Siliguri-Sewak Road, West Bengal, India, June 2018, 1320 hours
My earliest memory of the name Siliguri goes back to when I was around 6 years old. A distant grand-uncle lived in Siliguri and his stories were always fascinating. And then of course, came the Sarkars from Jalpaiguri and then started a long series of interactions with these two twin-cities (at least by way of story telling).
Even though we are just driving through Siliguri, it somehow feels familiar. And even though we are only really on the outskirts, the little glimpses I can see are enough to realise that this is a growing urban centre for the region. Tea plantations are all around. It is green everywhere. And there are better roads – and broader roads – going into the city. Small tempos and trucks are plying all around as are quaint buses, rickshaws (not auto-rickshaws) are a frequent sight. Vegetable markets and trade shops are abundant. And there is reason for that. Siliguri is the nerve centre of supply in this region. Our driver, Ajit, tells us that most of the stuff that goes up to Gangtok and Sikkim is supplied from Siliguri.
From the tourism perspective, Siliguri is, of course, famous as the ‘Gateway to North East India’. Initially it reminded me of Kalka, since both are at the foothills of the Himalayas (Kalka was the erstwhile gateway to Shimla and Himachal Pradesh), but Kalka is a little sleepy village-town while the broader Siliguri area (including its twin-city Jalpaiguri) is a major metropolitan area in West Bengal and as a consequence of its proximity, also for North East India.
I must explain the term ‘metropolitan’ here. It is not a metropolis in the sense of Mumbai. Nor is it a metropolitan area like Delhi or the National Capital Region, or Bangalore or Kolkata. It is a metropolitan area for this region and it is more developed, bigger, sprawling and growing and with an influx of people and resources … as compared to its surroundings. And it is in many ways a better metropolis than all the others because manages to retain its identity and historical essence.
But all that is a different story.
Am just soaking in the names of places like Kerseong, Rangpo, Sewak (or Sevoke) … Ajit tells me that Sewak is the little town which marks the beginning of the Himalayas. Sewak is in Darjeeling district and it was also the place from where I started noticing the Teesta River, wide, calm, and intense.
For now, am just happy to be going up the Himalayas again…