Darjeeling (Ghorkaland), India: AWESOME.
Overview: transport up from Kolkata, train, SUV taxi. Sher-E-Punjab. Hasty Tasty tasty. Big Bite Sucks. Tiger hill sunrise. Kangchenjunga mountain, third highest mountain in the world 8586m. Taxi down, wave to mountain girls goodbye. Mountain girls cuter than Cantonese girls. Strike in Sonada, friendly Nepali offering a cup of tea, assuming I was Nepali. Monkeys. Andrew’s confrontation. Crowd the back. Puking kids. Blowjob on the taxi.
A week of festivities and wedding gets a great vibe for the Tangra Kolkata Chinese community, those Kolkata is still is a much dump. So a 4-day trip to Darjeeling is a relief and an amazing one. Let me tell you the happenings from the start along with some introductions.
Tilak Thapa, is a relative of Cynthia and Ricki’s, along a long string of branches that is too long for me to remember. He is Gorkhali of Gorkhaland, an area in northwest West Bengal seeking independence from India since the late 1980s. Married with a son, he comes from a family of 11, 6 brothers and 4 sisters, himself being birth number 8. Soft-spoken and kind, Tilak is a great friend and guide along this mountainous range.
Darjeeling is a mountainous region, populated with about 1.5 million heads, demographics roughly 70% Gorkhali ethnicity, 30% Nepali, Hindi and Tibetan residents. Quaint and beautiful, being 2200 m high you are guaranteed to be awestruck with the serene scenery and amazing locals, peaceful. Mind you, this is a tourist city, but one of the greatest I have been to.
Day 1: Upon arriving to the transit stop Siliguri from the train station, we take the auto-rickshaw to a SUV-taxi “station”, a place to prepare for our ride to Darjeeling. The time is noonish, thus we are hungry. Sher-E-Punjab was the choice, and a grand choice it was. Everyone agreed their dish was amazing and flavourful, from the Paneer/Alu paratha (goat cheese/potato roti pancake), to fried rice biyrani, to butter chicken. I highly recommend this restaurant for anyone in Siliguri.
Peddler peddler peddler, oh what has befallen you to be a peddler?
Our group, Tilak Thapa, Andrew and Cynthia, Ricki and I, along with 6 others, crowded into an SUV taxi and the 3.5 hr trip commences. Bumps, jackknife turns, potholes litter the route to Darjeeling… That and gas. Fart gas. Sorry, I had paneer. But it turned into one of the best laughs on the trip! … Again I’m really sorry with a smile. To the Indian guy who smelt it too, sorry. *snickers*
Darjeeling is beautifully located and I am especially amazed that there are 1.5 million people living on this mountain side! The streets are narrow and clean, the streets are crowded daily with no stench of sewage, and workers are lugging bails of dirt or bricks from a strap held up by their forehead. (Seems like an easy way to break a neck.) One immediate thing I notice upon arrival: “mountain girls” (as we’ve coined it) are more beautiful than the girls of Kolkata and of Guangdong! (haha)
Tilak separated from us to meet with his hometown friends and his wife, leaving us to explore a little, and deciding on the “recommended” Glenery’s restaurant by Lonely Planet India. It’s a quaint place, top floor Tibetan motif, bottom floor a bakery. Eat eat eat eat eat! Here starts the eating journey of 8 plates of various dishes! Boy it gets fun. Glenery’s however, offers an average food selection. Even after a full course plus, we were still craving something… MOMO’s! Momo’s are dumplings in Tibetan, and found THE restaurant of choice: Hasty Tasty, just down the street from Glenery’s. Hasty Tasty, a vegetarian restaurant, has an amazing menu selection, from rice to noodles, dumplings to paratha, dosa to chola bautola. This night, we only had momo’s, but they were AMAZING. Best in the World over! China’s fried dumplings? NOPE. Vancouver’s vast food selection and award winning chefs? NOPE. Cannot beat it. We ended up on our 4-day trip returning every day for a snack, a lunch, and a dinner, all very worth it and highly memorable. A Spanish pair of tourists agreed as well, as they came when we came.
