Quite a few friends of mine were confident about D for Dacres Lane – another old world food paradise housing Chittoda’s famous Mutton Stew to be the featured header today. Few other options that came up were Dalhousie – the office para in Kolkata, the historic Dakshineswar Ma Kali Temple, Bengalis favorite beach honeymoon destination Digha and wildlife rich tropical forest covered hills Dooars/Duars in North Bengal. But the two subjects that make it to my coveted list today are topics extremely close to my heart – Darjeeling and Durga Puja.
The queen of Hills has an appeal unmatched to any other hill station. Home to the third largest mountain Kanchenjunga, the city can reached from New Jalpaiguri station/ Siliguri by rented car or the Himalayan range Toy train.While the view of sunrise at Tiger Hills is something beyond the world, the city also has the famous LLyod’s Botanical Garden and Zoo that is home to quite a few endangered species like the Red Panda. The mix of people from Bengali, Chinese, Anglo-Indians, Nepali to Tibetan brings about a unique mix in the cuisine. Noodles, Momos, Thupkas and butter tea are few of the famous dishes here. A speciality of this is place is Alu mimi which is basically Wai wai sprinkled over dum aloo. Darjeeling tea is famous all over the world. The open area mall has a number of shops delighting the tourists. The local market has an amazing collection of woolen clothes which are of great quality yet affordable. The place has the Government tourist lodge along with budget to luxury resorts as stay options. An ideal day at Darjeeling should begin with breakfast at Keventers, lunch at Kunga and dinner at Glenary’s.
Durga Puja –
Bengal can easily be equated with Durga Puja. There is nothing else that defines the essence and spirit of Bengal than this festival. Celebrated all over Bengal (infact all the over world by the non-resident Bengali population now), Mahalaya marks the beginning of Devi pokkho. For any bengali, it means waking up to Mahishashura Mardini by Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Devi bodhon or welcoming the goddess happens on the sixth day (sasthi).
The seventh day or saptami is when the celebrations take on full swing though the pandals seem to be drawing a lot of crowd as early as the third day. Ma Durga along with her children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Kartik visit earth after killing the demon Mahisasura. The eighth day (ashtami) is synonymous with pushpanjali and eating delicious bhog (that khichudi ghyat combination can make anyone go weak in the knees) . The last day Vijaya Dasami is when Devi leaves for her heavenly abode and the wait for next year’s puja begins. The festival is concluded by sindoor khela (playing with sindoor). Durga Puja is not just about pandal hopping or gorging on delectable food items, it is also about Anandamela pujabarshiki (annual magazine digest published before puja)family reunions, get together of friends and nostalgia of homecoming.
The personal angle –
I must have been around six years old when we had visited Darjeeling for the first time. The only thing that I remember about that trip was that it was the first time we had been to the hills and Darjeeling tourist lodge served an amazing range of cuisines that literally melted in the mouth. The next time that we visited the city was just before I left home for pursuing graduation in Kolkata. There was an instant connect with this gorgeous place. The last visit that we made to this place was a month before I went on to join the corporate world. Darjeeling to me is more than just a place, it is an emotion and feeling that can never be expressed in words. Also it is the last destination that we had been for a family holiday with my parents before marriage.
Every year during Durga puja, Baba and I along with his colleague and his daughter, would hop on two pedal-rickshaws and cover maximum of Berhampore pujas over the span of last three days. By the time we returned home, it would be late evening and we would still be enthusiastically dressed up to sit and assess the crowd coming to see our para(area of stay) pujo pandal. Amidst all the pressure of studies and choosing a career , I grew up and moved out of the state. I yearned for home specially on those four days of Puja. Last year, my toddlers constant query about the look of Asura got us back to pandal hopping to give him an idea of how the same Asura can look different in various pandals. By the end of puja, I realized that it was time now to cherish Durga Puja through his eyes.
See you tomorrow with more of Bengal.