It was late afternoon as we deboarded from the tourist vehicle that carried us all the way from West Bengal’s Bagdogra airport to Maney Bhanjyang, pronounced as “maaneh bhhanjaenng” in their Nepali accent.
This is a small transit town that got its name from the Singalila National Park on the India –Nepal border, which also acts as the gateway for trekkers worldwide, heading for the well-renowned trekking destination, Sandakphu and Phalut.
Meanwhile, our Troop Leader introduced us to our local guide (a local Sherpa from the locality) while gulping every sip of the Darjeeling tea and dipping the Rusk biscuit in the cup. (People from the Sherpa community are known to be sharp and smart when it comes to exploring the Himalayan region, and most of them earn their livelihood through tourism and adventure sports.)
Sooner the driver arrived and exchanged words with our guide in their Nepali dialect. Finally, we got the indication to load our baggage in the vehicle outside. We went to do so but got stuck in confusion, and a few of us returned to the tea stall, inquiring and affirming that there is no such vehicle waiting outside.
A mysterious smile could be seen in the faces of our Troop Leader, Guide, Driver and all of them directing us to the Land Rover waiting outside. We jumped out of our skin to witness the dropped bombshell right in front of us that took us unawares every way.
What a jaw-dropping moment it was. Our tickling satisfaction seemed no boundaries; we were taking rounds like inspecting a car from every side, every corner, or perhaps acting like a small kid who saw a moving machine (vehicle) for the first time in life.
The logo still intact with extra welded joints, few parts still looked like gold plated, the antique dashboard, the gear lever attached to the steering wheel and whatnot. Felt like adjectives would fall short of describing the beauty of these vintage cars while ogling with our wide-open eyes, we touched, clicked snaps and sheer shouts of joy all around.
An agency named Singalila Land Rover Owner’s Association maintains these antique beasts. They have around 40 vehicles, mostly Series I Land Rovers from the post-British era (1948-1960), when the Colonial reign ended as the country got its independence and preparations were on to return to England.
The exterior has faded as it’s more than half a century old, its interior modified to ferry more passengers, but the performance of these SUV’s are not less than a brand new one. The prized possession of this association and the lifeline in the remote terrain to commute on these just stone boulder laid roads.