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Lessons taught by the hill station of Darjeeling

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

Some incidents leave a mark on your memory forever. This incidence still haunts me, and I cannot erase it from my memory. It happened 67 years ago but looks like it was only yesterday. The year was 1964 and the month August. I was in Darjeeling, and it was my first visit to a hill station. I was totally mesmerized by its beauty. Everywhere I saw, the nature was shining in its full glory--towering hills, snowclad mountain peaks, lush green forests and tea gardens.

We were eight young army officers, commissioned as second lieutenants three months back. We all had reported to the Army Transit camp, Siliguri for onward journey to our respective regiments. We were told that transport would leave for Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim day after tomorrow. Since we had one complete day at our disposal, we decided to visit Darjeeling, known for its scenic beauty, for sightseeing.


There are two ways to reach Darjeeling. One is by toy train on narrow gauge, declared a UNESCO heritage site and the other by hiring a jeep.

Darjeeling looked absolutely pristine. Darjeeling, situated at a height of 6700 feet is known for a spectacular view of Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain range in the world. Dense lush green trees of Sal and oak surrounded the town with wide variety of rare orchards. Alpine trees were also around in plenty. We also visited Padmaja Himalayan zoological park, well-known for conserving and breeding the endangered Himalayan species. The town is also famous for its distinctive black tea, rated among the renowned major black teas in the world. My personal favourite is Darjeeling Lipton long leave tea, renowned for its aroma and flavour.


A melting pot of cultures, the local ethnic food of Darjeeling is quite varied. Rice, noodles and potatoes form basic foods. The most popular local food is momos. These are steamed flour dumplings with meat or vegetable fillings, served with clear soup and homemade tomato sauce. Another popular local food is thupka from the Tibetan origin. It is homemade noodle soup with meat, eggs and vegetables. Locals also love alu-dam, spiced steamed potato curry. Local alcoholic drinks include Chang, a local bear made by fermenting finger millets.


After an exhaustive tour of city, we settled down at a local restaurant for authentic ethnic food. We ordered momos, thupka and alu dam along with local beer, Chang made of rice. One of them, a little elderly in age, said, let me take you all to a little piece of heaven on this earth here, in Darjeeling itself.


Without asking any questions, we all followed him. He took us to a big haveli built in pagoda style. A madam welcomed us and introduced young girls. I was shocked when I realized that he had brought us to a brothel. I got up instantly, saying sorry, I am at a wrong place and left the place with bowed head. Only one of them followed me. The others stayed behind.

I am reminded of the famous lines from the movie Pyasa, penned by Sahir Ludhianvani


jineh naaz hai hind par wo kaha hai

ye kuche, ye nilam ghar dilkashi ke

ye lut-te hue karvan zindagi ke

kahan hai kahan hai ye muhafiz khudi ke

jinhe naaz hai hind par wo kahan hai


As we reached the main road, it started raining heavily. We neither had an umbrella, nor woollen clothes. We took shelter in the shade of closed door. Suddenly the door opened, and a young girl opened the door saying, come inside please. I was hesitant. I realized that we were still in the red-light area.


Sensing my hesitation, the young girl smiled and said kindly, don’t worry, I am not going to touch you if you do not want me to. In this rain, you two will catch chill and fall sick. Please come inside.


We mumbled thank you and walked inside the small room. There were two women in the room. One of them went behind a curtain and came back with piping hot masala tea. She kept her word and never tried to initiate any conversation around her business. When the rain stopped, we thanked her profusely. Just before leaving, I quietly slipped twenty rupees under her bedsheet. I was full of gratitude for this unknown kind woman, who was poor by money but so rich in stature and character.


Here, I was reminded of a poem from BR Chopra film, Sadhana, penned by Sahir Ludhianvi, a famous poet and lyricist, which goes as follows:

Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko,

Mardon ne use bazaar diya

Jab ji chaha machla kuchla,

Jab ji chaha dutkar diya.


Certain incidents haunt you throughout your life. But there are no answers. I hope and pray that things will improve and these women, looked down by society, will also find their rightful place.

woh subah kabhi to ayegi.


We also had some more time at our disposal. So we visited Tenzing Mountaineering institute, a tea garden and a tea making factory. We were back at our transit comp just before dinner time. I started packing my luggage since officers bus was to leave for the transit camp early morning for my regiment.


To my surprise, my sweets box bought from the 100-year-old Ghantewala Sweets shop in Chandni chowk was missing. I enquired from my colleagues and their reply was, sweets are meant to be eaten, so we ate them. Real good sweets. Thank you.


I felt really bad but then I could not do anything. I reached my regiment the next day in the evening. As expected, regiment officers asked for sweets. I narrated the entire incident. They also laughed and said, it happens. Next time, when you come back from leave, keep sweets box in your attaché case under lock and key. I strictly followed this dictum during my service.

So, my visit to Darjeeling taught me two important lessons:

  1. No one is bad or to be looked down upon by virtue of what their life forces them to do. Every human being is essentially good from inside.

  2. Always keep your sweets under lock and key. 😊

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