2010-10 Darjeeling

We flew from Kolkata to Bagdogra airport and then went by taxi to Kurseong a small town on the way to Darjeeling. This is where is located the Makaibari organic tea plantation where homestays are organised. This is a unique way to discover the day to day life of the tea pickers, to stay in one of their house and to enjoy wonferful homecooked food. I had already stayed here five years ago on my first visit of the region and had enjoyed it thouroughly. This time was different in a few ways, first the homestay itself was much more noisy and comfortable so the sleeping experience was not very enjoyable, the food was nevertheless delicious as was the lady who welcomed us in her home. The plantation itself was also very different as the owner had decided to sell part of the land to the Taj group of hotels who were busy building a luxury resort in the middle of the plantation. He had also sold the actual plantation to a private group so there was a sense of upheaval in the air, most were happy about the changes to come with the perspective of working in the hotel but some where sad about the fact that this hotel would change the ecosystem of the plantation. I had initially planned to stay two nights but it was decided to move up to Darjeeling after just one night’s stay. The afternoon train to Darjeeling was running nearly three hours late so we opted for the jeep. The train tracks run on or alongside the road and on this day, clouds were low so there was no visibility until we reached darjeeling itself so this jeep option was from far of the best. Darjeeling as a lot to offer especially when the rain season is over and the sky is clear from thick clouds. The city itself has a few different neighborhoods, steps and staireways offfer shortcuts to the steep winding roads, pedestrian promenades offer beautiful views and the hotel were we are staying is also great for its charm, athosphere and views over the city. Many teashops and bakeries provide many opportunities to take short breaks whilst strolling through the city. There are many markets and shops. The beautiful summit temple complex mixes hindu temples and bhuddist practices and is covered in so many prayers falgs that one can feel the flowing prayers all around especially early morning when the different pujas are beeing carried out by both hindu brahmins and bhuddist monks. Here there are many monkeys who enjoy the food gifts from the visitors. On this first day its also time to get the formalities sorted for our upcoming visit to the neighboring state of Sikkim. A special permit is required and as we are travelling to Sikkim on sunday, its best to get it done here rather than at the border checkpoint. But we are in festival period so the office is partly closed, we were only able to get our registration and application done but for the permit we must return to another office on friday and hope that they will be open and operational, otherwise we will have to do it at the border crossing. The next morning we have to wake around 3am as we are leaving at 4am to go and see the sunrise at Tiger hill, the best viewpoint within a 45 minute drive from Darjeeling. We must get there at least one before so that the car car reach the summit, it gets very crowded and the road gets blocked with the traffic. Its freezing cold and windy but well worth the wait, as the first rays light up the summits of the Kangchenjunga range giving it a beautiful pink tint. The rest of our time in darjeeling is spent walking up and down and round the different roads to go and visit monasteries, pagoda’s, the tibetan refugee camp and self help center where carpets are hand made, wood is carved. Its also a way to learn more about the tibetan story and the importance of Darjeeling for the buddhists. We are very lucky with the weather, there are barely any clouds, the sky is blue, the sunrays warm us up and the summits of so many giant mountains are visible throughout the day.

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