Michelle and Charlie's Around the World Trip 2004-2005 travel blog

view of Darjeeling

there goes the tea

the well advertised Tibetan Refugee Center

yoga monkey

Happy Valley Tea Estate

the tea lady

Tibet has a strong influence here

train second class sleeper

the back of my Tshirt after the long train ride

super yummy

train track and the foothill forrest

halfway to Darjeeling train stop

our favorite place in the hotel. Typically lot more people and mingling,...

 

inhebitant in the zoo

yak in the zoo

more zoo

this was a tough shot. this guy did never stopped long enough...

 

inside of the tea factory 1

inside of the tea factory 2

inside of the tea factory 3

charity dinner

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the music celebrates the Tibetian new year over Darjeeling


Ahhh, Darjeeling. It's literally a breath of fresh air after having to make yet another return to hot and polluted Delhi and a tortuous 3.5 day train and bus journey (more on that later) to get here. It's a 2100 meter/6000+ foot high "hill station" established by the British, first as a sanatorium and then for other purposes. Now it's a quiet (by Indian standards) and cool city inhabited by people of Indian, Nepali and Tibetan descent. It's in the Himalayas in the North East corner of the country near both those borders as well as the border of Bhutan. Kanchanjunga (the 3rd highest mountain in the world) is close and supposedly visible, although we haven't gotten to see it yet because of clouds - hopefully tomorrow! Anyway, my hour is up here and it's time to enjoy some more of the fabulous Tibetan food made by the family that owns our hotel, so I'll finish this later.

There is the option of taking a bus or the mini-train to get to Darjeeling. We went with the cheaper and more frequent bus. The winding road has more safety announcements and more creative ones than we have seen anywhere before. They are like: "slow has 4 letter, like life; speed has 5 like death". We also took the bus down at the end of our stay there. We figured that just to be on the safe side -timewise- let's take a bus that gives us an extra 1/2 hours v. as long as it took to get up there. Ha. It took a lot longer to get down. By the end we were getting frantic, our hardly won train tickets are going to be wasted! The bus guys were very nice, they stopped a block before the bus station and started to hail motor-rhiksas on the middle of the main road. Oddly, other times we kept being bothered by them, now none of them wanted to give us a ride. Eventually a wild "amazing race" type of later we got to the train platform with 30 sec to spare. That is 1 hour to spare, since the train was late to depart.

OK, still no mountain views, but we're still liking Darjeeling. It's obviously famous for its tea, so we visited one of the nearby plantations (called "Happy Valley") and had a short tour of the factory. If you're interested in the process - after picking the leaves go through several drying phases and then a sorting phase first by a small machine and then by hand into four different grades. We also got to taste some of the product at a hut outside of the factory run by an eccentric lady who was very entertaining. She said with the highest quality grade you only have to brew the leaves for 5 seconds and sure enough she made tea for us this way and it was very nice. Other interesting anecdotes she shared was that she was married at age 13 and at that time (50 years ago), the hillside that is now the city was a jungle replete with tigers and bears. In Darjeeling, unlike many other places we've been in India, almost everyone speaks excellent English, including this lady who has been a tea picker most of her life. She said that private school is very expensive, but necessary, since the government schools don't teach English.

Other touristy things we visited here were the zoo and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Everest climber Tenzing Norgay lived most of his life in Darjeeling, a fact that the area is very proud of. The museum at the Institute was kind of disappointing, but it did have many nice pictures of people climbing and on the summit of Everest. There was a display of Tenzing's gear used in the Everest climb (some of it very similar to what we still use now), but it didn't have much information about him or about Everest in general. The zoo was pretty well done and almost all of the animals had fairly large enclosures - not small cages which is always depressing. The star attraction is the Siberian Tiger, which is a gigantic cat - actually the largest of the cat family. They also have a bunch of red pandas, which look like red raccoons, but cuter and furrier - even with fur on the bottoms of their paws.

Another nice thing about Darjeeling is that there are many examples of the community doing things to support each other and disadvantaged groups. For example, we visited the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Organization which was established in the 50s when large numbers of refugees came here to escape Chinese occupation. The center runs a home for the elderly and an orphanage and does other things for the Tibetan community. They also sell crafts made by the people there and the proceeds go back to the organization. Although we're usually not much for souvenirs, we bought several items here because we liked them, they had fixed (very reasonable) prices and the money goes to an admirable organization. A different organization was also running a charity event while we were here - the Nepali Food Festival. We got to try many different kinds of Nepali foods and the proceeds went to help the disabled in the community. (Although I have to say that I like Tibetan food better.)

We also went to another Bollywood movie. We went to one called "Bewaafa" a couple of weeks ago and loved it - even bought the soundtrack because the music was so contagious. It had been in a mix of Hindi and English with lots of singing and dancing with about 5 costume changes per song. The one we went to here was being heavily advertised. It's called "Lucky - No Time for Love", so I assumed that it would have even more English than Bewaafa and a review we had read said that it was typical Bollywood fare - which to me means lots of over the top musical numbers. Unfortunately, it was not as enjoyable for us as the first one because there was almost no English and barely any singing and dancing (only 2 kind of boring songs during the first half). Plus the story line was kind of creepy since it was about a romance between a girl that looked about 15 (complete with school girl uniform with plaid skirt and knee highs) and a guy that looked almost 30. The most enjoyable thing for me was that it was shot in St. Petersburg, where we started this trip last June, so it was fun for me to see the different sites there again (and funny to picture them shooting some of the scenes there). We left at intermission. Intermission is a must in Indian movie theaters. We went to see a Hollywood flick, too, and halfway into it all suddenly the screen goes blank, lights are on and everyone leaves to buy refreshments.



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