The Love Letters from Darjeeling

Sitting silently in the tea gardens, the ropeway passing right over our heads, playing filmy games, we stared at the dark misty mountains in the distance and looked back at the last few days that had bonded us together so well and so fast. It had, after all, begun with one simple question.

Before the eventful morning of 27th November 2016, had someone asked me “What’s the craziest thing you have done in life?” I would have given it a long thought and probably come up with an answer that wasn’t crazy enough. That morning, things changed.

After a beautiful and most memorable trip to Bhutan, we were headed to Bagdogra airport to catch our flights back home. The trip had been emotionally as well as experientially overwhelming.

A late night walk on the streets of Darjeeling leading to poses with the star toy train.
Photo courtesy: Vyshakh. Darjeeling, November 2016
The previous night in the hotel room at Phuentsholing, our last night officially in Bhutan, we played one last round of ‘Ask a Question’. This time we had to say what we felt about each other after being together for a week. While I was speaking, Neeraj casually mentioned, “It would be great if you cancel your ticket and stay back for few more days”. It wasn’t to be taken seriously, but even I was in no mood to go back home. I did check the flight costs for rescheduling before I went to bed that night. The butterfly effect had been put in motion inadvertently.

Early Sunday morning, we were packed and on our way to the airport. We stopped at a small roadside hotel for breakfast. It had the weirdest name- Bhutia Hotel. After a quick round of puri-aloo, chole and parathe, we sat in the Innovas for the last part of the journey.

The airport was still 3 hours away. We decided to play the Question-Answer game one final time. We were all definitely high on emotions and the first thought I had was what I asked, “If you could do something impulsively right now, what would it be?” I knew what my answer was and wanted to say it. I wanted everyone to know the emotional turmoil I was in at that moment. But before that Jyoti chipped in, “I would cancel my ticket and stay back.”

It was kerosene added to fire.

It didn’t take me another second to get the airline’s number and call them up. A combination of factors including the fact that I had no other commitments, no one to report to, no answers to be given to anyone and that I wasn’t relying on anyone for funds to travel, added further fuel to the impulsive decision to reschedule my ticket for 3 days later. What had been ‘a crazy thought’ moments ago was being turned into reality. For all good reasons or bad, none of us had web checked-in the previous night.

Within the next hour, Jyoti, Lavanya and I had rescheduled our tickets and Neeraj, Vyshakh and Sukhi had cancelled personal plans and decided to be on this impulsive journey. Pooja and Nikita were in the other car and we knew they wanted to come too.

'Let's write 'COME' on a paper and take our car parallel to their's. May be it will compel them to join us,' Neeraj said. For a moment we thought he was joking. But no, that's what we did next. Rolling down the window and holding up a paper with the message as the car sped to go parallel with their's. 

The two girls were busy on their phones probably trying to convince folks back at home for the extension of the trip. The moment they saw us, the awe and surprise was evident on their cute faces that soon turned into a sad one. But they did start clicking pictures of us. My expression was a happy one due to the excitement. 'Look sad', everyone prompted from behind to change my expression. I wish the windows hadn't reflected so much and everyone else's faces were captured too.

Yes it was too filmy and too magical, creating an unforgettable story to be told again and again. All we could say to each other right then was 'I don't believe this is happening for real'.

My expression was a happy one due to the excitement, which was soon converted into a sad one with everyone prompting from behind 'Look sad!' I wish the windows hadn't reflected so much and everyone else's faces were captured too.
It was a magically filmy and dramatic moment. Thank you Pooja for capturing this priceless moment.

There was no plan. We just took a taxi and were headed to Darjeeling. Photo courtesy: Sukhi. November 2016

We were headed to Darjeeling. But the destination didn’t really matter right then. There was no plan. But Darjeeling has always had a special place in my heart right from the first visit I made there 17 years ago as a boy of 7.

‘Amidst Clouds and Kanchenjunga’, my first ever travelogue had been titled. It was published in the school magazine ‘The Revelation’ when I was in Class 2. I most definitely wanted to see how the world’s third highest mountain floated above the sky. I wanted to walk on the toy train tracks and if possible take a ride on the train. But the trip right now was impulsive. No agenda. No fixed itineraries. We just wanted to be together somewhere, extending the trip. To live the moment. To do what our hearts told us to do.

By the time we reached Bagdogra airport, the sadness of the farewell had been taken over by the excitement of the extended trip. The 6 of us took a cab from the airport and went to the lovely hill station, 90 kms away. Over the next 3 days, we went on long walks, clicked photos crazily with the toy train in the abandoned station late at night, saw some fantastic beasts at the zoo, visited the mountaineering institute, told stories, played games of teen patti, bluff and rummy, had maggi and momos, sang songs and watched a movie. Most importantly, we had long conversations.

