Sunday, April 10, 2016

1 September 2015 – Gorakhpur to Darjeeling - Day 12

It would be over 700 km from Gorakhpur to Darjeeling. I left Gorakhpur early to ensure that I reached the hill station before sundown. The car park attendant had been true to his word. The car was in the condition in which I had parked it there the previous evening. Vandalism of the car near Srinagar (Uttarakhand) had shaken me up. I became extremely cautious about leaving the car unattended. The first 500 km of the drive went off smoothly and was done in about seven hours. The balance 200 plus km took almost that time. It was indeed frustrating to drive on the lousy SH63 between Araria and Bagdogra. That experience was compounded by a holdup for 80 minutes to enter the Darjeeling road from Bagdogra.

The scenic drive up the hill via Kurseong and Ghoom was indeed romantic, but risky as well due to the thick mist and rain. The road is extremely narrow and winding. I lost the turn off to Darjeeling and realized it about 10 km later. To turn and get back to the correct road was a herculean task given the narrow space and the mist. However, the Champion took the roads very well. Closer to the ORH in Darjeeling I kept losing the way and retracing over treacherous drains and loose boulders. Finally, after nearly an hour of back and forth, I reached the beautiful colonial style building that served as the ORH, Craigmont.  I was hungry, and fairly angry too, because of the long hours behind the wheel and the frustrations that creeping up after Araria. Moreover, the staff in the ORH told me that it was too late in the night to make any food, and that too for just one person. When I explained the drive I was on they agreed to rustle up something quickly. I freshened up in the lovely accommodation and was admiring the furniture and ‘history on the wall’ when dinner was announced. Ha the taste of the hot, hot phulkas, dal, sabji and achar with omelet is still fresh on the palate! I paid the ORH charges before going to bed because I wanted to leave early as I had another long drive ahead the next day.

Darjeeling, at an elevation of over 2000 metres, was established as a colonial hill station in the mid-19th century with the British setting up a military depot and a sanatorium. The area is noted for its tea industry where hybrid varieties were planted and new fermentation techniques were introduced that gave Darjeeling tea a distinctive flavor. The spectacular views of the Kanchenjunga, which is the third highest mountain in the world, is another attraction. The Darjeeling Hill Railway is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The services still operate with steam locomotives. Darjeeling enjoys administrative autonomy within the state of West Bengal and has seen fierce protests for a separate Gorkhaland State.
With the conclusion of the twelfth day of the expedition I have done over 3700 km and 7500 km since starting out from Cochin.

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