Downhill from Darjeeling – a crazy experience

Travelling means “Expect the Unexpected”.

It was a lovely Sunday afternoon in Darjeeling. The Mall was bustling with a lot of people, armed with selfie sticks. I had a 8:20 pm train from New Jalpaiguri, so I started to walk down towards the Darjeeling Railway Station, picking up a 2 in 1 softy on the way from Keventer’s.

It was just about 3 pm, and the atmosphere at the railway station was lovely, to say the least… Scores of tourists clicked pictures with the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway rakes, when I spotted the last government bus that goes from Darjeeling to Siliguri, passing by.

I stopped the bus, but saw that it was unusually overcrowded… I thought that to save little amount of money, I would have to stand for 3 hours. I instead decided to head over to the taxi stand, from where share taxis leave every 15 minutes or so, costing Rs 150 per seat.

However, after reaching the taxi stand, I was in for a big surprise! There was a lot of commotion near the Darjeeling-Siliguri Shared Taxi kiosk, and I tried to find out what was happening.

The Prime Minister of India was supposed to land at Bagdogra Airport near Siliguri at around 4 pm and fly in a helicopter from there to Sikkim, to inaugurate the Pakyong airport the next day. Because of this, all routes were blocked due to safety reasons, and most Darjeeling taxis were hired by the PM’s supporters, to go from Siliguri to Sikkim.

As a result, there were no shared taxis available, and the few taxis that were parked, asked for astronomical amounts of money, to go to Siliguri. Ignoring them, I joined the queue at the shared taxis kiosk. I was 5th in the line, and the persons in front of me, each had a group of 4-5 people, which meant that even if 2 to 3 taxis come, I won’t get a seat.

I managed to make friends with the lady standing right in front, who understood my urgency, and requested her to buy off a seat for me as well, which she heartily agreed. People in the mountains are very friendly.

Finally after anxiously waiting for an hour, one Sumo came, which said that it has to take a detour to go down, and hence will charge Rs 100 more per seat. We were more than happy with the deal and got our seats. So, it was 4 of us in the middle, 4 in front, including the driver.

At this point, a quarrel started at the back of the car, where a daily wage labourer couple from West India, along with a small kid entered from the rear and refused to go out of the Sumo, saying that they are broke and they needed to go down to Siliguri any how. There was a group of Bangladeshi women, who had bought those seats and rightfully wanted them to be removed.

However, the couple refused to move and offered to pay the driver extra money, which was all in coins. It took another 10 minutes for the driver to just count all the coins. Needless to say that we all were becoming restless by now.

The couple sat on the floor, in the narrow isle of the seats. So 6 people in total at the back, with the ladies clamouring about how their legs were getting crushed, because of the couple. Finally the car started to move, and there was quite a heavy fog cover, which didn’t pose a problem to our experienced driver, thankfully.

Our journey was quite normal, till we crossed Kurseong. A truck hit a small car, and both the driver started to fight on the middle of the narrow road, blocking all traffic. It took more than 20 minutes for the area to be cleared, after police intervened and took way both the drivers.

It was already dark, and I was dangerously close to missing the train. The driver again moved downwards at quite a good speed, and was boasting how he drove in hilly roads at 100 km/hour during the agitation days, when there used to be zero traffic. It gave me a bit of hope.

However, while we were going through Sukna, another 45 minutes away from my destination, I was almost falling asleep, till I saw the driver suddenly pushing the accelerator, and the passengers in front reacting in a very strange manner. As I turned back, I could just spot an Elephant’s trunk, which was entering the road, followed by a few more, which got camouflaged in the darkness of the trees.

The lady beside me smiled and told me that I am very lucky that the driver sped away. Apparently, when the herd of elephants start crossing the road, they have the right of way, and them being unusually slow, it takes atleast an hour and a half, if not more for the traffic to move again.

I breathed a sigh of relief and considered myself very very lucky! But my joy lasted only for a few minutes, when we finally approached the town, and as expected, there was quite a bit of traffic congestion. I checked the train running status of Kanchan Kanya Express, which is usually late in arriving at NJP. To my bad luck, it was not late that evening.

I was dropped off near the Siliguri Junction station at 7:55 pm, and the New Jalpaiguri station was another 20 minutes atleast. I hopped into an autorickshaw (tuk tuk), and to my surprise, when I asked him if I will be able to catch my train from NJP at 8:20 pm, he said that considering the traffic congestion in the city, it was impossible for me to reach on time.

I immediately refreshed the running status, and saw that the train was arriving at the Siliguri Junction station in a few minutes, and it stops there exactly for 2 minutes. Without even thinking twice, I immediately got off the auto and started to run towards the station. Mind you, both my legs were paining quite a bit, because of my long hike from Takdah to Tinchuley to Bara Mangwa till Teesta the day before.

However, this pain didn’t matter at all, considering I risked missing the train, which meant that I will have to arrange for any other transport, which would have made a hole in my pocket, plus stay somewhere for the night. I would have also failed to reach office on Monday, resulting in a precious loss of a casual leave.

Just as I was running into the station, I was literally shouting and asking the passersby about the platform in which my train has come. I spotted it in platform 3, for which I ran up to the foot overbridge and I could see that the train had just started to move. I managed to jump into the train, and went to look for my seat. I was by that time sweating and panting like crazy, but I was extremely happy to have made it.

Next morning, after waking up, I was feeling very happy and refreshed, all set for Monday life. As usual I got up and tried to get off the train, when it slowed down near Dum Dum and catch the underground metro rail towards home, as it takes a long time for the train to get into Sealdah station, the terminal stop of the train. Other passengers as usual warned me that railway police might catch me, if I get off in between stations, but I chose to ignore them.

I managed to do the same this time as well, and headed straight to Kalighat metro station, for some Tea at Radhu Babu Tea shop, before entering home. Within an hour, I freshened up and changed my clothes, from shorts and a sleeveless tee, to formals and rushed towards office at 10 am. By that time, my legs were literally not moving anymore! Since I travel every weekend, my Monday mornings are quite unusual!

This is what I love the most about travelling. The surprises, the uncertainty; you never know what problem you will face. Instant decision-making is the key, and the more you travel, the better you will be!

If you liked/disliked reading the above, do let me know about your thoughts in comments. Thanks.

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