The Darjeeling Limited
The title of this post, as some of you will have guessed, is a reference to one of my favourite films (I've converted Oli into a Wes Anderson lover too) so we had high expectations for Darjeeling, and what is almost the end of our epic India trip. This love could have clouded our judgement a bit, or even left us disappointed but I think it's safe to say we both really liked it here. The Darjeeling Limited film.....
Darjeeling is in the north east of India, in West Bengal and borders both Nepal and Bhutan as well as being spitting distance from the tribal states of India (Assam, Nagaland etc) so it's feels quite different to the rest of India. here. It's also nice and clean and it's a welcome break from dodging cow pat. You'll notice that 'Gorkhaland' is written everywhere, mostly on shop signs after the address....I didn't know this, as I'm a bit dumb, but this is the proposed Indian state that Darjeeling & a state in Nepal want. Which I guess is why it feels different. For a start, it's cold. Really cold. The people also look different to anywhere else we've been, and there are a lot more Buddhists too. The food is still epic, and the usual street stalls are littered in any open space you can find, but the wares are markedly changed -- no more spicy Masala Chai, it's all yummy builders brew
We travelled up here via Kurseong on the smallest train in the world.
This little dream, chugged up the mountain to Ghum (the highest hill station in India, maybe the world?!) where we could even hop out for 25 shots of hot chai and to take a few pictures. It was the most magical train ride I've ever been on (cheeeeeese) and it lived up to all of my expectations. All in all, I would definitely recommend skipping the shared jeep from Kurseong to Darjeeling and getting the train instead....you have 2 options, 1st class (130 rupees/£1.30) or 2nd unreserved (30 rupees/30 pence).
Once we got to Darjeeling, the four of us (Gav, Ruth, Oli and I) knocked on A LOT of doors, and found almost all to be full so we ended up staying in 2 separate places, both pretty crappy. The quality of the guesthouses in that part of Darjeeling is quite polarised -- it's either beautiful top end hotels with hot water showers, bed tea, and snuggles (not verified) or icy feet and bucket showers.
We were pretty unlucky with the weather, which was really cold and rainy, and couldn't head up to Tiger Hill to see the epic views of Everest. Instead, we enjoyed the following lovely places where you can get great food/drink/warmth.....
This place is the nuts. Best thick brown buttered toast in India....maybe the world. Delicious tea and coffee too, and really cheap. We actually ended up staying in Sonam's apartment, which she rents to tourists on behalf of the British owner. All the money goes to a charity which pays for children to go to school who would otherwise not be able to afford it.
So warm! Great fire, and atmosphere.....we met loads of other travellers here and shared a few drunken stories. Joeys great too, and even let us order Dominos to the pub!
There is super fast free wi fi in this great little bakery cafe with lovely views. The cinnamon bun is yummy. We didn't eat at the restaurant upstairs, but heard the food isn't great.
Street food place
Amazing. Delicious chow mein, momos and chai......also the cheese sandwich with egg is like nothing you are imagining. It's huge, with fresh vegetable inside and deep fried. Again, amazing.
When we weren't fattening ourselves up at said eateries, we squeezed in a trip to the zoo and the Himayan Mountaineering Institute (they are next to each other, 20 mins walk from Chowrasta).
The HMI had a vast amount of information and artefacts, however none were particularly well curated. For example, there was a great display containing legendary mountaineer Major Prem Chand's backpack and left crampon -- with no explanation of when it was used, or who he was. Where there was info, it was in the form of a gaffa tape mounted page of unedited information, seemingly lifted straight from a book. The Everest section was much better, with a great timeline of Summit attempts going back to the 1920's. Unsurprisingly, Tenzing Norgay had a special display containing original newspaper front pages from the time, as well as the original equipment he used in his successful 1953 summit. Strangely, neither Sir Edmund Hillary nor the 1996 Everest disaster (the deadliest year in Everest history) had any mention, which felt odd to me.
Anyway, off to warmer climes in Calcutta now.....