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Tea time in Darjeeling

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Tea Time in Darjeeling

So after the very uncomfortable, but funny, jeep journey from Mirik, we arrived in the lovely hill station of Darjeeling. We were immediately struck by the cleaner streets, more prosperous looking Indians and the generally more organised environment. We found our hotel without much trouble – we were shown to a fairly small, shabby room which we did not like at all. Luckily Rach was bolshie enough to complain and we were given a much bigger room with excellent mountain views. It was still quite grubby (easily the dirtiest we have encountered in India including places a third of the price!) but the location was fantastic.

We dumped our bags and went for a local explore, firstly up and down The Mall (a pedestrianised street full of shops and eateries) and then to Chowrastra Square, where people watching and pony rides seemed the thing to do. We sampled the street food – vegetable roll and chowmein which were quite delicious and ridiculously cheap and then off to bed it was.

The following day we got up fairly early (we have found that India gets up early and we are mostly awakened around 5am by all sorts of noises – dogs barking, Buddhists’ chanting, cars beeping, people shouting, roosters cock-a-doodle-doing). So the bells and drums of pilgrims woke us up and off to a local place for breakfast - banana porridge and a cup of tea (when in Darjeeling, tea must be had!) We walked down to Darjeeling train station to get advance tickets for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway to Ghoom (we’d read that it was better to get advance tickets as they sell out quickly). Rach was on the ball again and noticed that a return journey on the tourist “joy ride” cost 340 rupees, with a stop off at a view point, and yet a single on a regular train passing through same station cost 20! Tourists are definitely had if they can’t be bothered to work things out for themselves! So not being silly, we got the 20 rupee tickets and decided that we would walk back (it was about 4km with amazing mountain views). We then wandered back to town and found a very nice food market – lots of spices and fruit and veg stalls.
Missing salad and fresh veg (we have to be careful when eating any raw fruit/veg as it could be washed with dirty water which our delicate western stomachs can’t cope with yet!), we bought a selection of veg to chomp on later (after rinsing in bottled water, softie westerners). We then found a quaint little sweet and tea ‘shack’ and decided to try some random Indian sweets (Tess thought had always said she didn’t like Indian sweets but had never tried despite seeing them around Southall and Rusholme all these years!) It turns out that they are actually quite delicious so being brave with food is a good thing!

After the rather calorific sweet experience, an uphill walk was needed to burn off the calories. We went to look for the Botanical Gardens which we knew existed from our maps. But as everything in India, things are not easy to find – there are very few road markings or road names and it’s mainly pot luck when trying to find places! But eventually, after asking a few locals, we found ourselves in a mini oasis away from the hustle and bustle.

We then treated ourselves to a beer – this was exciting for us as in most places we’d been to so far bars didn’t really exist. It was a nice, small, dark bar – we were the only girls in there but it felt comfortable and we didn’t get the usual stares from the guys in there.
Dinner was found again in a little shack off the main street – we had a Thali, which is rice and chapatti with a selection of ‘curries’ – mainly veg curry, daal (lentils), bean curry and pickles. I think this cost about 60 rupees (60p). Happy days! It was also the first time Tess managed to eat India style, all with my fingers – Rach had perfected the technique already, but T has been able to avoid it as forks tend to be provided to western tourists, not in this place though so she got down to it.

We then trotted off to another local ‘pub’ called Joeys. From the outside it looked very run down and not too welcoming, but stepping inside was a bit like going back in time – dark wood panelling, old pictures on the walls….we didn’t really want any more beer so we ordered two after dinner ports (how very British!) and we got the biggest servings of port ever for 70p (about the size of a large G&T). We guessed the guy behind the bar must’ve either liked us very much or simply didn’t know how to serve port. But we were definitely not complaining! We met a couple of nice American guys from LA/NY, Nick and Tim, in there and enjoyed a nice evening with them.

The following day we enjoyed the toy train ride and visit to Ghum (India’s highest railway station) and the walk back (see pictures), especially views of Kanchendzonga – the world’s 3rd highest peak. In the afternoon we visited Happy Valley Tea Plantation, on the outskirts of Darjeeling. We found out that they supply tea to Harrods no less, so this was exciting for us. Meandering through the plantation we bumped into our American friends so we decided to stick together for the duration of our visit there. We were going to go to the factory, but this being another Indian holiday it was not operating however we found a lady who was happy to let us sample the tea and teach us a bit about the plantation. Her name was Kusum and she was hilarious. She invited us into her little ‘tea room’ which resembled a cross between a grandmother’s living room and a little girl’s bedroom (lots of cushions and stuffed animals)! She described the various teas (white/green/black) and let us sample the black tea which she was very proud to say needed only 2-3 seconds to brew. She obviously claimed it to be the best tea in the world! (It was pretty good…)

Following on from this funny experience we went to posh it up for an hour in The Windermere Hotel (a quintessential English place) for a very British High Tea (when in an old British Colonial Hill Station….). This was served in ‘The Parlour’ which was very much in the English style, armchairs, fireplace, pianos, historic pictures on the walls. Are we really in India? Even the waitress had the black and white pinny and white headdress that you see you period dramas! You pay for the experience though – afternoon tea for two is 900Rps, almost as much as our hotel room (and more than twice what we paid for a room in Bodhgaya or a 350 mile overnight train journey!)
Stuffed with cucumber sandwiches, tomato sandwiches, eccles cakes (!), shortbread, lemon drizzle cake and scones (with jam and cream, food critic Rach said the “well-textured scones were somewhat spoiled by the poor quality jam…”) we wondered back to our place for a relaxing evening in the upstairs lounge room.

Next stop – the capital of Sikkim – Gangtok.

Posted by TessAndRach 08:53 Archived in India

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