The gateway of north-east India


Nilratan Halder | Published: July 06, 2018 22:47:03


Nicknamed the gateway of north-east India, Siliguri (why not Shiliguri?) has a unique geographic and topographic position. Geographically, it is not exactly at the foothill of the Himalayas and yet it is not far from the mountain ranges that stand guard to the region. On a clear day, the opaque slate wall in the distant horizon kissing the sky is hazily visible. This is good enough to make blood rapidly course through your veins. In fact, those visiting Darjeeling thus receive an introduction to what magnificence is to unfold before their eyes as they proceed towards the mountain resort.

As a fast growing city spanning its location to Darjeeling and New Jalpaiguri (NJP) districts, the metropolis is in the process of a merger between Siliguri and NJP. This may enhance the city's status from the third largest city to the second in West Bengal. Currently, it is second to Guahati in the North-east of that state. Although, Siliguri still has a majority Bangalee population, the Tibetans, Bhutias and Biharis are also increasingly making it their homes. What is particularly noticeable is that the shared jeeps, buses and other transport operators are mostly hill people of Nepalese ancestry, Lepchas and Bhutias. They are reluctant to use Bangla; rather they would speak Hindi if they are addressing their own kinds.

It is a melting pot of not only of ethnic people of Himalayan foothills and Bangalees, but people from Bihar and other states are also crowding the city because the city has gained quite a momentum in its growth. Tourism certainly has a lot to do with its rapid growth. Tourism has pushed up its transport business. Tea industry along with timber has long been the district's mainstay. Thus four Ts are the driving force behind the two districts' as well as Siliguri's economy. But then education, trade and commerce have also flourished.

A visitor, however, is not interested in the city's or for that matter the region's economy. What is his or her concern is to get a proper reception at the gateway to the mountain resorts tucked in the lap of the highest mountain ranges in the world. Sure enough, hotel-keeping and catering are making roaring business but what appeared woefully missing is the lack of a decent facility for Bangalee foods. Of course, there are posh hotels but those serve foods and drinks of the western varieties. At the least, Chinese chow mein or Italian pasta can be available but no Bangalee curry or dishes of desirable fish. Open eateries, however, serve some tasty dishes of small fish. The Bangalees in this way are getting cornered on account of the use of mother tongue and their favourite dishes. The same is the case in Kolkata too.

If the gastronomic irritation or anxiety can be overcome, there is however a full vista of romantic city where marriageable girls are in high demand from young bachelors in Kolkata. It was no fluke that this scribe met at least three families -one on the train to NJP, another at Kalimpong and yet another at Lava - comprising women and men coming from Siliguri and Kolkata respectively. On completion of their tour in the mountain resorts the son-in-laws all had planned for spending the rest of their remaining holidays at their fathers-in-law's residences in Siliguri. A lot many young men from Kolkata also look for their brides in Siliguri. 

Indeed, the mystery of the mountain beckoning vacationers seems to have added an indefinable charm to girls from Siliguri who are straightforward, frank and culturally advanced. Their simplicity must not be confused with rusticity and their command of the repertoire or situation when in mutual discourse or meeting make them apart from the fast and perhaps contrived courtesy common to girls in large cities. There lies the special charm with which Siliguri girls draw the attention of bachelors in Kolkata.

Apart from this romantic tryst, the city's special location is seductive enough. The misty mountain range in the north and the sunshine in its south lend it an inexplicable charm. Here, the Earth and sky, to borrow Mohammad Rafi's immortal song, whisper and thus take shape of the understanding between 'you and me'.

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