Travel to Darjeeling - The Perfect City for a Change of Scenery in India

It is night and we travel to Kakarbhitta, the border with India. They are our last hours in Nepal as we head to Darjeeling. And the first thing we did when crossing the border was to wear the jacket. We drive a motorbike on a nice November afternoon to Siliguri. It is a real motorcycle, pure docile and noble iron that embellishes the road, the mountain, brightens life, existence.

It excites even granting the traveler a libidinous pleasure, almost sexual. Accelerating it is similar to the chain of continuous orgasms at a speed that allows smelling the forest in an almost forgotten route. We follow the narrow gauge route of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway between forests and precipices, tea fields and small towns. Having a tea here is like tasting a beer in Belgium or a wine in Mendoza (Argentina).

The road to Darjeeling reminds me of eastern Nepal. Too narrow for two vehicles to cross, causing strange traffic jams. But above all, it is the small wooden houses colored turquoise or green blue and the inevitable flowers orange, yellow and pink always planted in black plastic bags that remind us of the landscapes near Fikkal to our Nepalese volunteer.

We reach Kurseong. After a small meal, I go looking for a good hostel. After seeing all the rooms in the street, I decide not to spend a night in this city. I make a detour to the small station to see if we can finally reach Darjeeling today with the Toy Train starting at 3 am. But there is nobody at the ticket office. We decide to try our luck with this little train and we settle on the platform of the station.

Our show is passers-by, dogs, goats who play like mad on the rails (we see more than ever where the expression jumps like a goat comes from). While undergoing the repeated assaults of an adorable (but dirty) little puppy who wants to enter my jacket as if it were its inalienable right, the word arrives. The locomotive is down, and will not be repaired so much for the departure and the next one leaves in the evening.

We pick up the bags, abandon puppies, dogs, goats and passersby and head to the side of the road to stop a jeep. While a drunk or crazy guy keeps bothering us, my neighbor on which we are leaning on tells me he's a cop (it was not obvious, he's not in uniform and does not care about the guy which annoys us, like all the men present there).

But hey he gives me the exact price of the trip to Darjeeling shared jeep and told me he will help us stop one. It was good because for the moment all vehicles that passed were either full or went in the wrong direction. Our interlocutor keeps his promise and we are packed in the back of a jeep, as usual.

We are at more than 2,000 m high in November, so we should not expect tropical temperatures. We are looking for a guesthouse indicated in a guide, but the reception is unfriendly and we are given a price three times higher than the one announced in the book. We leave this and I go on mission. A tourist town like Darjeeling, stormed by rich Indian couples, is not obvious. I knock on all the doors of the street then I see a sign on a Lodge.

I push the iron gate, go down a staircase and find myself in the living room of a little grandpa. He greets me with a big smile and makes me see the free room (he has two). Before even knowing the price, I am conquered by the view of the room and its large windows, the small balcony, the large bed and the decor as with grandparents. Fortunately, it provides hot water.

We put on all our warm clothes (we are happy to have our sweater bought from a grandma in the Tibetan village of Mana). We go looking for something to eat other than momos. We end up finding a small establishment where the boss greets us with a big smile. He serves glasses of Old Monk (Sikkim Old Gold whiskey) diluted in water (yes we drink strong alcohols like that in India) and a delicious thali. There is rice, potatoes and mustard greens, dal, pickles and peppers. I'm delighted to eat again with my fingers!


Day 2

Darjeeling is a city of India in the mountains. It is at an average altitude of more than 2000 meters. It is enough to escape the radical heat of the Ganges plain, the rice fields of West Bengal and Calcutta, a real hell on earth for a few months a year, climatologically speaking.

Let no one think of a city at the bottom of a valley between mountains. The Himalayas is so young and abrupt that the bottoms of the valleys are usually narrow, confined and far to the bottom, where there is no view. Darjeeling is a city scattered on the slopes of the mountains of the Shivalik mountains. In what seems a miraculous balance and a total disorder, the houses stick to sloping slopes, managing to have the ground floor in one street and the roofs in another, much higher up.

