I just love traveling but can hardly be considered a much traveled person. If it sounds paradoxical, it is not. A full-time job which hardly allows for any vacation means that I have not travelled much, though I always look forward to going to new places, meeting new people, trying new food, and experiencing new customs.
However, a welcome opportunity came my way recently, when I decided to change jobs. So, I decided on a short break to the quiet and sleepy hill station, Kurseong. It is about 70 kms from the famous Hill station Darjeeling, famed amongst other things, for its tea. Kurseong is where you will find the Makaibari Tea Estate, which produces one of best aromatic Darjeeling tea, which also happens to be the most expensive tea in the world!
It is not really that popular with tourists, who prefer to go to Darjeeling or maybe Kalimpong. I wanted a break and not really a sight-seeing expedition. So, Kurseong made perfect sense. Moreover, I was going at the beginning of the rainy season, so there would be even fewer tourists. Perfect!
Now, to reach Kurseong from Kolkata, you need to first travel to Siliguri, by bus, train or flight. I decided on the overnight train ride by the Darjeeling Mail.
I don’t know if this happens to you, but I always have this feeling of anticipation mixed with dread, at the commencement of any journey about who my co-passengers will be. Dread, because if you meet someone whom you find boring, the journey, especially a long train journey, can seem longer. And, why anticipation? Because nothing gives me more pleasure than meeting interesting new people and learning about them, from them and generally having a good time! A good example would be a recent chat I had with a very knowledgeable social scientist, who is studying the different lakes in India, and the ecological impact of various human activities on them. But, more of that another day…
I reached Sealdah station quite early and on boarding the train, for quite a long time the compartment was empty. But, about ten minute before departure time, suddenly all the berths were filled up. I sighed heavily, on finding a couple travelling with their two kids, who it seemed, would not be much interesting conversation partners. My disappointment turned to despair, when two more men boarded, who immediately starting making arrangements to have alcohol, which they had smuggled into the train. Family with two boisterous kids and two potential alcoholics! Great start to the trip!
Anyways, the train commenced its journey, and all settled down. The family of four settled down to have their dinner( and no, the kids were not really boisterous…yet), the two men stepped out of the compartment to settle the bottle of whisky( I guess) and Know-All settled down into a sulk, trying to read a Time magazine.
After maybe an hour, I got restless, and decided to step out of the A.C. compartment and stand by the train’s door to get some fresh air. I found the two men sipping their drink from small bottles. We exchanged hellos. I was keen on maintaining a snobbish distance. But, turns out the men were quite nice and friendly, who happen to have a strong craving for alcohol. Both were professionals who worked in Northern Bengal, and they were on their way to their work towns. They asked me, where I was headed.
Kurseong, I said.
Why to Kurseong? Do you have work there?
No, I am going as a tourist.
But, why Kurseong? There’s nothing to see in Kurseong!
I have been there once before last year, and I love the peace and calm of the place. And, I enjoy long walks down empty roads. Kurseong is perfect for that.
Let’s just say, the men were not convinced by my arguments, and they gave me a list of other places which I ought to visit, which were much more beautiful, according to them. But, the important thing is, I had to change my opinion about them. They were basically nice people.
Next morning, as is usual with me, I woke up really early. Since every other soul was fast asleep, I decided to take out my camera and take some shots of the countryside from the train. This happened for couple of hours, by which time, the travelers had also woken up. The kids were lively, talkative and giving a tough time to their parents. In short, just like any other normal kid. The family was traveling back, after having spent their vacation with their grandparents. The remaining trip passed seeing their antics. In spite of my initial misgivings, I found that all my co-passengers were normal, nice people. The ride was not that bad, after all.
Soon, the train entered New Jalpaiguri Station, and it was time to say hurried goodbyes and be on our way.
It was time for the last leg of the journey.