Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Darling Darjeeling

Toy Train, Darjeeling, India

Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Center, Darjeeling, India
Prayer Wheels at Bhutia Busty Gompa Monastery, Darjeeling
For all those who read my last post, thank you. And, good news…I found an India that I love – Buddhist Himalaya India. We arrived in Darjeeling on an overnight train from Kolkata. I was hacking up a lung and Mike was covered in probably a hundred red swollen bites from the bed bug attack at our last hotel. We took a shared jeep up to Darjeeling, about 3.5 hours and finally got to our hotel, the wonderful Hotel Seven Seventeen. We were warmly greeted and showed a gorgeous room with big windows ushering in rays from a gorgeous sunset and boasting one hell of a view of the mountains surrounding this little hill station town. The bed was big, the room was cozy, and the shower had hot, hot water. We stayed a whole week here trying to take it easy and get well, but the unexpected happened – we were totally exhilarated all over again with that excitement of exploring a new place. We totally immersed ourselves in the town and loved every second of it. We visited a tea estate where we learned about the process of making tea, from the ladies who pluck the leaves to the silk tea bags filled with second flush tea leaves we bought after the factory tour. We visited the Himalayan Zoo where we saw two Bengal tigers, four different kinds of leopards, red pandas and gorgeous birds we would never otherwise see. The zoo is built into the mountain trying to give the animals a piece of their natural habitat. But they also try to breed and reintroduce the animals that are endangered back into the wild, especially the red pandas and the leopards. It was the kind of zoo you felt good about visiting. We went to the Himalayan Mountaineering School and saw the equipment and impressive photos of the men and women who paved the way for trekking Mount Everest. We visited the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Center housing Tibetan refugees since the 1950s, providing them a safe place to continue to make a living through traditional Tibetan handcrafts, as well preserving Tibetan culture and educating and caring for their children. We found a local tea house we enjoyed the sunset in most afternoons, and our favorite
Me and Thudken
bakery, and even a pub where we made fast friends with the bartender, Pulan, a fascinating musician and die hard Beatles fan. We met a German and Swiss couple and had a great night swapping travel tips and stories as we each were passing each other onto our next destinations – them further into India and us further North, eventually into Nepal. We rode the toy train along the mountain edge and got lost in the tiny neighborhoods built into the slope of the mountain. We visited monasteries and temples and we met a young Monk, Thudken, who proudly took us through his monastery under construction and invited us to stay for butter tea and biscuits. Our experience in Darjeeling was a complete about face to the chaos we were trying to wade through in the busy city parts of India and it quickly has become one of our favorite places along this entire journey. And the journey continues to get sweeter, the beauty more profound, the experience more rich.

The Golden Temple and Pool of Nectar, Amritsar, India
After Darjeeling, we took a 24 hour day of travel to visit The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India and though we were thrown back into the chaos of busy, rickshaw crazy India, The Golden Temple again became another favorite experience. What’s going on there is indeed very special, and very welcoming. I think the India I was hoping to find was all happening at The Golden Temple and it has become my favorite sight to experience in this country so far. After having made genuine connections with Tibetan Buddhists and Tibetan Indians and travelers in Darjeeling, we had genuine conversations with a few Sikhs at The Golden Temple and continue to make genuine connections on our current stop – McLeod Ganj, where we have found a beautiful melting pot of cultures, religions, and community. Yesterday, we volunteered at an English Conversation Class with Tibetan Refugees and both felt completely rejuvenated. The topic was on discrimination and stereotypes and Mike and both got more out of the conversation than we could have ever imagined. It was uplifting to make new friends, have meaningful conversations, share ideas and laugh! At the end of the class, after 8 students had to stand up and make presentations, they asked the new volunteers –me and Mike –to stand. I think to unite us all in the courage it takes to stand in front of a group, the class leader said that the students love American music and they asked if we could sing something. We immediately both turned beet red but knew we had to do it. We decided on a duet and busted out with Stand By Me…and we rocked it. We sat down to cheers and thank yous, and a compliment by the teacher saying it was the best duet they ever had. I think we were just more shocked that we actually got up and sang in front of a room full of strangers.

Us at Observation Hill, Darjeeling, India
India is teaching me and much like any lesson learned, it’s not always easy. But the layers of this country and her people continue to awe and inspire, frustrate and exhilarate, conflict and uplift at every turn and for that I am both humbled and filled with gratitude.

*If you go to Darjeeling, be sure to visit the following:
Joey’s Pub – opens at 6p.m. and closes at 10p.m. Cozy pub run by a great family. Good music, cards, and the awesome conversation.
Glennary’s – try the banana walnut cake!
The Sunset Lounge at Nathmull’s – nice family run business, great tea, wonderful views, & wifi!

The Happy Valley Tea Estate – go in the morning, but know that the estate shuts down
Mike at Joey's Pub
at the end of November for winter.

The Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center is difficult to find, but worth the adventure.
Go to the zoo around noon. Feeding time is around 1:00 and if your lucky you will see the tigers active and also hear some of their guttural groans as they wait to be fed.

And instead of doing a joy ride on the toy train, just take the passenger steam train to Ghum – it’s the same train and a fraction of the price  - and explore the monasteries at Ghum on your trek back to Darjeeling. It’s a healthy walk back, but totally worth it. 
We can’t recommend Hotel Seven Seventeen highly enough. Very friendly people and we even were invited to tea with the owners who brought us up to their residence at the top of the hotel. They also have a fantastic kitchen – try the veggie momos and wanton soup!


Carmen said...

i knew you would find it!!! the india that you would fall in love with!. continue to be so excited for you guys

lots and lots of love

Anonymous said...

oh hells yeah... back on track

praveen sharma said...

It seems you had a great fun in India , thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures and your memories .
India Tour Operator

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