Siliguri (Via Kolkata)

12-April-2022


It was so hot in Kolkata that I had to remove my jacket and stuff it into my backpack. Since the Bagdogra airport was closed for repair and renovation, I had to fly via Kolkata.  I had taken an early morning flight to the city. As I exited the airport, I turned right to reach the bus station, located only 100m away from the main entrance. A direct bus to Howrah railway station was waiting to be filled up. The ticket price for this 1 hour ride on an ac Volvo bus was just Rs 50, way too less than a similar ride in Bangalore. 

I passed the clock tower and the Howrah bridge to reach Howrah railway station, which was exceptionally crowded. The subway crossing at the station was inundated with people. As a train arrived, people came flooding out of the main entrance. I feared a stampede. 


As I was a bit too early for my next journey, I decided to step out for lunch. About a kilometre away, I found Sudha restaurant that serves vegetarian food. A good meal with 4 chaptatis and rice was served with two dishes and a dhal. For dessert, there was rashagolla. The plate cost me around Rs80. 


West Bengal is famous for its milk-based sweets. On Google maps, I located a Bhikaram Chandmal store nearby, where I had some tasty sandesh and chum chum. That did not fulfil my appetite for Bengali sweets. So, I headed to Gangotri sweet and snacks, a few meters away. Their sandesh and rashagolla was even better. Satisfied by that slurpalicious meal and desserts, I headed back to the railway station. I noticed that authentic Bengali sweets have a mild sweetness to them. On the other hand, the Bengali sweets sold in Bangalore are extremely sweet. 

Sandesh
Sandesh
Rashagolla

By the time I reached the station, I was drenched in sweat. It was an extremely humid weather in Kolkata. But a week's stay in Mangalore had prepared me for such climate already. I had to wait a long time for my Shatabdi train as it was delayed by 30 minutes. At around 2:45pm, the train arrived. As soon as I got in and settled in my seat, I witnessed a loud commotion in the compartment. A big loud Bengali extended family was traveling with us. It was so noisy that I had a headache almost immediately. I had to put on my earphones to avoid the noise. But that wasn’t helpful either. Bengalis are known to be extremely loud. Most of them are! I had come across this situation while traveling in Sikkim, Meghalaya and Himachal before. Coming from the South, where people are generally silent, this was unusually noisy for me on an AC compartment of Indian railways. All through the journey, the family members were screaming and shouting. After a while, I got used to it. Or let me say, I had no choice. 


Shatabdi serves food on train and generally they are top notch. But the food quality on this train was terrible. I hardly ate anything. The railway track cut across fields growing paddy and vegetables. It was refreshing to see the fields still green with vegetation.  The train was running slower than the usual speed of a Shatabdi train. Additionally, there were several railway crossings, for which, it had to stop. Even after listening to my music playlists, watching a Malayalam movie online, observing the people around, looking out of the window and reading a few chapters of a book, New Jalpaiguri station (NJP) seemed far away. 


Finally, at around 12:30 AM, we reached NJP railway station. On stepping out, I boarded an auto rickshaw to reach my hotel in Siliguri town (9km away). The auto driver demanded Rs300. One thing, I can tell you after staying here for a few days is that, the prices are generally standard at wee hours or otherwise. At 1Am, I reached Hotel Saluja where Divyesh, my friend from Gujarat, had already checked into the room. I was happy to see him again. 


Hotel Saluja has private rooms and a hostel section. The hostel section also consists of private rooms, but the bathroom and toilets are shared; which kind of works out to be much cheaper. A single room (at the hostel section) costs you Rs500 and double sharing costs you around Rs750. Divyesh and I caught up with the updates for a while before going to bed. I had had a long journey, of almost 24 hours, and my body badly needed some rest. 


13-Apr-2022


I woke up at 8am, that in itself is unusual because, I can never sleep past 6am, no natter what time I go to bed. But this rest was much needed. I stepped out to have some tea. We got ready and left hotel at around 10:30am. When I had stepped out for tea, Siliguri was quiet and peaceful. There were very few vehicles on the main road and I was impressed by the tricycles and the electric auto richshaws. 


But at 10:30AM, the scene was completely different. Roads were packed with vehicles, all of them, honking at the highest decibel level possible. The honking was irritating, to say the least. Anyway, one of the best ways to get around Siliguri is to ride a shared-auto. They charge anywhere from Rs10 to Rs20 for a ride, depending on the distance. 


We went directly to Tenzing Norgay bus station, which is just 1.6 km away from our hotel. Here, I enquired about the bus to Mirik. I was told that there are two buses to Mirik - one at 7:40 AM and an other at 1PM. Someone at the counter also informed me that there are plenty of shared taxis that ply between the two towns. Behind the bus station, in front of Siliguri railway station, shared taxis to Mirik and Darjeeling are parked. Upon enquiry, we learnt that the per-person fare to Mirik is Rs 300.


What I like the most about the people in Siliguri is that they are honest. The prices are all fixed. Moreover, the auto drivers make genuine enquiries about your destination and if you refuse to ride with them, they leave without asking again. At most, they may charge Rs 10 extra for tourists. Which is a rare sight in Indian cities. In Bangalore and many other big cities, most auto/taxi drivers hound tourists until they ride with them and then try to loot them by quoting exuberant prices. No such scene in Siliguri though!


Since Divyesh reached Siliguri a few days before me, he already had an idea on the way in which the city works. We went to Sevoke more (Junction) and rode a shared-auto to Iskon temple. Inside the temple, the setting was absolutely divine. A devotee was singing Bhakti Geeth (devotional songs) in praise of Lord Krishna. I was filled with an inexplicable, overpowering feeling. Though not a strong believer in the existence of God, I feel that if something that brings me any close to seeking of the unknown, then it would be a path of Bhakti. Meerabhai and Mahatma Gandhi emphasised on it and so did other Sufi scholars. Iskon, I believe too largely follows an ideology close to Bhakti movement. I sat there for almost an hour being moved by the music and the devotion that was obvious in his voice. 


We had the Rajbhog mahabhojan (special lunch served at ISKON) for Rs100 per plate. Food is served in a room behind the temple, after the Mahapuja at noon. It was delicious. 


Back in town, we walked to Siliguri market in search of a store called Calcutta sweets. I had some rashgollasandesh and Misti Dohi there. After having those delicious desserts, we headed back to the hotel for some much needed siesta. 

Misti Dohi

In the evening, we set out to explore Siliguri again. We were in search of a lunch box made of stainless steel. But, the main roads of Siliguri like Sevoke road and Hill cart road are filled with only hardware stores. We finally found what we needed at Reliance smart. Divyesh had grown fond of the sandwich served at Subway in Vega Circle mall. So, we went there for some window shopping before grabbing a sandwich for dinner. The mall is newly opened and was packed with youngsters; mainly school kids. We wondered what was the major source of income for people here and remembered that Siliguri is popular for its tea plantations. 


With that, another long but interesting day came to an end. Mirik was on the plan for next day, so we headed back to the hotel and retired for the day.

 


Comments

  1. Thanks for the interesting descriptions of Kolkatta and Siliguri. Want to make 2 observations. No one can beat Chennai auto drivers for dishonesty and cheating. Many people, by mistake, think rasagola is a Bengali sweet. Rasagola is a delectable dessert that originated in Odisha. Odisha earned the GI tag for “Odisha Rasagola” on July 29, 2019.

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    Replies
    1. Thank You SG. I agree with your comment on Chennai auto drivers. Thanks for sharing about Odisha Rasagola.

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