Tasting tea in Darjeeling

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Darjeeling, for those like me who really had no idea, is waaaay up in the north east corner of India, so far up it looks like it should be another country… Nepal on the left, Bhutan on the right, Tibet above…

img_9295The Himalayas are very visible in the distance… Darjeeling was a hill station, a cool refuge for all the Englishmen melting in the mid summer Kolkata heat… I’ll say, it’s bloody freezing!! But very beautiful. And there’s lots of tea! Haha…

We have a few days here to wander around and take in the sights. We move pretty slowly up and down the winding lanes of the town… even here, the altitude is making itself known (and this is nothing, nothing at all, compared to what we’re facing in a month’s time..) It has a small community feel to it which I find charming. The square has a stage set up at one end and there is live music and dancing lined up all weekend. The population here is overwhelmingly Nepali, and we learn that Darjeeling is the retirement place of choice for the fearsome warrior Ghurkas (they are offered places in the Homecounties of England, but shockingly, not many take that option!!)

Since we are in a street food frame of mind that is what we opt for this evening, and it doesn’t disappoint (although I’d give my right arm for a toothpick… bloody corn)

We are up before the sparrows the following day, to see the local hot spot tourist pull: sunrise over Tiger Hill… a truly memorable experience, to be shared with the thousand odd other people (the local tourism board, in its infinite wisdom, seems to be in the process of building a concrete stadium seating atrocity, so the special moment can be enjoyed by entire arenas of expectant tourists!)… anyway, sunrise is sunrise and we’re here now so may as well enjoy it. We jostle to a good position and wait. And wait. I keep forgetting that sunrises are all very well and good, but they take their sweet time to appear and then it’s ‘blink-and-you-miss-it… but actually, we don’t miss this one because the crowd starts clapping and cheering at the suns arrival, and even though I feel like I should be rolling my eyes, I think it’s lovely.

What is really cool though, is when you turn to head back down the hill and get an eyeful of this:

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Now that’s worth getting out of bed for!!

 

On the way back into town we stop at a Buddhist monastery, in time for the morning chanting. There are monks and novices of all ages, some very young, all busy busy with their duties, walking around in maroon uniforms that can’t possibly keep them warm enough… they must have a will of iron, I’d be head to toe woollen blankets in their shoes… no pics allowed during the ceremony of course, but it was fantastic. They chant to focus the mind, and I believe it. It’d take a lot of concentration not to fudge the words at that speed! The outside of the building is almost as interesting…

After that we have some much needed brekkie and gather with the group to walk to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute across town. The institute is dedicated to all thing mountaineering, from commemorating Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, who first scaled Everest in 1953, to all the others who attempted it, some successfully, some very much not so. You can see actual pieces of kit used by the climbers in the museum area. But they also encourage mountaineering as a sport for youngsters, and offer lots of courses. There is a climbing wall open to the public,  which Tasha and I scampered up and down a few times, much to the hilarity of the others (I use the word scamper a little liberally here, truth be told..)

Lunch is momos (local delicacy, well worth a try) at the Hot and Stimulating Cafe, which I mention because a) The momos were super tasty, b) the cafe is quirky fun and being rebuilt to its former glory after being demolished by an avalanche last year and c) the owner is a super cool dude… so, if you find yourself in Darjeeling, head here and say hi from us…

There are photo op headphones painted on the wall. I don’t know why… but there they are…

We finally do some tea tasting at Golden Tips, and we learn the difference between first flush and second flush teas (well some people do… I learn that they all taste pretty much the same and restock on chai…)img_8688

 

 

 

 

 

 

The town is quite confusing and even with maps.me we have trouble finding the Tibetan Refugee Centre, but find it we do, and we spend some time talking to the people there, and buying some hand knitted wool hats for the Annapurnas. They usually have a group of women spinning yak wool and making traditional wares to sell in the shop, but alas, not today. So we walk around a small exhibition explaining how this place came to be. It’s pretty sobering stuff, what happened to these people, and how little anyone did (could do?) to stop it.

Tonight we cosy up by the fire in the hotel with a pot of tea and meet Haiko, a fab guy from Germany, who splits his time between working and exploring India.

We have another early start tomorrow… Ryan, Ursula Tasha and I are off on a mega hike along the Indian-Nepali border… time to dust off the hiking boots…

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