Today I ascended the mountain to Darjeeling. First, though, I was lucky enough to exchange recipes with the hotel's teamaker. He's a bright young guy, and great at what he does. He hopes to move to the US in about 5 years. With the delectable teas he brews, I'm sure he can get a good job here. He taught me how to make three of his best teas (what a wonderful souvenir!) and I taught him some tricks for brewing cloud-free iced tea, sweetening complex teas without overpowering their flavors, and using powdered teas, and I gave him basic recipes for gyokuro floats with matcha ice cream and spicy hot cocoa. (It was the least I could do!) I can't wait to brew these up when I get home.
Took a jeep up to Darjeeling. Passed tea plantations (including Margaret's Hope), a Tazo nursery (their nonprofit org, CHAI, does a lot of volunteer work here), waterfalls, the Toy Train tracks, construction workers taking a tea break, small towns, a breathtaking monastary, and construction of all kinds.
Checked into my hotel, exhausted and hungry. Decided to go to The New Elgin for afternoon tea. The setting was charming and the tea was quite good (Darjeeling first flush, butter cookies with almond essence, and cucumber-tomato sandwiches on white). The one anomaly was the music, which was Muzac hits from the 1960s-1980s in all their synthesized glory. Very odd. The bill was about $6. Sweet. Tomorrow I'll check out The Mayfair. Next visit I'll see The Windamere. (It's under construction right now.)
The rest of the day was spent running errands: picking up the bokus (Tibetan dresses) Natalia and I had made (they're gorgeous), buying some Ayurvedic medicine I can't get easily in the US, aquiring some fabric and tea for friends back home, visiting tearooms to see what they're all about (and to try to visit someone I met at the World Tea Expo, who was out of town), and buying a new umbrella (I left mine in Kurseong, but I love the ones they have up here--brightly colored stripes, like a big rainbow above your head).
In the evening, the locals all gathered around TV sets (in shops, in a tricked out SUV, in restaurants) to watch "Indian Idol" and cheer for Prashant. I returned to my room to reread "The Book of Tea" by Kazuko Okakura. It matches the mood set by the contemplative mists over the Kangchenjunga.