I have travelled the nooks and crannies of the country, but sadly, as the years passed, I had somehow forgotten to return home and explore the obscured mountain ranges in the shadows of which I had spent the most glorious days of my life, my childhood.
I remember watching the green slopes covered in low-hanging rain clouds during the monsoon from my window. The memories of excitedly counting the number of small waterfalls that would trickle down the slopes are still vivid in my subconscious mind. Back in Kurseong, a small hill station near Darjeeling, I grew up watching clear streams form out of nowhere after every heavy shower.
These had all been an indispensible part of my childhood but life carried on and these memories were hidden in some part of my mind, until very recently.
Although people are often sceptical about travelling to the hills during the rainy season, this July, following my quest for scenery and serenity, I, and two friends took the offbeat hilly path to the quaint little town of Bagora. And honestly, we were anything but disappointed!
Perched on a ridge 2,339 metres above sea level, this town in North Bengal is still unspoilt by the demands of tourism. Bagora offers a splendid view of Mt Kanchenjunga and it also forms a base for many who proceed towards the famous Tiger Hill for treks further up. The town is located at about 17 km from Kurseong and to reach it one will have to either hire a vehicle or share one of the jeeps that ferry people at almost all times of the day.
By the time we got there and pitched our tents at the campsite it was already afternoon and without further delay we set out to explore the area. The roads curled and wound through the mountains, but every time we took a step, the pines were there. There were also conifers, standing tall, watching every new visitor on the less-trodden roads. The subtropical forests of this region are very dense, with thick undergrowth as well. In the monsoon, one can only imagine the plushness of the foliage. Wild flowers of every shape and colour greeted us wherever we went. A little farther away, we could see clusters of pretty houses in a narrow valley between pine-covered mountain slopes. I was impressed by how well the wilderness areas were protected here.
Suddenly, a movement captured my attention, followed by the mysterious call of a bird. A spotted laughing thrush! I was intrigued! It didn’t seem to be disturbed by my presence, and soon I realised that it wasn’t the only one. There were three of the same kind, all happily frolicking among the greens, and emerging every now and then to peck among the rocks. We also had the privilege of talking to a few locals who welcomed us with warm, open-hearted smiles. We chatted for a while with Wangdi Sherpa, a villager in his mid-50s, and he invited us to his house where one of his daughters served us tea while we talked about the village, its people and their activities.
The locals are mostly engaged in dairy farming and organic farming. Besides, we also learnt that Bagora is renowned for its herbal and medicinal plants and exotic birds, including the scarlet minivet and the golden-breasted fulvetta. Night was falling fast so we decided to get back to the campground. It had already started drizzling by then. My plans were already set for the next day. Although exhausted, how incredible it felt to fall asleep to the tune of the pitter-patter of the rain outside.
Waking at 5 am is never an easy task for me. But waking up at that unearthly hour to climb up a mountain to see the sunrise from an Air Force station? I was thrilled. We set out immediately and within a few minutes the sky began to turn sanguine, beckoning the sun to rise. As we climbed higher, the valleys were clearly visible in the east, a small unnamed river flowing between them, and the sun rising somewhere behind them. On the other side was the mighty Kanchenjunga range of mountains, and it was on them that the first rays of the sun fell. As the sun’s rays touched the snow clad peaks, they lit up, embraced in a golden hue! It was even more beautiful when the the sun climbed higher, occasionally peeping through the clouds as if in a game of hide and seek. A sight that will remain etched in my memory for a lifetime. The majestic mountains and the splendid weather only added to the incredible beauty of the spectacular greenery caped in a blanket of grey mist.
As David Mitchell wrote in Cloud Atlas, “Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” I spent a few private moments with nature before heading back to civilisation but it was enough to touch my soul and leave me revived. Without another tourist in sight, the offseason adventure had unfolded rather delightfully. The intimacy of a landscape shared only with you and no one else was a rare joy. At Bagora, one has a heavenly tryst with nature and there is a heady mixture of age old traditions, pristine diversity and glorious landscapes.
Days after returning from Bagora, memories of its immaculate beauty and the exuberant people will surely haunt you to go back, for good.