Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Darjeeling: Day Two

The first thing on today's agenda was tea. After a fresh pot of it and a shower (er, two showers, one each), we were off to breakfast. We scoped out the town and decided on Frank Ross Cafe. I'd read about how addictive and delicious their momos (veggie dumplings) are. I have to say I agree! We'll be back there soon, I'm sure.

Post breakfast, we hit the shops. A bookstore, some curio shops, a few of the many tea shops... we picked up some gorgeous scarves, a yak hair sweater (to stave off the cold and the damp), a Kashmiri tea cozy in the shape of an elephant, and a handmade tea strainer. Very exciting (and I usually hate shopping).

Next up was lunch. We went to a well-reputed restaurant and we very disappointed. The food and the service were both abysmal. It seemed like a place for tourists who want to see and be seen, and that's about it. Too bad.

After lunch, we went on a quest for bokus (Tibetan dresses). First, we had to find the right fabrics. This task brought us to lower Darjeeling which is, as I guessed yesterday, more for the locals than for the tourists. We navigated narrow alleys and semi-covered passageways through chaat (snack) stands, shoe shops, bakeries, general stores, spice vendors, and (yes, yes) the fabric stalls. So many gorgeous fabrics to choose from! There's a lot you can find in New York City, but Jackson Heights simply does not have this kind of variety. (Still, I love Jackson Heights. Whenever I crave spicy corn chevda (my favorite type of chaat), a cup of masala chai, and a Bollywood blockbuster, it's where I go. Plus they have Tibetan bocha (butter tea) and great Afghani food.) We selected our fabrics (I got a deep violet silk for the dress and a bright white silk for the blouse) and headed to the tailor for our fitting. Mission accomplished. All I have left to do is pick the bokus up when I return to Darjeeling next week.

Once we were through arranging for the bokus, we explored the town a bit more, checking out the various markets and whatnot. We chilled out at the hotel a bit. (Shopping can be so tiresome!) Then we dashed off for "Cash," an Indian film (in Hindi, sans subtitles... How else are we supposed to learn?). It was totally absurd and so completely bad that I had to like it. The theatre was interesting in that it was heavily guarded, there was an immense menu at the snack bar (because most Indian movies are so long and have an intermission), and the patrons were all very well-dressed (which leads me to believe that going to the movies is more of a special occasion here than it is in the US).

For dinner, we headed to Glenary's. I had the most amazing veggie kebobs in the world!!! In the States, there are a lot of (vegetarian) "fake meats" on the market. I don't like most of them. Why eat a fake hotdog when you can have a meal that is vegetarian and non-processed? However, these kebobs were done RIGHT. The veggies were fresh and the spices and grilling were both just right. Plus there were these great spicy sauces, one kind of like ketsup (I think with pumpkin in it, too?) and another kind of like a salsa verde. Mmm... Perfect.

I rather like Darjeeling. It's very touristy (it was settled by the British (acting as tourists, trying to get away from the heat of Kolkata), after all), but it's really quite charming. The mist shrouds everything in dampness and quiet, and there's a chill that gets into your bones and reminds you of the immense mountains you can't see (during monsoon season, anyway, unless you're lucky) beyond the clouds. Most surfaces are covered in orange and green mosses and monkeys play in the trees and on the buildings. Collared dogs roam the street and seem to understand right of way better than any NYC taxi driver I've seen. People walk around holding hands or arm-in-arm, but in a friendly rather than a sexual way. Actually, it's very common to see two (presumably) heterosexual men holding hands in the street here, which I find to be refreshing after so much time around the macho attitudes of the West. The food is generally good and the tea is generally better. I can see why tourists flock here when it's an season besides the monsoon season. I can't wait to see the tea plantations when I come back next week.

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