Its colors stand out among the intense emerald green of the mountains always covered with vegetation and forests. The traffic gets rougher, and becomes dense and heavy. The center of Darjeeling was never designed to support such a large number of cars. Imagine a single main street dedicated to road traffic of a ridiculous width in which hundreds of vehicles in each direction want access to its center. And in the middle of this organized chaos, only the steam toy train is missing, to give the scene even more flavor.

But that happens only in the center. The rest of the city, always up or down in this vertical world, is much quieter. We find beautiful parks where we contemplate the views of one of the highest mountains in the world. While its streets are filled with schoolboys dressed impeccably, with a tie and long, jet-black braids.

At the top, we were right in the square called Chowrasta. This is the center of all activity in Darjeeling for the backpacker. Once there, we go to the DDT Office. Here we get informed about everything that can be done in this city. Timetables, prices, transport, hotels and practically everything. They speak English and are super attentive to the traveler. The building is made of wood and we go down some stairs.

Where else can we save without a doubt in this city is in the meals. Next to the Chowrasta Mall Road and in one of its adjacent streets, we find a small market. The specialty of this area, as well as Nepal, are the momos and here they prepare some of the best we have tasted and of course, they are the cheapest. We eat at least ten of these delicious flour dumplings stuffed with vegetables and meat.

Near Chowrasta is a small Buddhist temple called Mahakal Temple. Here and in a small temple next to the exit of the bells there I meet a Buddhist monk with whom it is a delight to share a few words. He has a penetrating voice and performs spectacular mantras that make absolutely everything vibrate. Everywhere is full of colorful flags that move with the wind. Sometimes we only hear the sound of these fabrics.

If we follow the street of the DDT Office we arrive at the Darjeeling Zoo. It is not that we are lovers of the zoos and we would prefer that they did not exist. We take the opportunity to see one of the most beautiful animals on the planet, the red panda. The area of the red panda is right at the entrance backing to the right. It is worth seeing as it is a very active animal that goes up and down the trees without taking a break. It moves so fast that it's hard to take a picture.

The Passenger Ropeway is one of the best attractions that Darjeeling has. It is a cable car that takes us down to the area where the Darjeeling tea is grown. We remember that this tea is considered the best tea in the world. It is an authentic delicacy for which we already deserved to go to this city of the Himalayas. The ride on this cable car lasts no more than 15 minutes downhill and as many uphill, the show is incredible.

Once we reach the lowest part of the route we visit the Darjeeling tea cooperative factory. The visit is very cheap. At the end, they try to sell us tea. In fact, this city grew thanks to, in addition to the plantations of its today world famous tea, to the good schools by the British that began to install Scottish missionaries. Nowadays Darjeeling schools are still bringing people from all over this part of India.

Nepali-speaking inhabitants of Darjeeling are called Gorkhas. If the Sikhs are known to be excellent drivers or pilots, the Gorkha are reputed soldiers of world fame. They form and have been part of the British elite troops. Also of the Indian army and even of the North American army, of the Malaysian army, the police of Singapore or in the private security of Hong Kong. They are famous for their resistance, self-control, and courage.

All this was told to me by the owner of one of the few cheap hostels in the city at the cost of an English breakfast. This man also says to have gone more than fifty times to the Everest base camp with hikers. But for those who think that Darjeeling is a good point from which to spot it in the distance, I have bad news. It is impossible to see from the city, even from one of its highest nearby peaks called Tiger Hill. And I think we have to do a trek through Sandakphu and be very lucky to see it.

On the other hand, outside the summer months, monsoon and fogs, it is possible to see the Kanchenjunga. It may not be as well known as Everest but is equally impressive. In fact, it is the third highest mountain in the world after Everest and K2, although little known outside the most mountainous environments that I believe may be due to its convoluted name. This mountain, the highest in India, reaches an altitude of 8586 meters and, like all the Himalayas, continues to rise. It can be seen from different parts of the city including its center, where the Himalayan Railway station is, with its steaming steam locomotives.


