This is the third time that I have a slip-disc attack since 2001. Those who have suffered know how painful this can be, but I managed to reach Siliguri with all the pain. Day before yesterday, Gourida (Gourishankar Bhattacharya), a hardcore traveller and a popular travel writer in Bengali language, who publishes his own books, heard of this mishap (he thinks so, because he says Raj stagnant for the next 10 days is a punishment to him), and visited me home yesterday and gave me his new publication, Sinchular Chayay – Buxa Fort ‘o’ Ananya. As I was opened the book today morning, the first chapter which opened was on Teesta Valley Extension, and extension of the World Heritage Site, Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which is history now. Started in 1915 and ran till 1951.
I was reading his description, he talks about his interview with Runuda, one of the Teesta Valley Extension staff, who is still alive. “Runuda used to be a Guard of the TVE Railway. Though he is old now, yet when I suddenly asked him ‘Runuda, do you remember Geilkhola?’ How can I forget, one day I was on duty, and the train had just crossed Baikanthapur and reached Sevoke, my driver Sailen Chakraborty slowed down and shouted at me, ‘Runuda, look at the Tiger drinking water’. Really, I could see the huge Royal Bengal Tiger, bent in a crawling position, was drinking water from the Teesta. Almost every trip, I used to see elephants, gaur, deer, wild boar and many birds. He continued, after Sevoke, Kalijhora was the watering station for our tiny engine. Kalijhora to Relli siding and then to Geilkhola. The ropeway from here used to bring down raw wool, yak skin, butter, oranges, timber and many more items. Main buyers were Sardarjis (Buyers from Punjab with traditional turbans) from Amritsar, Ludhiana etc who waited here to them back home for brands like Lal Imli, Dhariwal and many more.
Tears roll down my cheeks voluntarily. It had happened once, when I lost my mother. I did not want to cry, but tears kept rolling down from my eyes, not wanting to stop. It remind me of the Nature Study and Adventure Camps, which we organized at Samco and Najuk. Sudipto Majumdar used to be the Camp Commander of each camp, my friend from my childhood days, but had his own character and charisma in those days. Friends like Timir da, Nitish da, Biplab, Konika, Soma, Ashukaku, Babu and Sanjib volunteered to be the Deputy Field Director, Quarter Master, Instructers, Guides and so many more roles. There was this goods ropeway from 29th Mile by NH31A to SAMCO on the other side. Siemen Daju was on this side and Raphael Daju on the other side. Temporary wooden benches were put and we tied the campers and officials to the other side, crossing the Teesta and Relli rivers. We used to hear Raphael Daju calling “Samtar calling, Samtar calling” and Siemen Daju used to reply from the other side. Towards sunset, while we were still crossing, I often saw the orange streams of Relli Khola, Geil Khola and 02 more of them meeting Teesta with the pillars of the Teesta Valley Extension Railway remains at the backdrop. When I see the hill between the Road and Najuk is gone, a dam, the grand structure of development has replaced the hill, I cannot hold my tear.
Dr.K.C.Bhanja in one of his books as described by Gourida, mentions Teesta Valley is one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. Teesta Valley line was open for traffic in the year 1915. First 12 miles from Siliguri the line crosses the deadly Terai, and almost level tract of land lying at the foot of the Himalayan range...The train enters the Sal forest and soon after crosses Sivoke River spanned by fine bridge... From here right upto the terminus at Gielle Khola, the line passes closely along the right bank of Teesta, the greatest and mightiest drainer of the lofty snowy range of Kinchenjunga group...the emerald green Teesta of the winters, the white milky Teesta of the monsoons are now only memories. The gushing Teesta of all times, the extreme under current is today merely a stream being crossed by cattle and people alike in the winters. The 12,000 sq kms of catchment area and drainage valleys through the approximately 300 kms river, the home for the tiger, elephants, gaurs and royal pheasants are today shops, defence settlements, power project settlements, village settlements, educational hubs, mining colonies and development zones.
Inspite of all this developments, we do not have any real people to people passage through the ancient routes of Jelepla and Nathula, we do not have any meaningful connection with the people in the hills and plains, we do not have any priests who offer prayers for protecting Teesta Mother and we do not have human hearts which cry for the dying Teesta. The train, let us see the glorious Siliguri Station, which is now Siliguri Town station, the traces of Siliguri Road Station, the turn table at the FOCIN gate of present Kanchenjunga Stadium (earlier Tilak Maidan) are buried under development (development? Please explain). The tax villa of the Jalpaiguri Raja, the map of Sikkim Raja is all dumped under the boundaries of modern demands.
I remember from my childhood days, a neighbour aunt, Uma Kakima, who was a wonderful singer had one of her Gurujis visiting her once in two years or so. The gentleman was a wonderful singer, the entire classical world of Siliguri of those days would get together to listen to him. He was in blind love with Teesta, he used to walk from Siliguri to Sevoke, sing to Teesta for almost half the night and would then jump in the Teesta waters from Coronation Bridge early in the morning. Later his hosts would find him senseless, lying on the banks of Teesta, all drenched, but not sick. There is a spirit of the Teesta, which people understood in the past, today for us this is just another river.
Handful of fishes, water for the paddy fields and so much of life for all, how could you say that she is just a river, a river with water? If she did not have life, how could she give life for hundreds of years? She has been flowing on the path of Korotoya for than 02 centuries, the Korotoya, which legend says the flows down the hand of Shiva and Parvati, when they were getting married. For our Lepcha friends, Teesta is the river which has given birth to all modern living beings, the mother of the region. Now, do you have time to stop by her and softly say, Hi!
In the pix: The forests are now full of falling leaves. These leaves will decompose and the monsoons will spread a rich top soil.
Toy Train pix: These have been provided by photographer friend Sanjit Nandi.
Elephant pix: This has been taken by nature photographer Subhajit Roy of Aaranyak in North Bengal and has been provided by Gouri da.