The journey to Darjeeling in itself needs a blog if you ask me. I flew from New Delhi, however there are no flights to Darjeeling and so I had to land at the nearest airport in Bagdogra, 90km away. From here I took a pre-booked taxi from the airport.
First of all the taxi used was a mini-bus that was as old as the hills, with skinny wheels that you wouldn't put on a babies pram. The first part of the journey was fine but when we started ascending rapidly up the mountains, then my heart started to skip a few beats. The roads were narrow, steeply inclined, windy and overall damn treacherous. The driver thought he was doing the Monaco Grand Prix 'cos he was hitting corners like they didn't exist. More often than not, there was merely a shear drop off the road edge with nothing more than a concrete slab lining the road verges. The climb seemed to last for ever, I got scared when I started seeing mist below, but that was only the start, my ears popped 5 times and the mist got stronger and stronger. I lost track of time, it must of been the bones of an hour and a half driving at a constant ascent. Oncoming traffic would often swerve out of the way, with the horn being used (signposted) to notify other drivers of your presence. Shops and villages littered the sideways at every couple of kilometers, the structures barely clinging to the mountain side. The further we travelled the colder it got, and the more precipitation that lingered in the air. The clean cool air reminded me of back home, especially the hurling season early in the year! The roads got slippy and we actually almost had a small collision as we evaded a parked lorry. Repairs were ongoing on the road, school children would walk and chat joyfully on the sharp road turns and a narrow railway track followed parallel often transversing (at one stage the train just pulled up out of nowhere). I started to wonder was I really in the right place at all. Anyway, I made it.
Darjeeling was very much a contrast to the India I had been travelling. Very calm, no haggling, cool climate, obvious change of scenery and the people also changed, the Asian like faces of the Nepalese was apparent and they ignored me, something I wasn't used to! The town is merely sitting on the ridge of the mountian and one could only visualise a cascade of concrete and people with the slightest geographical tremor. The place is not large by no means and a day or two here will see you becoming familiar with it. I would highly recommend this place as a getaway from the real India.
Darjeeling is renowned for it's tea, regarded as some of the finest of the world. I drank some, it was nice but I cant say I could tell much of a difference! I visited the nearby Happy Valley tea estate, an endless sprawl of tea bushes covering the hillsides like a green carpet. I bumped into some tea pickers who were more than happy to pose for a picture and show me the tea leaves themselves (Only women do the actual plucking). I also got a tour of the factory, which went through the different stages of making green, white and black tea. Quite the science in fact. This particular estate only exports, no tea is sold locally.
Darjeeling is obviously too famous for its Himalayan views. Darjeeling is close to the third highest peak in the world, Kanchenjunga (8,598m) while Everest in Nepal (8,848m) can also be seen on a clear day. Unfortunately the weather was so bad on the 5 days I was there, shrouded by a heavy mist, I never got to see these. None the less, the surrounding mountain ranges were enough to give a feel of what Darjeeling, a quintessential Indian hillstation, was all about.
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