Day 3

We are waked up at 3:30 am by the jeep driver. In Darjeeling, each morning, a procession of jeeps climb up with tourists to the Tiger Hill to see the sunrise from there. We decide to see the sunrise at Tiger Hill with an army of tourists to try to see Everest and other mythical Himalayan peaks but this morning with too much clouds we see nothing at all.

We walk with three couples to do the tour on the return and I almost freeze of cold on this hill. At the bottom of the city the traffic is insane, noisy and polluted. Otherwise yes the tea was good. The village square was nice. There are some buildings that are vaguely colonial style.

Our favorite is the Shrubbery Nightingale Park. It is difficult to describe the vision of the mountains from this point without falling into clich├ęs. But we can assure without fear of making mistakes that the peaks of the Himalayas have a particularity that hits us a lot. The more we get away from them they look bigger.

Young girls in tracksuits snort and play morning sports in front of these excellent views. The further we go from the viewpoint, the Kanchenjunga seems to grow. Another good viewpoint of the Kanchenjunga in the city is the Observatory Hill. Here other than a bit of luck the seats will be occupied by old people in venerable and pleasant conversation in perfect conjunction with the view of the mountain giving a hopeful feeling of durability and tranquility.

And that's how we found ourselves in Darjeeling, walking between tea plantations and a culture to which we had already adapted. Darjeeling is a mixture of Leh (high mountains and smiling people) and Dharamsala (Buddhism always makes us feel comfortable).

Geography keeps us close to the Himalayas, now we are on its green slopes. We are close to Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan. These ancestral lands contain a logic and a mystery that fascinates us. We get more into the mysticism of the region. During our stay in Darjeeling, we did nothing but contemplate the mountains.

There was one afternoon, in particular, that stayed with us. Our last afternoon in the city. We went walking to the Japanese Pagoda. A place that we loved, for its architecture and its tranquility. We sat all afternoon in silence contemplating the sunset and the Khangchendzonga. The snowy peaks appear to us as inaccessible, but we know that there are many stories hidden there. The mountain generates respect and admiration. Not by chance, most of this trip, we spent between the peaks of the Himalayas.

In Nepal, we had lost the capacity for silence and contemplation. We missed a quiet place to think (not because of Nepal, but because of us). Coming back to Darjeeling allowed us to find ourselves with that again: tranquility, meditation and ourselves.

Far away is the center of the city where everything is histrionic. Everything is spinning, disturbed with shrill beeps and grime on the walls, and peeled chickens and heads of lambs, and screaming salesmen, and impossible slopes. The scenes of daily survival become empty at 8 o'clock in the night each day. Because Darjeeling goes to bed soon, like a Puritan and Victorian girl, at least in appearance.

After these few days, we decide to go to Lava, a small village east of Kalimpong, at the entrance of a nature reserve, to leave the city and its noise and nasal pollution.


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nothingprofound said...

I'm not partial to cold weather or winter but your description of this "amazing paradise" has certainly sparked my curiosity and imagination.

Anonymous said...

Ah - superb shot!

ashok said...

beautiful foto...

Charles Ravndal said...

Beautiful photos especially the first one!

Raindrops and Daisies said...

What a beautiful photograph,
it looks amazing.

Just popped over from Eva's blog and am glad that I did
as your blog is lovely.

I will read more and become your latest follower.

Have a good Sunday

Fiona

Melody said...

What an amazing photo - so beautiful.

varun said...

Friend really such a nice & beautiful place in India For you & your love one.......

Carver said...

Gorgeous shot.

sheila said...

Okay, I'm in love with your blog.
:)

Dulce Dough said...

What a beautiful place! Thank you for sharing!

varsha said...

lovely 1 THE PHOTOS ARE SUPERB AND THE POST IS JUST LOVELY!

Rajesh said...

Spectacular view.

Mallika said...

Pretty - I studied in Darj for many years so was a nice trip down memory lane seeing these pics.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Appreciate your nice comment there.

Anonymous said...

I am from darjeeling so yes, very beautiful post :)

Jules said...

GASP. That's gorgeous!!

Rahul said...

A true justice to Darjeeling's beauty...admirable work with the content and photographs...

Tales of Travelling Sisters said...

Beautiful captures of Queen of hill stations in India...:)

 
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