Chennai Journal
Monday, December 04, 2006

Just back from a few relaxing days in Darjeeling, where I experienced the essence of tea... Darjeeling and the surrounding hills produce a quarter of India's tea, and all along the route up the mountains, tea plants are terraced into the hills and valleys. One day, wandering back to the hotel from the Darjeeling train station, I went into Nathmull's, a famous local tea merchant, and had some samples. Tea growing and production is every bit as sophisticated as wine, and I was patiently educated about first, second, and third flush, orthodox, and white, green and black teas not to mention proper brewing---sampling at least half dozen of the myriad varieties that Nathmull's carries. Finally, I went away with some Margaret's Hope and Avondale, both higher end varieties. And for pretty much the rest of the trip, I forsook my usual coffee (which wasn't that good there anyway) for the local brew.

The most well known way to get to Darjeeling is by the toy train, which is a World Heritage site. But it's an arduous eight hour trip, and doesn't coincide with the flight arrival times at Bagdogra airport nearby, so I traveled to Darjeeling by car and settled for the toy train "joy ride" that runs between Darjeeling and the next stop down, Ghoom. Though one hour to cover about 11 kilmeters, it incorporates most of the best scenery of the trip anyway, and they use the old fashioned steam rather than the long haul diesel engine, which is really a hoot (no pun intended). About halfway to Ghoom, they stop for water, and most of the passengers get out to take pictures. I'll post these when my internet connection is a bit faster.

The rail line itself is a veritable beehive of activity during the majority of time that the train doesn't run, with local peddlers setting up shop right on the tracks in places like the war memorial and the Ghoom monastery.

Darjeeling itself is a buzzing little town, clearly geared for tourism. About a quarter of the local residents are Tibetans, exiles or descendants of exiles. Besides the Tibetans, many others are of Nepali or Sikkim extraction, and also bear Asian features and coloring. This is the corner of India that shares common borders with Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal. Foreigners need a permit to enter nearby Sikkim (the usual destinations are Gangtok and Pelling), which is directly on these borders, but they're easy to obtain in Darjeeling and transportation is also simple to organize. If I'd had more time, I definitely would have included at least Gangtok on the itinerary.

The Tibetans run a "self help centre" which incorporates a carpet factory, orphanage and school, and refuge for the elderly of their community. Due to the outpouring of foreign support, as well as their industriousness, the Tibetans here are pretty well off. They are less in need of charity (in my observation) than the traditional poor of India.
fantastic. darjeeling is the one place in india that i really wanted to get to but never did.
I have just read your entire archives - thereby not doing an ounce of work this afternoon! It's lovely to read about India through the eyes of a non native - its a fantastic blog!
from a native who now lives in her own non-native space (London)
Thanks for your comment. I have checked out your blog too and added it to my favorites!
it was interesting to read about darjeeling and its famous teas

one needs to vist their website


which has more than 40-50 varieties of teas from different estates and these are all available online. All you need to do is buy for a minimum of $ 50-00 and the air courier charges are free. I recommend this for tea lovers as these guys sell top class teas and the rates are really reasonable - at least i feel so.
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