Lifestyle Awards 2013
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It’s not unusual to cling to the imaginings of childhood. Mine was fired by the fantastical stories and images conjured up by fairy tales and books about magical worlds and characters like Noddy.
Everything seemed possible back then. Frankly, I still catch myself day dreaming about those enchanted, imaginary places and frankly I’ve even nursed the childish hope of escaping to a place where there's a gingerbread house or a toy train!
And guess what? I actually got to go to exactly such a place! Well, almost - Darjeeling.
Cradled by the Himalayas...surrounded by Sikkim to the north...Nepal to the west... and Bhutan to the east...are the hills of Darjeeling...a popular holiday destination.
But despite its popularity and the accompanying throngs, there are parts of Darjeeling that are less trodden..like the Zoo.
The only place in India where you get to meet Himalayan fauna like the Siberian Tiger, the Tibetan Wolf, the Himalayan Black Bear, the Snow Leopard and even the famous Red Panda.
The zoo is also a breeding centre for these endangered animals. But you can’t just turn up in the restricted area and expect an audience -- you need prior permission.,br> Areas of the zoo that are open to tourists also maintain the natural habitat of each animal to the maximum.
Darjeeling isn’t quite the Hollywood spectacle that you see in “Darjeeling Limited” but the setting can be similar in parts.
On the whole it’s a busy, busy place. Understandably, I did not spend too much time in crowded Darjeeling town although the one thing that was reassuring is the town’s decision to go Plastic-Free in order to save itself from further environmental degradation.
A few kilometres out of town and you see sprawling tea estates...a quaint market place...and winding train tracks, weaving the town together.
Kurseong seemed like the perfect stop for an eco-aware traveller.
There may be over 80 tea estates in this tiny town but most aren’t tourist friendly, can’t say I blame them! I did find one that gives you a taste of how tea is grown and offers a home stay on the estate.
The Makaibari Tea Estate has seven villages within the estate and the plantation offers 21 home stay options with the workers and their family. The homestays are the brainchild of Raja Banerjee, the owner of the estate...
Mr Banerjee’s philosophy was to encourage sustainable tourism so the workers of the estate can earn an extra buck and travellers get a real taste of the “tea life”.
I stayed at Sheila’s house, who works in the estate’s dispensary. The rooms were basic, hygenic and for Rs 750 per night, you not only get to live with a family but also cook and eat organic food with them.
Now I couldn’t have left “Chai Country”, without sampling some of the Special Tea it has to offer, and a restaurant that goes by the same name is the place I recommend.
Especially if you’re in the mood to experiment…Main course: Tandoori Chai; if you like it spicy- Chilly Chai.
Of course, they have tea with all imaginable flavours of fresh fruits and the regular, green, black, herbal, Oolong…name it and they have it.
And before you call it a day try the mouth freshener:
Heavily influenced by British India, Kurseong still carries imprints of its colonial past. Some of the most striking examples are its buildings, most notably private houses and schools.
And then there’s the world famous toy train. The Kurseong Railway station, built in 1880 still maintains its old world charm. In fact, it’s been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The train still has a steam engine! A trip costs just Rs 10/- and is one of the most cost effective ways of travelling. So if you’re looking to add a last unforgettable chapter to your green fairytale vacation, this is it!
It will take you chugging along, over hills and lovely dale at a pace so leisurely you’re almost tempted to hop off and back on!
It finally pulls into Ghum...one of the highest narrow gauge railway stations in the world - one memorable ride that one can never be too old to enjoy or look dreamily back upon.
Courtesy: The Statesman
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