When Saby, my substantial other, first hit upon the idea of making a trip to the tea estate of Selim Hill, I was not too keen. While he kept singing praises and anticipating glory, I, having ridden rough miles, only shrugged.
Saby handled all arrangements and I merely shifted my weight from home to train. Dear Darjeeling Mail was impressive by all measures. Tired from work and studies we instantly rocked into soundless slumber.
We woke up the next morning with burning appetites. Hurtling down the length of the passage, as the train came to a halt, we ejected out in the direction of the IRCTC canteen.
Post the power breakfast, we shoved ourselves into our waiting vehicle — a tea estate car that was at our disposal — and took off, wondering what sport hiking or trekking might be.
Landslides worth many years caused several route blocks and the track actually taken froze our adjectives in fright.
At the better end of the route less taken, there was Selim Hill bungalow. Built around 150 years ago, the private bungalow surrounded by a carefully manicured garden served as the tea estate manager’s residence then.
The rooms are complete suites with recliners, seaters, centre tables, dressers, beds, fireplaces and baths. The ceilings are sloped, so two adjacent rooms have ceilings with reverse inclines.
The two adjacent rooms on one side of the mansion open into a passageway. Across the passageway there are two other similarly furnished rooms. This passageway again opens into a common lounge fitted with a television and a mini-library of old magazines. This large parlour sports curtain-drawn glass windows on three sides. This offers a clear view of a gazebo in front of the bungalow and partial side glances. An incredible repose to sum up!
It was lunch time easily, as happens when you exert yourself much up and down the hill. And what a lunch it was! Their meal for two can easily feed four like us; we downed as much as we could, though.
Not a believer in the benefits of afternoon napping, Saby dragged me along to visit the estate’s tea plant — a little way downhill. Incredibly neat as the plant stood, it was repaired 150 years ago and housed machinery of the same age.
It was late afternoon with a faint smell of a nearby drizzle. Saby, I and our Nikon SLR-D40 set off to capture the sundown. A few gallant poses later, we were tumbling downhill with the drops getting heavier with each step ahead, until finally it began hail-storming. We made it to the gazebo, horrified yet pleased to be perched inside the shed.
Now we stared at enormous darkness in front of us which comprised several overlapping hills and valleys making way to the plains.
In fact, the brightly lit-up NJP, Siliguri and Bagdogra lay distantly ahead of us as beautifully glittering specks. The ample chunks of ice attacking the asbestos overhead got increasingly louder as dusk grew darker. The dimly lit bungalow standing yards away with silhouettes of boys moving around gave us the same creeps as any Hollywood horror flick.
The evening was spent listening to the tumultuous downpour on our sloping roofs and shuddering to the bolts of lightning coupled with sound from cold winds blowing briskly around us.
The following morning, we set off early for the Kurseong toy train station. A lengthy ride grazing some of the hill houses took us round to Darjeeling. Darjeeling, with all its disadvantages, was still gorgeous. Following the utter delight of a breakfast at Keventer’s was a round trip of romp across the mall. Some curio shops later we sealed the day with a grand lunch, complete with desserts, at Glenary’s. There wasn’t much to do back at the bungalow but to gather ourselves for departure the following day.
The next day we actually followed the tracks of a herd of hill goats that regularly went trekking up there. We also saw a dung beetle rolling a ball in glee. We moved through the lush green tea plantation, sailing through the troughs and crests of Selim Hill.
It suddenly dawned on us that “Selim” was probably a distorted version of “sailing”!
Wandering further away into the plantation we saw a crematory on one side of the hill and also a few tombstones raised alongside.
Lunch was our final feast for the day at Selim Hill — and we did it likewise. In the afternoon we swung badminton racquets for a while, not willing to let go.
As we drove away through the treacherous hill track, it felt as if we were being torn away from the heartbreakingly beautiful place. It was a memorable drive downhill with the fog entering through the windows and embracing us with a moist white blindness. The hill cried for us too, we like to believe.
Take any north Bengal-bound train from Howrah or Sealdah station and get down at Siliguri or New Jalpaiguri station. Cars can be hired from there for Selim Hill. If you want a ride on the heritage toy train, you can take the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway train from New Jalpaiguri and get down at Gayabari, which is nearest to Selim Hill.
The 19th century private bungalow is the only option here. There are very few rooms, so book rooms in advance at their Calcutta office. Contact details and other information are available at www.selimhill.com