Misty Mountains : Remembering Darjeeling

darj23Hills have always been associated with a sense of freedom, of liberation and peace. But for me, it’s always a sense of feeling very overwhelmed. Mountains are mysterious in a silent, all-seeing way. They are imperious. Sentinel like.

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Darjeeling. The sleepy little child of the Lesser Himalayas. The land of patchwork tea plantations, colonial bungalows, sunrises and beautiful, rosy cheeked children with infectious smiles. Of shaggy dogs stretching on the mall road and little ponies trotting along, who will break your heart.

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Darjeeling is about meandering roads that go round and round, all the way to the zoo and back to the mall. Dotted with little cafes and hillside houses with slanting roofs and closed wooden doors. Glass windows, chimneys and little gardens creeping with wild flowers. The smell of coffee and mountain air.

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2011 autumn is when we visited Darjeeling and fell in love with this misty, effortlessly nostalgia inducing place all over again. It was the perfect get away. Close to the city, yet a whole world away. After the overnight train journey, it was a matter of couple of hours till we reached the familiar mall road. We were staying in this lovely little place called Revolver, named after the Beatles album. A homely place owned by couple with a pet calico cat, the hotel has 5 rooms, one after each Beatle. And a small library too.

darj14(the the stairway to our place)

darj13(the living room of Revolver hotel)

We were living in the John Lennon room. 🙂

The days would start early, mostly because I’d incessantly nag AB to crawl out from under the covers. Sure, there are was not much to do. But some vacations are meant only for hillside coffee, a whole lot of walking among the trees, and breakfast at Keventer’s. Which was where our days would begin. The meat platter for AB and chocolate milkshake for the both of us. Indulgent, to say the least.

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It’s always nicer to get a seat in the open terrace. The sunshine feels warm and beautiful. And the world feels like a better place.

After a long and heavy breakfast, we would go for walks. Stopping by little roadside stalls and curio shops. And, of course, sneaking into Glenary’s for some more unadulterated gluttony. And by that, I mean heavenly muffins and cakes.

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The mall, lined with brightly painted green benches. Overlooking the mountainscape. Dense, alpine forests with oaks, sal trees and wild orchids. The railway station with its steam engines and toy train.

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darj20 We would sit for hours on those benches. Watching the slow, gentle ponies. Always underfed, always obedient. Silently carrying little children, and at times obese, indifferent men and women who are probably 5 times their weight on their weary backs. It’s hard not to feel depressed seeing them and the general lack of compassion or sympathy people have for these majestic animals. And we would watch the pigeons being fed crumbs of biscuits and bread by old couples and young people who are probably in love. Pigeons that flutter and fly in a flourish of wings and feathers.

And then there would be AB imagining himself to be an airplane.
darj12We found this tiny little drinking joint, that’s very easy to miss. Nondescript, bordering on shady, right below the mall. We are pros at finding such haunts, I guess. Daffey Munal Restaurant, the name. We would go up to the bar and have beer. I find beer wonderful, even in the cold.

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As the later afternoon sun grew dimmer and a mild chill set in, we would browse the curio shops. A kaleidoscope of colors- tinkling with gemstones, bright necklaces, silver bracelets and stone earrings. Stopping by tea stalls for our evening tea. And more eating! I have had the best momos on earth in the street side shops of Darjeeling. Nothing else compares. Equally amazing are the phalays and hot buns. And no. You don’t die of food poisoning or a violent bout of diarrhea if you have them.

darj18One afternoon we visited the Himalayan Zoological Park. It is beautifully kept and the animals seemed well looked after. That was probably some consolation, because my heart usually aches when I see big cats in captivity. Somehow, tigers are just not meant for confined spaces. Nor are wolves.

darj3On the way back from the zoo, we chanced upon Hot and Stimulating Cafe. A tiny place that caught our fancy as we heard the strains of “Redemption Song” coming from inside. In we went. Dimly lit, wooden place with Bob Marley posters on the wall. We took a window seat and watched the hills outside. Gray, blue and white. Peppered with green and brown.

Suddenly something soft, something furry brushed gently against our legs. Precariously feline. And that was when we met Princess Fenelamela. The queen. The most regal cat I have ever, ever met.There she was, looking up with her big, questioning eyes. And then jumping straight on my lap. Her paws stretching out and placing themselves on AB’s lap. She felt at home. And so did we.

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It was difficult leaving her. Maybe a little more difficult than it usually is when leaving behind all the little animals that I meet regularly.
How can it not be, when she looks at you like that?

darj8I love traveling. And somehow, no matter where I go, near or far, I meet and get attached to cats (dogs too). It’s inevitable.

The next day, it was raining. A slow, steady drizzle. And as we walked under a shared umbrella, it felt positively magical. Rains make mountains even more beautiful, if that’s possible. An unreal kind of beauty. Distant and aloof. We went to Glenary’s for dinner. It was our anniversary. And it felt perfect as we sat, waiting for our food in the yellow glow of the lights.

