Travels to the North-East- Part 2
As they say to travel to the north east, you have to first head east. And the gateway to the east is the magnificent megalopolis of Calcutta, nee’ Kolkata as its now pronounced. For those who don’t know, including me till this visit (although I have been to Kolkata before), the city is actually two, twin cities- Kolkata and Howrah joined together by the iconic Howrah bridge. Like all good things ruined by communism the leftists had ruined the once thriving capital of united Bengal into a bursting at the seams poverty ridden provincial township. Thankfully after the departure of the socialist regime lock, stock and barrel, things seem to have taken a turn for the better.
Kolkata now, on this visit, seemed filled with huge skyscrapers and long flyovers reducing the traffic snarls to manageable levels. There is also a general bustle in the streets and a sense of optimism in the people. Say what you will about Mamata di, the city of Kolkata looks spic and span in the brief period she has ruled over the state even if she prefers to stay over in Howrah and commute across to Kolkata to work daily. I was told that this was one another way for her to differentiate herself from the snooty communist bhadraloks who used to look down on the old city of Howrah while preferring the Victorian era genteel Kolkata.
I spent a day touring the tourist favorites like the Howrah Bridge and the Victoria palace and even ventured over into the old city of Howrah to see the authentic old gallis which Dominic La’pierre had written about in the bestseller novel ‘city of joy”. I came away with a sense of completeness to my journey into the Bengali consciousness as evinced by their pride in their capital Kolkata. And most surprisingly my taxi driver with whom I tried to communicate in English /hinglish ended up talking to me in my mother tongue telugu as he was a migrant from Andhra Pradesh. He informed me about the large number of migrants from Andhra who were living in Bengal for generations with just a remembrance of their language to connect them to their ancestral state. So instead of learning Bengali from my taxi driver as I had planned to I ended up speaking in a language I was comfortable with since childhood.
Having done the official part of the trip successfully, and with a win in the elections under my belt it was time for the actual vacation to start. And where better to head rather than the hills. The mighty Himalayas beckoned and from Kolkata I took a 45 mins flight to Bagdogra airport in north Bengal- an area called 24 parganas for reasons lost in the mists of times. It was a pretty short flight to say the least. I had just plonked down on my seat on the flight, adjusted my seat belt and got comfortable after the seat belts off sign came on, when the pilot again announced the seat belts on for descent into Bagdogra airfield.
For those who have never visited Bagdogra airport take it from me that it’s the size of Koyambedu bus stand in Chennai but serves a lot of important tourist spots in the north east –Siliguri, Darjeeling, Gangtok etc. Its approximately 20kms away (and one hour away depending on the traffic) from the nearest city- Siliguri and from there it’s all uphill into the Himalayas. Siliguiri is the last place you see the plains and as soon as you leave the city and head into the outskirts you can see the tea plantations start- the famous Darjeeling tea. And then you run smack into the largest landmass feature of India- the Himalayan ranges. More on my next post into the hills.