Woh Shaam Wali Chai!
A regular after work day at the empty nest! The wise man & his wife! We usually try not to miss the shaam wali chai together…. However late, however engaged ! The evening tea at 42A, is not a cup of tea, it is conversation….as the tea imbues a rare and delicate fragrance… the cups look bright , full of flavour and the first flush always tastes so smooth & sweet. The flavours are neatly interlaced with conversation & the evening breeze rendering the liquor an amazing balance, as we share our day. From the serious regular, to the daily mundane, to the golf swings, dinner plans, fresh blossoms in the garden and most importantly the colour of the brew!!
On one such shaam wali chai…. our discussion went on to the ever enchanting Himalayas and the plans for the next visit. And I was like…”Can I go on a solo trip?”…. the immediate response from the wise man was “yes, why not….but why? How? & the purpose?” well I had no answer to any of those very basic questions! Except that one expression, ”wander lust!” The deal was loosely struck over that cup of shaam wali chai, that I could go, only on condition that I would do the complete planning!
Several evenings passed by, our evening cups warmly went past the serious regular, to the daily mundane, to the golf swings, dinner plans, fresh blossoms in the garden and most importantly the color of the brew!!
The thought of the trip remained in my mind, the plan around the day job for those few days off routine played in my mind too! I set my diary! I booked the hotel! Got my leave approved! ….and over yet another shaam wali chai, along with golden yellow brew I shared –“I am going to Darjeeling on the 14th!”
Woh Nokjhok Wali Chai!
As the days kept progressing, over several cups of roasted tea (this is my favourite, the roasted tea delivers a distinctly hearty, bold character) & honesty, I felt a tad nervous every now & then! Usually the vociferous variety, I avoided running the plan in my head, leave alone sharing over the shaam wali chai! Will I be able to manage? Just incase I get lonely? Incase the car breaks down during the climb…..not so happy memories of losing friends forever in uphill & downhill drives – kept visiting me! And then “Make my trip” threw up an abnormally high ticket rate! And whew! Was I glad!! I didn’t give it up, coz of cold feet, but because it doesn’t make sense to book tickets costing twenty thousand to go to Siliguri!! Happy, relieved, and also sad….. went past the day! The diary reset, work resumed… when the travel desk called back! If I choose an afternoon flight – the cost comes down by half… “Madam jaldi boliye, yeh toh apke liye perfect deal hai!” And we all know how aggressive travel agents can be! And lo behold….I am booked! The roasted cups kept pouring in….the mind on overtime with plans!
Well! I am gonna make this – a one pair of denim & five shirts & one jacket holiday! Did exactly that and filled the rest of the box with the “just in case!!” Just in case – two more pairs of trousers! Just incase an extra pair of shoes! Just incase another jacket! Just in case 4 more pairs of socks! Just incase a whole box of medicines!! The just in case part can keep me up on the mountains for a month!!!! Yes! No! Maybe! All the lanes and by lanes of a woman’s mind!!!!! Indeed the Nokjhok of the mind!
Woh Yaadon Wali Chai!
14th morning! I tell myself “I am ready!” and an uber cool uber driver drops me at the Terminal B of the Kolkata airport! After the initial routine details, I find myself a cosy corner and this time a cup of green tea!
“The Ocean at the end of the lane” Is the book in my hand! A forty something man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was bashful seven, had met the most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hadn’t thought of Lettie in decades and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back… A pond that was believed to be an ocean!! As I cozied myself around the scarf, I wondered, if we will have memories of such oceans in our lives, the childhood memories & fantasies! Putting the book away, my thoughts drifted to my first visit to Darjeeling with my parents! I was all of 7/8…indeed little, but still have such distinct memories of walking the hill roads. Being awe struck on the toy train, as it negotiated its way through the hills & valleys! The emerald green mountains….. lined like ribbons against the snow-capped peaks & the image of my father walking with all the three siblings, his tall frame & an umbrella in hand…! Still have pictures of the family of 5 at the Ghum station!
