You know you are already home when the train starts to slow down while entering NJP. Though you are still many kilometers away from the hills, and the chilling weather is still a few hours to go, it however feels like home.
The next thing you do is take an auto for Siliguri Junction or Darjeeling More, whichever you find more convenient. Just as you get down, you can see lines of vehicles looking for passengers , right from Mahanada Bridge to Darjeeling More and all that you hear is “Darjeeling ho bhai? Hidi haaleko aabo”. And then starts your job of choosing the right vehicle in which you want to travel, keeping in mind the condition of the vehicle, availability of the desired seat and the number of passengers in the vehicle.
“Front seat cha Da? Time lagcha hola hai varinu?” is what you ask, to which the driver responds saying “bhai, second seat cha ewta. Tyo parako raato Sumo Gold ho, Vari sakyo. Aabo dui jana haalera hidi halney.”
You finally agree to take the vehicle and approach it and the driver starts putting up your luggage while you enter in and wait for the vehicle to fill up. After waiting for quite a time and after a round of complaints from all passengers for taking too much time, the driver finally gets in and the vehicle sets up to take on another uphill journey.
On usual days, you can expect the company of aunties, uncles, “mazaako bainis”, tourists (often visiting the hills for the first time), young guys etc. and most often the mazaako bainis take the first seat beside the driver and second seat gets the privilege to serve the uncles and the aunties who would be “jhuleko jhulekai baato bhari”. And I swear there hasn’t been a time that I have travelled from Silgadi and someone inside the vehicle hasn’t said “K saaro garam haw Silgadi ta”.
As the vehicle catches the roads and penetrates through the cool roads of Salbari towards Sukna, the music system starts its job, the songs ranging from latest hindi numbers to “baby I love you forever”, from Arijit Singh to Bipul Chetri. In fact, sometimes it is during a journey that you get to enjoy some of the best songs that you weren’t even aware of existed. Meanwhile your co-passengers start making calls saying “Varker Sukuna aai pugey, Belka 2 haru bajcha hola aaipugda”. Among all the music and the talking going inside the taxi, you get to see a tea garden after a long time and that just strengthens the homely feeling inside you.
People get busy initiating conversations and exploring each others’ life, “Bhai chai parnu huncha?” “ Chutti ma farkinu vaako” in one corner while “samaan kinnu jhareko thiye ki hijo, belka farkinu dhilo vayera aaju farkeko” on the other.
The tourists , if there are any, are busy among themselves praising the beauty of the tea gardens and the hills. Another thing I have always noticed is that every journey comes with a complimentary pack of a political expert who comes up with hot problems of the hills and tends to solve them all within half the stretch of the journey and the driver makes sure that the person goes on with his session through his queries, consent and debates. Perhaps travelling with a lot of passengers adds on a lot to the political knowledge of the drivers. And we wonder why we do not have good leaders in our hills, the potential ones are busy travelling or driving, hahaha.
You are so busy looking outside the window that you don’t even realise that you have reached Rohini. The taxi stops before any one of the numerous restaurants lining up along the road to serve the passengers travelling through. Here you finally get to have a good plate of Momo and Aludum-bhuja after a long long time and your soul melts with every bite you eat.
Now that the driver is done with his lunch, he comes out with a cigarette locked in his lips and ensures that the passengers are done with their share of meal as well, and prepares for the rest of the journey.
Soon the marvellous views of the plains start disappearing as you enter Kharsangg. One of the most common phrase you hear while crossing Kharsang town is perhaps this, “Bijanbari ko Sungur ra Kharsang ko manche le gadee lai bato chodi deko din chai pakka Gorkhaland pauncha….”
You no longer can see the clouds floating above the plains and also the hills and the road is no longer smooth. The road becomes bumpier and the conversations start to fade. Now everyone is busy with their own stuffs and waiting eagerly to get home. The whole cab becomes silent, provided that the political guy decides to give up on explaining how he could bring a radical change in the community, the tourists stop saying “O ma, ki sundor!!” and there aren’t two or more friends inside the vehicle who are girls.
However, the driver keeps you up with the jokes that the people and the roads have invested in him and also all recent stories of his life like, “Gari ko paper pani pakri raako cha! Challan kati deko ni hijo mama le junction ko tya passenger jharda.”
The music now no longer helps you, as you reach Sonada and now you are really eager to get home.
Jorebunglow finally shows up and as usual its foggy. The driver makes a funny face and goes, “hana yo Hanuman le padeko thau ma kaile gham lagdaina”, the passengers add few sentences of agreement.
Once you cross Bhedikhan, the weather is fine again and now you know that you are almost at the end of the journey.
People slowly start getting down at their respective destinations. You get yourself ready to get down as you reach Dali and think about all the luggage that you have to collect. “Bhai kakjhora hai?” enquires the driver to which you reply “hajur, yei roki dinos na.”
The vehicle pulls over, you get down, put on a jacket, and collect your bags. The beautiful journey comes to an end with a goodbye to the people inside the vehicle.
For about four hours we meet random strangers on our journey, and sometimes they go on to become our lifelong friends, that is the beauty of our hills… but nothing can beat that special feeling you get every-time you climb those serpentine roads from the plains to the hills…
Home Coming is the process of connecting back to your roots, and every time I take those four-hour journey, I feel blessed that I was born in the most gorgeous part of this world, whose beauty is not just confined to its scenery but also its people, and our unique connections.