As the car took the steep upward curve of Pankhabari Road in West Bengal’s Kurseong, a long-lost tune of the hills started to revisit me. My wanton imagination conjured up scattered images, and every little bend through the vast undulations of tea gardens, with the pattering of stray yellow leaves on the windscreen, had me feel as if I was back home. The hills are where my home lies, and everything within their expanse is much of my own.
I sat huddled with two other passengers in the front row of the cab. Kurseong beckoned hard this time. In my timeless visits to Darjeeling, this town that came on the way was merely treated as a stopover for momos.
From the car’s speakers emanated the chords of a Nepali tune played on guitar, and we drove on, surrounded by a gradually thickening fog. The car’s yellow fog lights pierced through the greyness of the road. A lady with countless filigree ornaments on her face was counting beads sitting beside me.
I hopped down with my backpack at a highway crossing. Nimesh, the owner of the homestay I was checking into, stood waiting for me at his doorstep. A delightful cup of caramel elixir was the unbeatable welcome drink. I found irresistible the lodging’s second floor balcony overlooking the valley. A cup of Darjeeling tea was all that I allowed entry into my solitude.
Kurseong in monsoon was wrapped in the fragrance of the hill ferns. The morning light was hazy from my window. Trails of raindrops had made patterns on its fog-smeared glass overnight. And then there was the vast verdure of the rain-washed slopes that lay for miles in front of me. The horizon, where the green-carpeted tea gardens merged with the precariously hanging grey clouds, was misty. A cloudlet came floating in, companionless, only to wrap itself around a solitary rambler with an umbrella walking on the serpentine roads through the gardens. I ventured out of my homestay just to walk across the hills. I hiked, underneath the shade of an iridescent umbrella, to the steep Eagle’s Crag–one of the higher points and the usual rendezvous of the lovebirds of the town. Standing on the watchtower, high above the surrounding valleys, I watched the merry hills and the coalescence of the clouds.
Leaving the place for nowhere in particular, I walked down the mountain slopes and found myself in a forlorn cemetery. Departed souls lay under the moss-covered burials, and the tall spikes of the red lilies still lit up a piece of abandoned earth. A few yards away, the flickers of flames on the false window of a small wayside Buddhist temple attracted my curiosity. A priest was chanting, oblivious of my trespassing, in a citadel of unbroken peace. A lady was busy lighting up the worship lamps. I sat still for sometime, without disturbing the proceedings, and then silently withdrew to move to someplace else.
The next morning greeted me with the most ethereal sight imaginable. I opened the door of my balcony only to find a line of majestic whiteness ripping apart the blue speckled sky. In peak monsoon, Kurseong had offered me a sight to die for. I kept capturing the effulgence of Thy Majesty, lest some wayward cloud came in to shroud it up.
My walk to Dow Hill was a walk into mystique wonderland. With the exception of a handful of locals, I was left blissfully alone and lost in the silence of the gigantic pine forest. The stately presence of Dowhill School was like a painting of gothic architecture. Since it was a holiday, I tipped the gatekeeper with kind words and took some snaps. Rambling in and out of the huge trees, and in the palpable wetness of the air, I felt the fog wrap around me, blinding my dazed eyes and casting me in a spell.
Then, I came down to the marketplace, which appeared to be bustling beside the toy train tracks, over which people sat lazily. Two nights having passed by in absolute serenity, I pulled my rucksack on and took my shared cab, bidding farewell to a curious girl looking out of the toy train window. The fumes of the steam engine billowed above the tall spires of the ancient church and the train gradually trailed out of my sight, though the sound of its lazy chugging kept resounding in my ears.