Years later in 1992, it was a trip to Darjeeling yet again! The just married, no money kind of trip! The wise man of my shaam wali chai was a young man! Excited to show me his Darjeeling! The stay was at the most affordable, no hot water Hotel Capitol on the Mall road. We ticked all the boxes with our limited finances! Keventers! (only for the hot chocolate!) Glens (just for a cup cake!), the mountaineering institute, monastery, happy valley tea gardens……mall road & more!
My cup needs a refill ……and my flight seems to be delayed! As I get a refill, I smile and recall of the changing times- 2006, it was Darjeeling yet again! Now with the full family! The wise man, his wife & their two boys! More money in the wallet & more memories of Darjeeling! Guess one needs just a single visit to fall in love with this city on the foothills of the Himalayas & the ever mysterious Kanchendzonga!
Between2006 to 2017, there has been another addition to the family! Tanmoy has joined the family, to make it larger & warmer! My fourth boy! This young man is in love with the mountains & in many of our chats, this mountain goat has shared his version of the foothill city!
And today on the 14th of April I am ready to look through the kaleidoscope – of years, versions & memories into Darjeeling, into the snow-capped Kanchendzonga!
It’s time for my flight….I pull up back pack & put down my yaadon wali chai…..will I find “ my childhood ocean?”
Woh Baarish Wali Chai!
A safe flight! A safe landing! And a comfortable uphill drive later I wake up to one dozen anticipation….. Where is my ocean? Will I miss home? Or will I flow with the tide of green everywhere, mountains with cloud hats, tea gardens carpeting the rolling hills, waterfalls as embellishments, blue sky, cool breeze, hot green tea… mountains hiding behind the mist, invisible valleys, relent less rain, worn out roads…..
I hit the tea kettle in the room, in a jiff my cup of tea was ready! With the cup of tea …I pulled open the curtain that kept the sunlight away from my deck room! Well typical of the hill weather… who subah wali chai….was converted into the baarish wali chai! The sky was grey…the mountains lost in the mist… the wet roads & the steady flow of colourful umbrellas! I sat by the window, sipping my chai, I looked at my watch & did a quick run of the home schedule! All must be well!! Looking at the rain, I gave a quick pat on my back on my just in case packing!
My stop one in the drizzle is at the Keventers, for the hot chocolate! The place seemed frozen in time! I got my cuppa & walked to the terrace…the drizzle didn’t bother me….. The cool breeze seemed to take away all my apprehensions of lone travel!
With the temptation to sit around on the benches on the periphery, I ambled to the mall road…..the curio shops, book stores are all there! Oh! What a beautiful relief it is to find them!
A hot cuppa tea…will surely do a lot of good in the drizzle! I quaint terrace top tea boutique called the hermitage welcomed me! “A pot of orange pekoe please”. The mountains have a magnetic pull, to reach out to its inner mysteries & beauty! As I stared at the magnificence, I realized that listening is the most significant cornerstone of life lessons! We should listen to understand & not just to respond…..for understanding brings compassion! We must also learn to listen to what is not being said! For silence is powerful!
The drizzle is now rain! I take out my very favourite “Macao green rain coat! Slip it on & start my walk back!
My barish wali chai would remain incomplete without the green rain coat!
Woh Dosti Wali Chai!
The lazy walk to the brisk to the final run into the hotel lobby! “Mam, in Darjeeling you should always carry an umbrella!” said the young Tibetan guy at the reception. I had a glee recalling “my just in case.” Back in the room, I got off the green rain coat. The rain coat was a gift in preparation of my first trek to Ravangla, exactly at the same time last year! The gift was from the fourth home boy! Brewing my chai, and looking at the green jacket. I realize that friendship has no age, no religion, and no time! We so easily make friends with people, who make us laugh, find it easier to talk to people who don’t take themselves too seriously & understand the secret ingredient for happiness is humour! I have two such friends! The fourth home boy & the pretty girl chasing her dream in Delhi! To find such friends or have one such friend can make for such a perfect dosti wali chai!
