Monday, August 13, 2007

Up to Darjeeling!

Ah, Darjeeling! Glad to be here.

We awoke early and took a car to the airport. We talked with the driver about current events and Bollywood films. At the airport, we checked in (amazed by the casual approach to security), met a woman who lectures on/researches human trafficing and whose son lives in NYC, were mistaken for a movie star (me) and attendant (Natalia, who everyone keeps thinking is Nepalese), and boarded the plane.

On the plane, I got the impression that Indian national airlines are probably very much like American airlines were in the '60s. The flight attendants were very well put together and (genuinely) friendly. (I couldn't help but notice that they always said "namaskar" instead of "namaste." "Namaskar" is more polite and formal than "namaste.") The music was far less banal than what you'd expect of an airline. The food was actually decent. A selection of newspapers were offered to every client. Cool.

After we landed, we hopped a cab to Siliguri, a nearby military town. From Siliguri, we made the mistake of taking a shared jeep to Darjeeling. I say mistake not because we went to Darjeeling, but because it was a shared (rather that private) jeep. When they say "shared," they mean "shared." As in, people are practically and (in the case of a little boy who was supposed to sit next to me) actually sitting on your lap. It's not unusual for one or more people to hold on to the luggage rack and ride on the back of the jeep. Next time, we'll hire a private jeep.

The ride was about 4 hours long and very bumpy, but the views made it worth it! Tea estates everywhere you look, tailors and food stands and rickshaws in the towns, people walking along the road (sometimes carrying immense loads of tealeaves, clothing, vegetables, and all sorts of other things), breathtaking waterfalls and mountains, the tracks for the Toy Train (the Himalayas' first passenger train, still running on narrow-gauge tracks)... Absolutely incredible. Somewhere along the ascent, I turned to Natalia and said, "Can I just move here?" It's that beautiful.

By the time we got to Darjeeling, it was early evening and the weather had turned chilly. We hired aporter to take out bags from lower Darjeeling (where the shared jeeps stop) to upper Darjeeling (where our hotel is). It looks like lower Darjeeling is more for the locals and upper is more for the tourists. I'll look into that more soon. We passed through narrow, windy streets lined with tea shops, produce and meat stalls, craft vendors, "curio shops" (sellers of Tibetan crafts and such), a mosque, a library, and a church before (finally) making our way to the hotel.

After all the travel, the hotel welcomed us with a hot pot of Darjeeling tea. As you can probably guess, I like it here already.

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