Leaving Birpara: The Toy Train Not Taken

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The reason the Dalgaoan-Birpara Railway Station does not appear on my map of the town is because, until my final week, I had not had any reason to go there, so it did not exist. Not many trains stop there, anyway, only two daily coaches bound for Calcutta via Siliguri Junction, where we would change lines. But that bright Sunday morning (which was also Lakshmi Puja celebrating the God of Wealth and Prosperity), the station was new to us. How amazing, I thought, after two months, to be able to continue our discovery of Birpara until the very moment of our departure.

We were very consciously Riding Away From Somewhere, rather than looking ahead, our thoughts racing over the previous week’s festival of puja, packing, and goodbyes. But as I leaned out the door, felt the wind, and watched the familiar green expanses of tea gardens race by and the blue mountains of Bhutan and Sikkim appear in the north, my mind’s eye shifted to the journey, the moment, and I was traveling again.

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We’d planned on spending the night in Siliguri and taking the famous narrow-gauge, World Heritage “Toy Train,” in the morning, but it was booked a month in advance, the clerk told us, so we made an executive decision to skip Siliguri, and humped our packs directly to the jeep stand, where we were loaded into the back and rolling away, a greasy bag of samosas, puris, and bananas on our laps for lunch.

I couldn’t believe how quickly the urban mess of Siliguri turned into forest, the road veering into a suddenly dark tunnel of vegetation, criss-crossed by the Toy Train tracks, which followed our climb to Darjeeling. We were on our way to the famed British Hill Station, popular Indian and Nepalese vacations spot, and epicenter of the world’s most famous tea industry.

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We sped upwards, around the curves, past that day’s tiny Toy Train, and realized our luck when we saw that the train would not, as we thought, have taken us on a unique route through the mountains, but instead followed the road for the entire journey which would have lasted eight hours, instead of only three by jeep.

What was our rush?
I don’t know, just to get there, perhaps.
Unpack, walk the steep streets,
Know one more renowned Himalayan retreat,
Breathe cold, misty October air,
And listen to the flutter
Of Buddhist prayers.

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Welcome to Darjeeling.

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