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Waiting for food is depressing. But equally exhilarating is when your order finally arrives. I now forget what we had. But afterwards, I remember having a lot of Old Monk and thums up back in our room. And the most gorgeous sleep afterwards.

The week went in the blink of an eye. And it shall remain one of our most special trips. That is why I shall not recount the horror show that was the return journey. When our train ran late and we spent the whole night in the station. Scared. Worried. Maybe that’ll make for another post.

Spirits and Haunts : The Fairlawn Chronicles

Fairlawn is a beer garden in Sudder Street, off New Market. Afternoons, you can sit under the shade of big, dirty, yellow and green striped umbrellas and have a beer or two. Evenings, you can sit under same big, dirty, yellow and green striped umbrellas and maybe have a beer or 4, but now, you’ll be surrounded by flickering little electric lights strung up on the trees, the walls, winding up and down like creepers.

And you can smoke. Because it’s an open area drinking place, one of the few in the city. And you can have chilly chicken or jacket potatoes, which will be brought to you, carefully wrapped in foil paper. They are hygienic that way. Evenings, it’s a bustling place. A lot of students and a whole lot of tourists, mostly backpackers who usually stay in and around Sudder Street when visiting Calcutta.

These are the pretty lights and big, dirty umbrellas I am talking about. Along with beer of course. Everything gets nicer with a beer, right?

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And here’s Fairlawn in the afternoons. A little less magical, evidently, much nice just the same. (sorry, the photo shrunk by some mysterious way)

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And here’s Aveek and Biswa. Being their general, goofy selves after many rounds of beer.

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And here’s Biswa talking about the wholesome goodness of South Park and a comparative analysis between Eric Cartman and Jennifer Lopez. Clearly the former wins.

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Fairlawn is my go-to place when I am in need of some cheering up. It’s an instant mood lifter, and what makes me the happiest? Well, there’s this very benign girl cat who lives there. Black and white, thin young girl cat with a beautiful face. Large, expressive eyes and regal cheekbones. She’s always hungry and always in need of cuddling. Breaks my heart every single time. It is strange how all these little animals wander into your lives, fleetingly, and carve a place for themselves forever.

Spirits and Haunts : The Olypub Reprise

We all have favourite haunts. Different haunts for different kinds of hauntings, of course. For books, for a cup of coffee, for grabbing a burger, for sharing a drink…now this sharing a drink bit is of special interest to me, since, well, I love drinking (not quite an alcoholic yet, don’t panic). Who doesn’t love a nice, chilled glass of beer? I am sure you do. And if you don’t, chances are I will never really love you either. Not loving beer is almost as bad as not loving cats. True story. So, anyhow, usually after a tiring day of work, I head to this seedy little pub called Olypub. It’s a shady place that I love visiting for a good, cheap glass of beer. The waiters are friendly and always eager for a tip. Often, you can hear loud meowing, and while you look everywhere for the source of the meow, you’ll suddenly see a pair of eyes staring back at you from within the vent in the wall. The first time I had seen that, I was positively mortified. I was panicking. The cat will surely die if she stays stuck there. Dafuq? After interrogating the weary waiters, I am told she likes sitting there from time to time. Okay. Great then. So. I like Olypub. It’s a friendly place with strange people and weird animals (yes, you can often spot rats there too).

So here are a few photos of Olypub, where we go, get mindlessly drunk and mindlessly philosophical/poetic. (love that place, I tell you)

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That’s my bff Biswa with my bf, Aveek. Happy, drunken people. Cheers!

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And that’s a whole lot of beer, evidently.

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That’s Biswa and I. Mindlessly laughing, evidently.

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Oh. Looky, looky! Kitten at Oly.

So, that’s Olypub for you. A wonderful little bar (let’s face it, it’s not exactly a pub, okay?) where you can go and sit sit endlessly with friends, enemies, whatever. Watch the rats. Overhear inane conversations of loud, drunk people. Watch funny drunk people tottering about. Maybe you can even witness a lethargic, half hearted bar fight. If all else fails, keep an eye out for a cat or two. Or just make do with the rats. Oh, and they make amazing beef steaks (so I have heard. I don’t eat beef. I am fond of cows, the way I am fond of pigs and goats, etc) and chicken a la kievs! Give it a shot.

It also happens to be a favourite hangout spot of NRIs (yes, non-resident Indians) who get all drunk and nostalgic in Olypub and make it a point to bring along their foreign friends too. I would too, if I were an NRI. But I am not. Hic!

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Bathsheba and I

 

That is me with Bathsheba. The eponymous Hardy heroine. He is a mild mannered boy. Though he looks genuinely endangered here. 🙂

familycat1These beauties were my grandmother’s pet. I had the good fortune of meeting the youngling.

amsterdam kittyThe beautiful calico princess I met in Amsterdam

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amkit3The lovely, cuddle loving boy we greeted in Lidon

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The many moods of my precious Ghutum. The silent prowler, the sentinel. The head-butting goat-cat who I love so very much.