Woh Anmol Ek Chai
Day 2 starts on a bright note! My morning cup is indeed anmol – as I draw the curtain, the magnificent Kanchendzonga in all its magnificence stood tall! No mist, no cloud…! 20 mins later I am in the car off to the Japanese peace pagoda. A signage asked me to take a Parikrama around the pagoda at the pinnacle. Beautiful artwork etched on sand stones depicting the life of Buddha and his relics, the four avatars of Buddha ( sitting, sleeping, standing and meditating) adorn the walls. The pagoda is a perfect amalgamation of serenity & spirituality! The prayer gongs resonated in the entire area! It is with a magnetic pull that I walked into the prayer room & it is the same magnetic pull that made me sit there for a long while, trying to play the drumming pad & chant along “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo” meaning “ “I honour the Universal Mystical Law of Cause and Effect.” The slow note of the chant calmed not only the breathing, but the mind & emotions. This is probably why meditation is so powerful. The influence of meditative calmness on the mind and body & its positive effects……This experience I shall carry long!
As I hop back into the car, my driver informs that the next destination is a small hike up the mountains! Excited, I tighten my shoe lace to reach this beautiful place called “Lamahata”. During the drive I am told Lamahata means” in the lap of the clouds.” With a name so beautiful, my eagerness knew no bounds! Lamahata welcomed me with rows of prayer flags fluttering ….the prayer flags as I believe are blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all-pervading space. “Om Mani Padme Hum” on the flags! This chant is a beautiful combination of values like compassion, ethics, patience, diligence, renunciation and wisdom. A hop skip hike to the hill top & the site left me awe struck! Surrounded by pine trees rests a lake crisscrossed with prayer flags. No tourists, no crowd…just the deep embrace of nature! Looking through the pine forest, it appeared as if every two pine is a doorway to a secret world! Whispering pines, scattering leaves, wild flowers & the slight chill…….the rays of the sun through the pine & the entire sky as it reflected in the lake! “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo”! ……………………….
An hour and half later when I reach my car, my driver offers me a cuppa before we drive back! On a tourist board I learn that Lamahata is as practical as “lama”-monk & “hata”- hut, making it monk’s hermitage! I look up that the hill & give Lamahata a new meaning – “forever beautiful”
Woh Pyaar Bhari Chai!
Back to the mall road, the sun sets on my last evening in Darjeeling…… I head to Nathmuls, for all the variety of chai! After all, the evening conversations, which are on hold, need to roll back! Shopping for tea, can be as interesting as choosing an evening dress! The choice begins with Flushes of tea! The first flush, the in between flushes, second flush, monsoon flush, winter flush….. to the flavours such as smooth, strong, roasted, fruity, to the colours of the brew…. White, green, oolong, black, orange…… I choose with a lot of care & love for all the special evenings in 42A.
Chai with some Glennary snacks would be the perfect combination…. So cheese sticks & ginger short breads are packed too! Some curios for the small corners at home & some selfies later, I walked back into the hotel! Some memories captured through the lens & some visions treasured in the mind! Aaj ki sham, although solo… I call it pyaar bhari chai!
Sipping my chai & looking at my just in case box – I know the answer to the why- the solo trip! It is important to know if one can be happy all by one self, find things to do & learn from the greatest teacher – nature……
My confession – I fall in love too often! With places, with people, with the little nothings & I am always broken hearted by goodbyes! I strongly do not believe in “non-attachment”… is there passion inside non attachment? Well no! I believe that we always leave tiny piece of us in the places we visit! And take a piece of the place in our heart……
I pack my box & am ready to leave……
Ek Aakhri Chai!
Driving down the hills… the morning next, I feel my lungs inflate with the onrush of nature’s bounty –the sunshine, the breeze, the mountains, the trees, the beautiful people!
“This is what it is to be happy!”