Some people say that if you can drive in India, you can drive anywhere in the world.
Others are more specific. They say that if you can drive in Calcutta, you can drive anywhere in the world.
Some people are even more specific. They say that if you can drive in Calcutta and Darjeeling, you can drive anywhere in the world.
I think the last set of people are right. You can drive anywhere in the world – even on a Formula 1 race track.
Jeeps on the slopes around Darjeeling are convenient and cheap. If you have the time, the toy train is touristy and picturesque, but jeeps are more practical. The roads overlook the green valley that is so spectacular that it takes my breath away. Nothing can compare with hill-beauty – the firm green trees, the feeling of freshness, and the clouds caressing your face as you walk.
The problem, though, is that your heart is in your mouth so often that you look at little but the road ahead of your speeding jeep.
They drive brilliantly, there’s no denying that, but when there’s a fog so thick that you cannot see your own headlights, it’s more than a little frightening to be going cheerfully at 40 kmph on winding mountain roads, exchanging friendly waves with jeeps that are going on the other side of the road. On my side of the road, during the fog that still clouds my mind when I think of it, was a sheer drop into the beautiful green valley. Sure, it was beautiful, but somehow there was no pleasure in thinking that if my jeep veered just a bit, we would all be in that beautiful valley. I was travelling with a friend and both of us fell silent as the fog thickened. We clutched our seats and held our breaths, willing the jeep to go slower. It did not work.
The jeep hit an oncoming jeep as we were on a turn. Nothing was damaged; no one was hurt. The two jeep drivers exchanged a hearty chuckled and continued their journeys.
My friend and I exchanged glances and I gave a nervous, slightly hysterical laugh.
We got off way before our stop during that ride, and walked the rest of the journey. There was a limit to how long we could hold our breaths, and my knuckles were white from clutching the seat. I breathed deeply when I descended. The beautiful valley was beautiful again.