river Cauveri is not an exception. The temple of Sri Ranganath Swamy Temple was also nearby and we went to offer prayers to Lord Ranganath, the manifestation of Lord Vishnu. The town of Srirangapatna has derived it's name from the temple and it's a major pilgrimage centre in South India. The temple was built in 948 AD in Vijayanagara Architecture and renovated during 12th century AD by Hoysala Kings.It is one of the five temples of Lord Ranganath, situated on the banks of river Cauveri. During my Mysore trip, this was the oldest temple, i visited and still it looked rock-solid. I was curious that how the temple has survived so long that too being located near a river, but this is the case with many temples in South India, which are centuries old and still going strong. The temple is being conserved by ASI as the monument of national importance. 

In the sanctum, there is idol of Lord Vishnu reclining on the coils of Sheshnaag with his wife Goddess Laxmi at his feet. This idol is considered one of the largest idol of Lord Vishnu. There are other smaller shrines too in the temple for other hindu gods. There are some other idols of Goddess Kali, which have been kept inside closed doors and devotees can only peep through small holes to have Darshana. The atmosphere at the temple was becoming highly spiritual with devotees chanting inside the temple premises. Spending some time in these tranquil abodes of God, one can feel the connect with the divine.
Ranganath swamy Temple
Now was the time to return to our hotel at Mysore and we started coming back with the satisfaction of seeing most of the Mysore in the last 5 days. But there was something, which we had missed so far and that came in our way only in fag end of our trip. St. Philomena Church, which is a gigantic and beautiful piece of Neo-Gothic Architecture. A brief halt at the magnificent church and our trip to Mysore was complete.

                                                                      St. Philomena Church, Mysore                                  

With this, we bade goodbye to a heritage city, which is also on the path of becoming one of the most modern city in India.

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