No bus, rented cars or two-wheelers were visible; not even a donkey or a mule! From where I stood, my destination looked to be miles away up a vertical mountainside, somewhere up in the clouds.
The wispy grey haze, freefall of heavy drizzle accompanied by the turmoil of ominous clouds, obscuring vision, failed to challenge my intrepid and daunting spirit. It was a taxing climb mollified by some charming little cottages with potted orchids in the balcony and the misty rapids. The road snaked up the mountain in a series of long, lazy S-bends as I stumbled on. I was watched with solemn interest by a group of young school children as they briskly walked downhill past me, a few turned back, the quizzical look of “What on earth are you doing here wing nut?” writ large; I reciprocated with a genial smile.
Blame it on the topography, hills create an illusion of the summit to be a stone’s throw away, but every time I traversed a muddy and slippery hair-pin bend, I was confronted with yet another receding view of the top.
At the end of my 8-kms arduous trek uphill I stepped breathless onto a steep cobbled alleyway with drab, lifeless and mostly closed shops on either side.
Flashback: My car had adamantly refused to be resuscitated with a jump start after rainwater seeped into the engine, barely few miles from the plain. Instead of adopting the safer option I volunteered myself to be shoved into the back of an overloaded jeep like some ignominious freight. My stomach rumbled and knees got bruised as the jeep rattled and swayed vigorously every time our seasoned driver, Wangchu, negotiated the twisted turns of the partially washed-away roads. The fog-light was dysfunctional; closing my eyes relieved me of the discomfort of witnessing our vehicle travelling from somewhere to nowhere, into the mist. I muttered prayers under my breath as my fellow travelers, all of whom were returning to their home, somewhere up in the hills, were relatively unperturbed. All the other passengers had alighted either before or at Ghoom, a quaint hamlet from where my solo trek had begun. Wangchu apologized profusely as he couldn’t drive further; he was obliged to return to the plains by evening.
Mid-August is that time of the year when even the most favored hill station of the country lacks patronage of its earnest aficionados. Who would brace landslides, flash-floods and menacing weather in a rugged terrain when the prized view of Kanchenjunga from the top is a rarity!
I trudged upon the beguiling alley past a clock tower and street-side cafes and boulevards. The road ended suddenly, breathtakingly in a viewing platform – a little patio in the sky, the periphery of which was dotted with painted benches. I slumped on one of them, looked up in the sky and prayed for a drizzle which had discontinued for a while now.
Lo and behold! The much-anticipated bedazzling colors enchanted me; the hues of bright orange with green polka, crimson red with fiery golden dragon imprinted, turquoise blue with silver shimmery borders, hot magenta with beige stars, the odd scarlet heart, lacy heliotrope with glitter dots or the vintage chequered ones. It was all mine; I owned the spectacular view. Not the rainbows. Not the flowers. Not the butterflies. My chase for colors have climaxed in the Queen of Hills, Darjeeling, on a bleakly, gloomy monsoon afternoon as I lay my eyes upon the most sightly, fanciable and stunning umbrellas!