After Mumbai, Darjeeling was somewhat of a shocker. It's all Tibet-Lite, and high up, and COLD (in December, at least), and everyone eats thick-skinned dumplings and hot noodle soups instead of dal and iddli.
We flew from Mumbai to Bagdogra and then shared a several-hour taxi ride with Punjabis on honeymoon. This was exciting and cool and all, until they bought several bags of snack foods, ate them, and then tossed the trash OUT THE WINDOW. I was aghast, but didn't say anything. Man, do I need to grow a pair.
Traditional dress is beautiful and classy and not something I could pull off.
Those aprons look even better in real life.
Darjeeling is in West Bengal, in a region the inhabitants call Gorkhaland. There's a bit of a separatist movement, and people are very proud of their Gorkha heritage.
We took a two-hour ride on the narrow gauge railway that heads from New Jaipalguri through Darjeeling to the town of Ghum. The track is only 2 feet wide!
The joy ride is the way to go, if it's being offered when you're there; you leave from Darjeeling, head uphill and have a couple of stops, and then are returned to the Darjeeling station. On the way, you get to see some of the engineering marvels that made this track in difficult terrain possible, like the loop above, which allowed the train to climb higher than a straight track would have. This was an amazingly tough project when it was undertaken in the late 1800s!
The locomotives still burn coal, and at stops the engineers have to shovel fuel into the boiler and stoke the fires. It's pretty amazing and definitely something different.
Most of the tourists were domestic.
The train rattles along mere inches from tin shack stores and grand monasteries, crossing a parallel street back and forth.
Views from the window:
After our train ride, we also, shock of shocks, located and drank some Darjeeling tea! Nice, lightly astringent, luverly.
We even went and had high tea at a fancy place called Windamere. While the hotel was neat and old and full of bric-a-brac and signed notes from important personages of the 1950s, the tea service itself was pretty sad. Premade sandwiches, store-bought biscuits, and "clotted" "cream" that tasted like Cool Whip that had been stored with onions and allowed to freeze and defrost.
Our hotel, the Dekeling, we liked, though. (The first picture up top is the view from our window.) It was a bit idiosyncratic; there were no heaters in the rooms, but we got hot water bottles. Hot water was out for most of our stay (electricity in Darjeeling is unreliable, at best), but you could get a bucket of hot water delivered for a bucket shower.
We brought a box of chocolates that we'd picked up somewhere, and each day the maid ate exactly two of them. This was fine, since we didn't want them anyway, but we thought it was especially strange when they finished the box.
The restaurant downstairs was really good, and we got to try a tradiional Tibetan breakfast of tsampa. This is buckwheat flour, served with butter and shavings of cheese. Mix in just a touch of milk until you get a thick porridge, almost like cookie dough.
We also ate a lot of momos, there and at the slightly better restaurant next door. Steamed momos, fried momos, so many momos...
I wanted to try these sausages we spotted air-drying.
Walking around Darjeeling was not particularly pleasant, the green path that curved around the back of the mountainside notwithstanding. The "Keep Darjeeling Clean" campaign was clearly not making much headway.
There were lots of stray dogs, like in much of India. They often barked for most of the night. I felt terrible.
The tea plantations were much calmer than the town itself. We stopped by Makaibari, one of the first tea estates to go organic.
Work is worship.
You can get some of their teas under the Tazo or Whole Foods brands in the US, and they are very good; subtle, light, and slightly tannic, with a bit of sweetness. It was fascinating seeing the rooms where the leaves are sorted and withered. We were there in the off-season, unfortunately, so there wasn't much going on but some pruning.
And then we rode the rest of the way to New Jaipalguri and hopped on an 18-hour train to Varanasi! Can you tell this was taken extra-early in the trip! 2nd-class AC all the way, baybee!
This was our first long-distance Indian train, and would have been nicer without the kid vomiting repeatedly into the aisle three feet from my head at 5:30 AM. I know, I'm so spoiled.