Imagine this, having returned from a long and tiring trip you report to the office and immediately you are asked to put your thoughts into the word processor so that the whole world reads about the places you have seen.
Sounds easy isn’t it? But life is not on a high for a travel writer with IHR. Most of the time on a short trip, you are challenged with how to squeeze more information in the minimum time. You need the best of photographs capturing the slice of a culture in a single snapshot along with the regular attractions, loads of information about the hotels- rates, accommodation et al, distances along with fares and most importantly reproducing the same excitement and movements of a trip that more often than not makes you feel how farcical about the line “be a Travel Writer and get paid to see the world”.
This time the places assigned were as diverse as Mayapur Dham, Darjeeling, Pelling and Gangtok all within 10 days which meant absolutely no time for any relaxation and traveling leisurely.
My first stop was Kolkata’s Sealdah station. A bustling place, which comes to buzz early in the morning, a scene quite contrary to Delhi’s way.
My first destination was Mayapur Dham the birthplace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. I took the first local train available for Navadweep the nearest railway station for Mayapur Dham. Navadweep is around 2 and a half hours journey from Sealdah.Navadweepa as I found hold on its own as a tourist attraction for a variety of temples and Vaishnava Mathas.
From Navadweep to get to Mayapurdham the best option is to cross the expansive Ganges on a boat from the jetty. Braving a boat ride along with people, cycles and livestock which was no mean task in itself but listening to the unfamiliar conversation amid bit of trepidation was an altogether new experience.
From Mayapur a short Rickshaw Ride took me to the famed ISKCON Temple complex. Spread over hundreds of acres, the place is far removed from the stark reality outside the temple precincts.It was a solemn place with large number of foreigners all with big tilak on their foreheads and wearing Dhotis and white Saris chanting prayers throughout the day.
Finished with the ISKCON Temple I headed for Krishna Nagar by a local bus to get a convenient train ride back to Kolkata. An ingenuity of a vendor selling Lassi using the railings as racks for keeping his wares caught my attention and I could not resist taking a snap.
Back to Kolkata and I was on Kanchenjungha Express ready to venture to my next set of destinations. Darjeeling, Pelling and Gangtok. For Darjeeling I had to get down at the NJP station. NJP or NEW Jalpaiguri station is the gateway to the North East. As It was not a tourist season ( It was during February) the station gave a secluded look and the railway over bridge was one of the most clean I found on the railway station in india.
Plenty of taxies are available at the NJP railway station for Darjeeling. The 4 hours drive in a share Taxi through the picturesque sceneries and not so comfortable roads cost me Rs 220. The route bypasses the Siliguri Town and links to national highway 55 for Darjeeling. Darjeeling is really beautiful and with the arrival of the malls and multiplexes does not look that much of an isolated hill station.
IF you are South Indian and love Tea then these two things should excite you. Hotel Lunar in the heart of the city provides sumptuous South Indian specialties and Tawang Tea Stall sells finest quality Darjeeling Tea at Rs 5 per cup.
My next destination was Pelling in Sikkim 120 kilometers from Darjeeeling. Tourists to Pelling should note here one or two vital things that I found out. (i) There are no direct vehicle available for Pelling from Darjeeling during off seasons .(ii) You have to reach a place called Jorethang almost midway (iii) From Jorethang you do not get any vehicle for Pelling after 4 in the evening.
Pelling at around 6800 feet is a beautiful place and relatively peaceful perhaps also as I was not in the height of the tourist season. Again a piece of information for travelers, I was told that after 2 pm you can’t get any vehicle for outside from Pelling. This puts a lot of discomfiture to harried travelers like me.
Finally my last destination was Gangtok the capital of Sikkim at a distance of around 120 km from Pelling. Gangtok is a beautiful place and moves at a leisurely pace with no body in any hurry.
From Gangtok plenty of transportation is available for different places. After spending a night I Traveled back to NJP in a share Taxi for Rs 350 and took North east express for Delhi to end my sojourn in the east and north east India.