March 11, 2012

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Long weekend



The most comforting words in the dictionary of a techie. Like Gatorade to the distance runner, Clearasil to a teenager, beef to a Malayali and make-up to Simi Garewal, long weekends are crucial to the performance levels of a techie, and are therefore very well planned and very rarely wasted. So much so, that it is not uncommon to hear something like this at the office, before a long weekend:
Techie 1: Oye, what plans for the weekend?
Techie 2: I am going to native. You?
Techie 1: Oh, I have big plans. Tomorrow, first day, first show of  <Latest movie> at <Newest Multiplex>. Saturday, I have to take my kid for an admission interview at <Expensive Preschool>. Sunday, not sure, if I'm bored, I might buy the latest iPhone.  
Admittedly then, for those of us who are not exactly fascinated by multiplexes, preschools and iProducts, long weekends may not be as exciting. However, having experienced one too many such weekends during the first half of 2011, the techie in me was determined to make the last week of October count, as is evident from the below graphic.

The next step was to implore friends, neighbours and well-wishers to put aside other commitments and go on a trip. But on Diwali weekend? "No way boss. I have to watch Ra.One with my family." "I have to take my mother-in-law to Big Bazaar for the Prestige Cooker Grand Exchange Offer." "I have to buy gold at festival rates from Josco Jewellers for my darling spouse." And so on. I waited and waited for someone to change their mind, but no one did---so, I found myself on makemytrip.com looking for cheap flights out of Bangalore, for Adult: 1, Children: 0. A few days later, and I was on a flight to Kolkata.

Upon landing in Kolkata, I figured I needed 2 things--cheap accommodation and a map. Luckily for me, while trying to find a hotel in the city, I stumbled upon an impressive book market on College Street, with the satisfaction of someone who'd just spotted a bottle of Cognac in a government wine shop. Trying to find a map of Kolkata here soon proved to be as easy as finding a loophole in a Bollywood movie, and so I quickly got what I was looking for. After scanning the map for places that would interest a lazy traveller, I figured out that I was not far away from the M.G. Road Metro Station. Unaware that Kolkata even had an underground Metro, I was impressed to the point that the photographer in me took out a camera and shot purposefully, like Max Payne in God Mode at a bunch of villains. Many photos later, I was at Park Street where, as the sun began to set, the knowledge that I would be alone for a week began to set in. To counter this strange feeling, I turned into a tourist the next day--riding the tram to places of no particular interest, taking pictures of Howrah Bridge from every conceivable angle, sampling mishti doi and rosogolla for breakfast and drinking copious amounts of matka chai at every given opportunity. Later that evening, I took the Teesta Torsa express to New Jalpaiguri, from where, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway(DHR) should have taken me to Darjeeling.

However, due to landslides in the area around that time, the initial portion of the DHR line had been closed, with a shortened service operating from Kurseong to Darjeeling with a monumental delay. Finding myself in the primitive town of Kurseong with many hours to kill, I asked around for places of interest. A few locals got the hint and took me to a makeshift underground bar where I soon had familiar bottles and unfamiliar faces for company. Several chicken thukpas, pork shaptras and Tuborgs later, I had made some friends, killed some time, tasted some questionable chicken and was finally on the toy train to Darjeeling. The 40km uphill journey was undertaken with the urgency of a wounded snail--much to the disappointment of the honeymooners and techies on board, who lost interest as soon as their camera batteries started to die out. Some three hours later, the train trudged into Darjeeling Railway Station.

Arriving solo in Darjeeling, felt, for a while, like I had turned up at the Nürburgring in a prepaid auto--not entirely unenjoyable, but you tend to get noticed. Desperate to keep away from the trail of tourists and newlyweds, I had to find other interesting things to do and in a moment of brilliance that night, I did. So, if you ever find yourself alone in Darjeeling during the winter, ask for a couple of larges to be sent to your room. With this newfound warmth, head to Chowrasta and search like hell for a place called Chang's--a small kitchen where the owner looks like the lady in the picture. There, you must try the chicken fried momos and the beef thukpa and the Wai-Wai noodles and the chicken chowmein, and your world will finally make sense again.

Over the next couple of days, I settled into this routine, steadily sampling every frequency in the spectrum that is Tibetan cuisine, pausing only briefly to visit the local tea estates for some freshly made chai, the scenic views and export quality Darjeeling tea.

On the third day I rose again and went to Tiger Hill, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sunrise over the Kangchenjunga range, but the cloudy weather was a big letdown. Having tasted all the tea that Darjeeling had to offer and wanting momos no more, I took the advice of a few local guides and made the short journey across the state border and into Sikkim. While descending from Darjeeling into Sikkim, the Teesta River was the first thing I saw and the last thing I remember. I spent some time along the river, thinking about the long, strange trip that had been and the home stretch that lay ahead. I had never felt as lonely, but I had never been as free.

6 comments:

  1. Reminds me of my trip to Calcutta-Darjeeling-Sikkim-Nepal when I was just 16! Loved the very last line :)

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    1. a comment, finally! i was starting to think that the comment form was a bit hard to find :D

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    2. Hmm, could possibly be because this post is more contemplative and introspective as opposed to your trademark funny! I liked it, though it might've taken people off-guard if they were expecting (in Rajiv's words) "The Sajil Idiot" ;-)

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  2. This post reminds me of my trip to Darjeeling-Gangtok. I wanna go again :)

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    1. let me know when you're going...i might come just for the momos :D

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