“Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow…” ~Natsume Soseki
True, the greens are hardly to be seen nowadays. Sprawling malls and glitzy locales are imperceptibly replacing the favorite old getaways. But the charm of nature isn’t one to die away that soon. The verdurous forests with the promise of adventure will never fail to allure us. The unknown pathways, the thrilling array of fauna lurking around, the expectation of a surprise. A jungle safari ensconces all shades of delight and drive that define a traveller’s diary. If a meandering rivulet comes along with the wilderness wonders with its spread of riverine revelry, then who cares about a destination or a tour plan?
Indeed my tryst with this enchantment of the forest goes back to one of the many extended weekends which would suddenly descend upon the school calendars and instantly render the mundane into the memorable. This particular weekend, my foray into the scene however was both uncalled for and accidental. Like most Bengali travel enthusiasts, my parent took it upon themselves to not let any of those extra holidays go in waste. Thus, more often than not the declaration of a holiday often coincided with our embarking on our weekend sojourns . So, that weekend too, customarily, we all boarded the shatabdi express to New Jalpaiguri on Thursday evening and for yet another tie set out for our favourite next-door haunt, North Bengal. However this weekend had got us to anticipate a little more than the normative enjoyments and amusements. Instead of staying at a hotel, we decided to lodge at one of my father’s old school mates’ bungalow in one of the luxuriant tea estates of Chalsa.
Chalsa is a quaint little town, perched on the foothills of the Himalayas, surrounded in a mosaic of tea estates, wildlife sanctuaries, evergreen forests and the crystalline Tista flowing nearby. The bungalow, too was beautifully set up amid blooming flowers and an imperious Victorian decor. The interiors too presented an assortment of exotic collections that bewildered the 9 year old me then. To add to my fascination, their compound had everything from a cowshed to a miniature farm patch, notwithstanding a golf course. I had never been to a more integrated address before. So,every step ushered astonishments for me. But, Chalsa, apparently had a lot more in store for me than those architectural splendours. The next day, the men of both the host and the guest party decided to go out camping to the nearby wilderness while the ladies would entertain themselves in the likes of souvenir shopping .While both prospects were lucrative, my penchant for forests and wildlife seemed to have an upper hand throughout. So, I insisted that I go along with Dad and uncle to the camping. Remonstrance and rebukes thwarted my plan and the rebel that I was, I decided to therefore withhold from the shopping plan as well. My tantrum didn’t fare well with the adults and as a punitive ,I was left back home. My Chalsa vacation was thus almost at the verge of wreckage when my saviour came in the form of the estate butler. To cheer me up and salvage me from the impending lonesome hours, he suggested that I accompany him to the plantation and without a second thought I agreed.
The tea estate proved to be one of the most captivating experiences of my life. Interspersed with different varieties of trees, the maze of teas shrubs appeared to be a jigsaw puzzle in green.The tea pluckers with their dashing costumes and nimble fingers almost waved magic with the leave. The butler took me to one plucker and set me to task. With amateurish, reluctant and clumsy ways, I too embarked on the life of these pluckers. The butler got clicked a photograph of mine in the traditional attire before taking me inside the factory and giving me a guided tour of the place. T say the least I was enchanted. The sleek and rapid movements of the machines and their flair, bemused me to ends. It was indeed an experience which is indelible. So, when I finally came home to a spread of Gajar ka halwa and parathas, all my grienvances were gone, what remained was an unforgettable chapter on my travel diaries.
Contributed by Yashaswini Basu