Sunday, March 17, 2013

The land of beauty, tea, and cheese.

The last leg of my parents' trip ended up in Darjeeling. Darjeeling is in West Bengal, north of Guwahati, in the foot of the Himalayans. After a one-hour plane flight, you drive for two hours up and up and up, finally curving your way into this beautiful city. Located near the third highest mountain in the world (Kangchenjunga), Darjeeling is known for its delicious tea.

Compared to Guwahati, Darjeeling is cold, calm, and collected. Not many cars venture through the hilly, narrow roads. The natives speak Nepali, and most look Nepalese. They wear lots of western clothes—not saris and such. There is a large population of Tibetan refugees in Darjeeling. The Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center, founded in 1959, is a popular place for tourists to visit. In addition to housing refugees who are fleeing Chinese persecution in their native Tibet, the center offers numerous handcrafts for people to buy, which helps fund operation of the camp. There are beautiful hand made carpets, small wooden sculptures, Tibetan prayer flags, and more. I learned so much about Tibet and the crisis there.

Prayer wheels found at the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center. To rid bad karma, turn them clockwise.

Where the women hand make beautiful carpets.
The necklace this woman is holding is a prayer necklace.

Darjeeling is a joy to walk around, in large measure because there are walking trails everywhere. The city basically clings to the side of a hill at very high elevation. Our cab driver dropped us off at the Tibetan Refugee Center, and then left, leaving us to worry about how we were going to get back to our hotel. But when we asked a guy in the refugee center store how to get back to our hotel, he steered us
to a steep walking trail, which, after about half an hour, brought us to within a quarter-mile of our hotel. Perfect.
Darjeeling streets: narrow and hilly
Lots of people in Darjeeling find work by carrying heavy materials (construction supplies, luggage) on their head/neck/back through the streets  because the streets are too narrow for shipping trucks to get through. 

The British started growing tea in Darjeeling in the mid-19th century. It is everywhere. One day we visited the Goomtee plantation. Of course, Assam, the state I live in, is also very famous for tea. However, Assamese and Darjeeling teas taste completely different. Assam tea is stronger and blacker; Darjeeling tea is red and not as strong. Living in India has made me a tea fanatic, so going to the Goomtee plantation was so amazing to see. This large organic tea estate was founded in 1859, and during the season it has 600 employees, most of whom are out there plucking leaves. Below are photos of some of the steps that it takes to make the tea. (Thanks to Ruchi and Jai for organizing this for us.)

The tea estate had beautiful gardens.

The perfect tea leave has two leaves and a tiny stem coming in between them.

These tea leaves were picked that morning. They must sit here for 14-16 hours so that 60% of the moisture can be removed by a massive fan, which is located beneath the green leaves.

The machine that crushes and rounds the tea lea leaves after the moisture is taken out. All of the machines at the tea estate have been used since the very beginning.

The Himalayan Mountainaneering Institute was another stop for us in Darjeeling. Here we learned why Darjeeling is such a base for trekkers. Darjeeling was the home of Tenzing Norgay, the first sherpa to climb Mount Everest. On a related note, we also went to Tiger Hill. Waking up at 4:00 in the morning, we jumped in a car that took us on what seemed like a remote dirt road to the top of a hill. There we were joined by hundreds of others doing the same thing. If we were lucky and there were no clouds, we would be able to see an amazing sunrise and the third tallest mountain in the world— Kangchenjunga. And guess what—there were no clouds! Despite the freezing temperature, the view was absolutely stunning. As the sun rose, and its light was reflected on the Himalayans, it seemed like I
was living a dream.

The view from Tiger Hill of Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world.

Notice all of the Tibetan Prayer flags. They were everywhere in Darjeeling! 

My sweet Mom (we were so cold!)

In our spare time we also just walked the streets. For me, that was my favorite part, because I could just see how other people live. The fact that people in Darjeeling live completely different lives than the people in Guwahati just amazes me. Each state in India is its own country, and just being able to go to other cities and states opens me up to a whole new world.

After Darjeeling, my parents left India and I am so thankful they got to come and treat me to such a fabulous vacation. Then I flew back to Guwahati. Thanks Mom and Dad! It was such a great trip.

Sending Smiles from India,


P.S. In Guwahati, there is no cheese. And if there is cheese, it is a fake, packaged nastiness. In Darjeeling though, there is real cheese. So I bought a massive chunk of it, and brought it on my flight as
a carry on. The security guard asked me, “What is this?” I said, “cheese.” She got a perplexed look, and said, “Cheese?” I said, "Yes, cheese." And then she motioned me through. It would have been a very sad day if she took my cheese. 

One of many Bhuddist monasteries in this area. 
A delicious and comfy coffee shop we went to every day. 
Dad took most of these pictures, so he is not in very many. Thanks Dad for the beautiful photos.

1 comment:

  1. geez, those are some great pictures of you and your mom.
    I laughed out loud reading the cheese story!

    lisa j