"Glory lies in the attempt to reach one's goal and not in reaching it. " ~ Mahatma Gandhi


Mirik: Nostalgia Sullied

Ashish Kaul is a travel writer, a landscape and outdoor portrait photographer, a trekker and mountaineer. He has traversed many trails in the Himalayas as well as in the Nilgiris and is Editor, Indian Himalayas at suite101.com. Other than that, he lives in the corporate world.

It was raining as if nature intended to cleanse the earth and remind man of her existence. It was misty like only mountain clouds can be when they sweep human senses in the open air of the mountains. The leaves gleamed and dripped drops of water all of which collected on sloping roads draining into the dusty plains of West Bengal as though to establish the true hierarchy of nature Through this road, an Army jeep cautiously skirted towards a place that, till then, was just a sound : Mirik.

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I forget my age, the precise year. But remember being all that I wish I still were. When my eyes pierced confidently below that slight frown in the eyebrows, through a head and face which seemed small, a smooth fairish skin, an almost arrogant jaw line that photographs still fail to catch and lips that were unforgivingly thin. A slim athletic frame, a posture that most men would envy, knotted fingers, long legs and a clear voice. The picture of the adolescent I was and the adolescents I still like to see.


The mind had pervaded a huge open space, which had washed away all emotions and traits that we sometimes respect, when we forget they are cultivated and designed as a reaction to an unnatural environment.

But in that jeep, the frown had gone, the eyes were dancing, the lungs were greedily inhaling the crisp mountain air. The mind felt relieved of the practical burden of wanting to look the smartest, sound the brightest and be the best. The mind had pervaded a huge open space, which had washed away all emotions and traits that we sometimes respect, when we forget they are cultivated and designed as a reaction to an unnatural environment.

It was an impressionable age. And what I just described was how those mountains affected me. Well, when we passed through those lovely tea gardens and reached Mirik, the water was like a translucent mirror with which a thick mist flirted sensuously. The forests around were a thick green. A pretty wooden bridge completed what remains even today, a vivid image of immense nostalgia.

But, I've just been there recently. And I could shoot down the people responsible for making it what it is today. The flowers around are replaced by a filthy mud field, where undernourished horses and ghorawalas give stupid rides, to kids who could never ride on their own, ever, in their lifetime - kids, born, bred and destined for Dunlop mattresses, fast food, the idiot box and noise confused for music.

Some passengers were asked to open their suitcases, while others were allowed to go without scanning.
The forests are littered with all kinds of dirty construction; a combination as interesting as bhatura and caviar. The dhabas around have relegated the lake to the background. Naturally, the place smells not of the mountains, but of oil, smoke and sweat. And you wouldn't believe that they have actually replaced that bridge with a cemented one!

Mirik is dead for mountain lovers. And even the mountains have deserted it. Strange but true, even the mist has gone. The drive to Mirik is still pleasant in places. But Mirik, is the exception that proves that the Darjeeling and Sikkim hills are beautiful! But Kalimpong still takes the breath away. And like the first time, it still gets me alive and alert.

I was more into Himachal, Kashmir and the UP hills when I moved to Delhi. But even though it is far, Darj has had this pull in my life. I end up there to live a nostalgia, to recall memories every now and then. I invariably insist that the Landrover taxi take the route through Sukhna in the foothills, where I once lived with elephants and tigers for company!


And then one day, the pull was too strong and October /November '99 saw me climbing in the Kangchenjunga region. They used to tease me, indeed old friends still do, about the fancy I had for 'chinky' girls. Remarkable that among the many ambitions my childish mind used to touch upon, was one, where I wanted to command a Gurkha unit in the Army. I used to like their physical fitness, smartness, their Gurkha hats, the Khukri (I have many at home, besides prayer flags, the lucky symbols, the Tibetan bell and so on).

And so I return to Darj yet again and, as always, the excitement of the unknown and a sense of anticipation, more pronounced than ever before, calls out to me, as though I belong there, as though it's home. Yes, of course, "Home To Himalayan Ambitions". But for other reasons as well.

Waiting, thinking, wondering, excited, hoping.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.