Samata Shrestha shares her rollercoaster journey from the plains of Terai to chilly Darjeeling
I was craving for a serene escape and Ilam was my calling. My mother noticed my eagerness to travel far away from the city. I was surprised when she informed me to pack my bag as we were set for the journey the very next day. Since travelling non-stop to Ilam would be tiresome we stayed at Udhyapur. Surrounded by the Chure Hills, it is a replica of Kathmandu but without the crowd and commotion. The houses are usually one storied with massive backyards. Most houses have vegetable gardens growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables. The weather in the Terai is hot but with fresh air that blows at all times. It is a shame that it is a lesser known travel destination for tourists. As a result, there were hardly any hotels which could provide us a place to sleep. Fortunately, we could spend the night at my uncle’s house who works at Udhyapur Cement Industry. The plant provides its staff with houses and it is rather like a small colony.  We also got an opportunity to visit the plant and observe how the factory works. In the evening, we headed for a fair called ‘Hatiya’ where villagers sell local products at cheap prices. For a light dinner, samosa and mixed chat at Gaighat is worth noting. The next day we headed for Ilam. We were all panting and sweating due to the heat. The enormous Koshi River on the way was a relief to the eyes on a hot summer day. As we moved towards the hills, it started getting a little chilly. The returning travellers from Ilam were wrapped in sweaters but the heat of the Terai had not left us. When we reached Kanyam, visibility was almost zero. Fog had eclipsed the view and we could hardly see anything. However, we managed to take some photos for memories and then headed for Ilam Bazaar. I was disappointed when I could not see the greenery of tea gardens but since the locals were saying that the weather was pretty much the same all the year round, we had to agree. We were lucky enough to stay at the quarter of SP Sushil Yadav in Ilam. We purchased all kinds of teas, churpis and a special kind ‘Lollipop’. The name can be misleading but it really is just a mixture of sugar and milk shaped in cylindrical length and wrapped in colourful papers. Visiting Darjeeling was not in our plan but since we had come this far, we planned to go there anyway. As if the weather could not get any worse, it started raining in Darjeeling. Most of the visitors were Bengalis and they could be seen wearing woollen caps and sweaters in the month of May. I couldn’t even differentiate between mist and rain but people were carrying umbrellas so I supposed that it was raining. I had wished to see the different types of architecture, greenery and the hills but there was just fog. We followed a cute train and reached a place called Batasia Loop. Everybody was hurrying to get on the train there and the zigzag path would surely make the ride memorable. This is the toy train and the place is enlisted among UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We then reached the town centre famously called ‘Chowrasta’. It is a really busy tourist spot with unexpected things such as horse riding and live bands. I felt proud to be a Nepali when I saw a statue of Bhanubhakta Acharya standing tall on the mall road.We then walked around Darjeeling and drank some refreshing tea and obviously brought some famous ‘Darjeeling’ tea. One of the stalls sold momos and the warm momos were a life saver in such weather. The area was extremely crowded with tourists and hence there was hardly any place to park our vehicle or get a proper place to eat. We were glad to find food stalls that served fast food. Since there was no space and the prices were hiked up in the peak tourist season in Darjeeling we decided drive back to Ilam instead. I felt a certain type of tranquility on reaching Ilam and soaking in its misty surroundings.