While Kashmir is closed to the holiday-makers, Darjeeling is reopened. The agitation there has ended, thanks to Mr. Jyoti Basu. Which places one more feather in his presently feather-burdened cap. Though half a feather may be withdrawn for the manner in which the Calcutta municipal elections were allowed to be conducted.
For some reason; Darjeeling is not a popular holiday destination for Bombay. The Bombayman takes his family to Kashmir or Singapore.
As a matter of fact, Darjeeling is one of our loveliest holiday destinations, a little dirty and short on hygiene, but so is Srinagar (probably dirtier) and Shimla. Only the hill-stations in the South are clean, Ooty, Kodaikanal.
Darjeeling is also a little difficult for the Bombayman ro reach, involving multiple changes, Kashmir is a mere hop and skip, if all fights are running on time, which they are not likely to be. Bombay, Delhi and Srinagar in time for lunch. For Darjeeling, you have to first go across the length and breadth of India to Calcutta, then a flight to Bagdogra, then a car to Siliguri then the mountain railway to Darjeeling.
The only time I went to Darjeeling, I spent a week in Calcutta, then took a night bus from Calcutta to Siliguri, spending an uncomfortable night with a Bengali passenger, mustard oil in his hair, going to sleep on my shoulder.
I do not know that we passed through during the long night, but in the morning there were rows upon rows of tea gardens with Booke Bond ladies plucking leaves. And at Siliguri, which was reached late on the following day, I shared a taxi with three other passengers and two goats, and went up along a winding trail to a Budhhist heaven.
The train (or was it trains?) passed and repassed us all through the afternoon, people waving to us from its windows and doors, and the engine whistling with joy, in spite of the strain of dragging the train up. Beyond Kurseong, the upper levels were covered in mist and through the mist I could hear the lamas blowing on their long trumpets.
Darjeeling itself was busy, bustling and standing in three tiers. We arrived at the lowest tier, which is the bazar, the bus and taxi terminus, the butchery, the policestation, a crowd of hotel touts. The local population resides on the second tier, the tourists on the third. And all around are the mountains, the real Himalayas. Before climbing up to your hotel, you may stop at a local Tibetan restaurant and have a Chinese-Tebetan meal at a fraction of the price it would cost you in Bombay Happiness.