Where else can you so easily walk and play with toy trains?
Darjeeling Railway Station. Early morning view. November 2016

There was no one in sight who might complain and the carriages were locked. We still managed the DDLJ pose.
Darjeeling Railway Station, November 2016

Early morning view of a Darjeeling street curving along with the railway track. November 2016

Our hotel faced the valley and on a clear day, Kanchenjunga was supposedly distinctly visible from there. On the second night as we stood on the terrace after dinner, I prayed out loud ‘Please give us one look at the mountain before we leave!’ Everyone laughed.

The next morning Vyshakh and Sukhi left early for Siliguri, to pursue their further travel plans. When the rest of us woke up, there was a huge surprise waiting for us. As we made our way upstairs for breakfast, the most awesome view greeted our eyes. There, standing majestically above the town and beyond the clouds, the huge Kanchenjunga greeted us. Lavanya was quick to notice my joy and pointed out "Your wish has been fulfilled".

Standing majestically above the town, Kanchenjunga greeted us. Darjeeling, November 2016

That day the four of us went to take a ropeway ride. There were songs sung in the ropeway with weird dance and face expressions and ‘a creepy cameraman’, there were SRK poses in the middle of tea-ke-khet with Jyoti giving the most iconic pose, ‘How well do you know Nero’ quizzes were played where no one knew which country Corsica is in and most importantly, a lot of highly inspirational travel stories were shared.

Sitting silently in the tea gardens in the afternoon, the ropeway passing right over our heads, playing all kinds of games and quizzes relating to Bollywood, Andaz Apna Apna and Friends, we stared at the dark misty mountains in the distance and looked back at the last few days that had bonded us together so well and so fast.

That evening while we were walking back to the hotel, Neeraj suggested that we all ‘write letters to each other’. Using a pen and paper. It would be a parting gift after 10 days of being together- from being strangers to good friends. As romantic as it sounded, I immediately denied. This wasn’t something that could be done casually. This needed all of one’s heart to be in place for those few minutes while holding the pen and paper and I wasn’t ready for it.

After dinner, as the entire hilly town slept on the laps of the Kanchenjunga, a calming silence prevailed as Jyoti, Lavanya, Neeraj and I sat and wrote the letters down. There was to be no discussion about the content, no revelation of who wrote what. Just the person addressed reads all of his/her letters.

Once done, we read our letters in silence. An unspoken and unbreakable bond had just been formed.

Our conversations continued for the major part of the night before we went to bed. It was a night none of us would probably forget.

After breakfast the next morning, we took a taxi and left for Bagdogra. One last question was asked- “If this is the last time you are meeting the rest of us, what would be your parting words?”

This was a difficult one. We took our time for deciding what to say. We told our parting words to each one. On afterthoughts, I added, ‘I probably wouldn’t be able to say a single word and would simply hug you guys tight, reminiscing all the time we have spent together, everything we have learnt from each other, the superbly strong bond we have formed,’ and that probably was the truest and the most real I could get at that moment.

The ropeway ride takes us on a 20 minute journey over the tea plantations of Darjeeling. November 2016

The sunset couldn't be captured well due to the harsh light. We did what was next best.
Darjeeling, November 2016

With some time in hand, we stopped at a tea plantation to click some farewell photos. We recorded a slow music video- it would look funny to a passer-by (and to us now, in retrospect), but at that moment probably it was as romantic as the atmosphere could get. We were having fun, having lived each moment of the last 3 days, from the moment we decided to impulsively reschedule our flight tickets.

That day, Bagdogra airport did see yet another set of people on Neeraj’s trip bidding adieu with tears in their eyes. The love letters from Darjeeling were stashed safely in their bags. These were to become treasures of moments gone by, for life.

Now read:
Nainital: A Mountain Wedding Affair
The Hills, Trains and A Very Unusual Birthday: A Matheran Travelogue
Bhutan: The Trek to Tiger’s Nest ‘Taktsang’ Monastery

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  1. I sooooo wish I was there in that cab boy!! Miss being a part of the awesomeamazing memory!!

    1. You would have definitely cancelled your tickets and come na? Going by your spirit, I am sure. Thanks for the comment Shraddha :)

  2. I read this last night before going to bed and I was dreaming of a trip like this! Very beautifully written Antarik! The emotions you felt and your excitement has been very beautifully expressed. I have never travelled in a group of complete strangers but have always wanted to do an impromptu trip where I meet new, like minded people and make friends for life.

    Also, so happy to know that you're chasing your dream to travel. Good luck and best wishes. Keep travelling, keep writing and keep inspiring us with wonderful stories! :) :)

    1. Thank you much Pooja :)
      I was very apprehensive about travelling with strangers. But almost all my trips this entire year have been with unknown people who have become very good friends. So I would definitely recommend going for a trip like that :)

  3. Wow! What a post. And what's life without such craziness? I wish I was the part of this trip. I was all smiles till the end. Good one Antarik. :)

    1. Thanks a lot Dipanwita. May be we could all plan an outing from Mumbai someday?

  4. One can get a clear view of the world's third mightiest and highest mountainous snow peaks, Kanchenjunga, from the town on a sunny day.


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