The day started early, drinking buttery Tibetan tea and eating paratha for breakfast, we met with Yogis, our driver for the next two days. Destination one was the West Bengal Natural History Museum. Two floors of taxidermy and jarred mammals and reptiles were spread among two hotel sized rooms, and that was all. Out in front, state several quotes to note as seen in the pictures below:
Destination two is the Japanese temple and the peace pagoda. The peace pagoda, spreading across the world for the name of peace, is the response of a Japanese Buddhist monk Fujii Guruji to world war two’s nuclear bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The phrase NA MU MYO HO REN GE KYO is a prayer to say in Japanese with no direct translation, to provide clear the mind and purify the land – the message of nonviolence. The Darjeeling Peace Pagoda was built by Nichidatsu Fujii on March 11th, 1972. There I met with a nice Nepali fellow, whom wishes all the best and has memorized the prayer chant.
D3 was the surprisingly entertaining and inspirational Himalayan Mountaineering Institution (HMI) of Darjeeling and the zoo. The zoo itself feels VERY comfortable, unlike the crowded, uncomfortable zoos in, say, Kunming, Toronto, Tokyo. The zoo do not have any foreign beasts, like polar bears, but this is good. It improves the natural feeling for their environment which already boasts the natural array of species, all feel so… natural. The HMI was a treat to explore and learn. A Gorkhali named Tenzing Norgay was part of the first pair of humans to summit Mount Everest (the other is Sir Edmund Hillary, Britain) May 29th, 1953. Thus after, Tenzing provided guidance to future sherpas to climb many mountains to come. The original clothing, thin and simple, is comparatively simple and primitive to today’s equipment and stored within a casing. (No pictures were allowed within, but when I saw his equipment, I got chills.)
HMI Restaurant is CRAP. Avoid unless hungry.
Onward to number 4 at the Tea Gardens where the “famous” Darjeeling tea grow. Bushels upon bushels decorate the mountain side, and we sit in a little hut sipping the tea. Nice.
Finally, the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre, a place where Tibetans running from China seek refuge in Darjeeling. It is a small community of simple craftwork pieces to sell mainly for tourists. As a Chinese Canadian, I have heard from both sides of the Tibetan argument, and when asked what our party’s ethnicity was, I held back and said Hong Kong Chinese. Why do I have this awkward hesitance and fear…? I am not into the support or denial of the Tibetan’s arguments of independence and struggles, but enjoy culture and understand religions. Spin the wheels of Good Luck and healing clockwise, to help clear your mind.
End of the day? Hasty Tasty dinner. So good, So tasty.
The next morning starts at 5am, heading up to Tiger Hill, a lookout peak observing 1. The sunrise and 2. Kangchenjunga mountain with a hint of Mt Everest. Unfortunately, the two days we had spent were lightly foggy, and today was not the same. We were able to see the orange glow for an hour or so, lighting up the third highest peak in the world, but shrouded thereafter. There I met a friendly Hindu Swede named Bramma, sharing the India experience with his friends from Bulgaria.
Afterward, the Ghoom Monastery, is known to be one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in India, housing a 12 ft Buddha and emanating rich colours and peace. And… outside sat a woman beggar with a baby…
Later, we headed to the Gorkha monument, in honour of Gorkha warriors protecting the land in the early 1980s. Not much to see but a great view (even with the fog)(binoculars with aluminum tubes anyone?).
With the departure of Yogis (good guy!), the day is left for us to explore! … or take a nap. Tilak came in the early afternoon to venture together across around a park where up to 4 stray dogs followed us on our walk around the park. Hey! Where are you guys running towards? Oh, monkeys! Afterwards, a nice ice cream on sizzling chocolate covered brownie sweetened the night. Had a nice dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, good for lunch or dinner but not for breakfast. So the next morning we head to our favourite and most memorable place, Hasty Tasty!!!
Good bye Darjeeling, I’ll get a home here soon. *waves goodbye to mountain girls*
Down the hill, the strike of Gorkhaland protesters have hit! We are stuck in Sonada for two hours, and a nice Nepali restaurant gave us a free cup of hot tea. Boy, they’re sweet people.
More monkeys on the roof!
See you again Darjeeling, with hopes of clearer skies and a better tomorrow.
Remember kids what I’ve told you? Make a story out of every day.