Italian traveller Marco Polo was famous for his fantastic fantasies that he fabricated during his exploring endeavour. What if he would have been to Darjeeling- the land of lush green tea-gardens, snow capped mountains, forest & interesting histories? His intensive indulgence while travelling is the foundation stone of this informative oeuvre. So come on we are leaving Siliguri in the amazing toy train, for an odyssey to Darjeeling trailing Marco Polo’s way of travelling.
‘Dorji’ means the gods of thundering and the local belief was that the God of thundering abode is this place and that’s how the place was christened as Darjeeling. This tranquil place on mountain once gained the momentum of having all prestigious schools of the country, managed by the Christian Missionaries. This includes names like Loreto Convent, St. Pauls (shown in Bollywood Blockbusters like Mahi Hoo Na, Barfi). In fact, Rishi Aurobindo was sent to Darjeeling by his father at an early age of five years to study at the Loreto Convent. But much before Sri Aurobindo or Swami Vivekanada’s arrival in this beautiful place, this charismatic place was discovered by the English veteran Loyad. The year then was 1829 and since then the impart of Darjeeling brought so many imperative legends in this British controlled hill-station, which includes people like Tagore, Mahatma, Netaji.
Wherever Marco Polo travelled he made a narrative of his travel. So did renowned Bengali author Lila Majumdar, who met Tagore for the first time in Darjeeling and Sister Nibedita, Chittaranjan Das breathed their last in this fascinating fairytale land. Sister Niverdita’s house-Rai Villa and Chittaranjan Das’s (commonly known as C.R Das in Darjeeling) house in near Mall will beckon you to the bygone era. And now let’s talk about Darjeeling from another frame- Botany. Darjeeling is globally known for its tea and in the same harmony of botany Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose, termed Darjeeling as a paradise for Botanists all over the world. No wonder, much before Jagdish Chandra Bose, botanist Joseph Dalton came to Darjeeling to collect herbs and guess what he went back to UK with collecting as many as 7000 species of herbs along with Rhododendron. Rhododendron is still palpable in Loyad Botanical garden during spring and tea is ubiquitous throughout the year in any of the tea outlets in Mall.
Till now we have been discussing Darjeeling with its past glorious visitors, which Marco Polo surely would have loved to listen if he was travelling Darjeeling in 21st century and as we said earlier we have boarded the toy train, he surely would have got lost enjoying the ride, seeing the natural beauty around and listening to the history. American Author Mark Twain arrived in Darjeeling in the Toy Train and he wrote on the Toy Train Journey from Siliguri to Darjeeling as “The railway journey up the mountain is forty miles, and it takes eight hours to make it. It is so wild and interesting and exciting and enchanting that it ought to take a week.”
The best area in a place, according to Marco Polo is the one that gave him a taste of the local culture and from such perspective the much-hyped Mall will surely fit his bill. But indulging in local culture in Darjeeling is not only limited to the Mall. In the evening of autumn, after avoiding the hustle bustle of the Chowrasta Mall (i.e. the main square of Mall Road), go around the Observatory Hill and enjoying the beauty with silence of the road, you will be soon coming at a cross road, where Raj Bhavan is on your right and Mayfair hotel on left. Entering into the Douglas Lounge bar of Mayfair hotel for an evening drink could be very exclusive as the works of renowned artist Goray Douglas are displayed on the walls. And Douglas’s paintings captivate the ethnicity of Darjeeling. Apart from Mayfair, Elgin hotel is another heritage boutique hotel in Darjeeling. All these hotels are well known for commemorating festivals like Christmas, New year but to see the local traditional festival, then other areas in and around Darjeeling is recommended. Like during, spring occurs Losar, which is a New Year celebration in Darjeeling for the Tibetans. During Losar traditional food is served to the guests and visitors are welcome in the house. The youth perform Yak dance in colorful attire.
Like a true traveller, Marco Polo didn’t halt in a place for a long time and in Darjeeling he would have been pampered with places around, which are a perfect amalgamation of hill stations, trekking spots, and wildlife sanctuaries. Be it a laid back vacationers or adrenaline fuelled adventurers alike, Darjeeling has lot to offer for making an unforgettable travel experience.