Saturday, March 27, 2010

Amazing views, amazing tea, amazing people, and lots of memories: Darjeeling

Hello everyone! It's already been a while since the last post, which I promised to add captions to. Some day soon. So, as some of you may know, my gang of hooligans and I traveled to Darjeeling last week. We were there from March 16th-22nd, and had a blast. Cousin Mike and I had been planning to make this happen since Christmas, so it had a hint of epic in it. Another volunteer at CKS, Andrew, happened to be traveling that same week. We banded together and made a great traveling party. For Loren and I, this was our chance to travel - vacation style - during our internship. For Mike, it was many things, but one thing we agreed upon was that the trip helped us see things through a different lens. Jumping straight from Seattle to India has that affect. It's a big wide world out there, and we both are passionate about exploring it.

Andrew spent the previous two months in Kolkata, volunteering with the Sisters of Charity. He met some very fine people there, a few of whom he graciously introduced to us on the first day. Poppy, Marie, and Joe were all-stars, and were a big part in making the excursion such a beautiful experience.

The first day was spent getting situated. Andrew introduced us to Poppy and Marie as we coincidentally passed them on the road. After they suggested Hotel Aliment, we made our way up the hill and booked some nice rooms there. After that, we had a nice evening exploring the town and having a few drinks. The next day we went to Tiger Hill, one of the most stunning look-outs near Darjeeling. Also during the trip, we visited a Tibetan Refugee Center, spent time at a zoo, toured Happy Valley Tea Estate, ate and drank at a styling bar/bakery, and bought some gifts for our loves at home. Please enjoy the photos below.

On our way up. The jeep driver took a short tea break half way to Darjeeling, which gave us a chance to see the hillside and give our bottoms a break. This is Loren enjoying the view.

The Himalayas. This was the view from the terrace at Hotel Aliment, where we stayed for the week. Double bed rooms were Rs. 300 per night, which is about $6.70. They had comfortable beds, a nice restaurant, and access to hot water. Lastly, the owner was a very nice man. He was an older native of Darjeeling, and shared so many nice tidbits of wisdom and his appreciation for the plurality of perspectives he's come into contact with over time.

Look familiar? Here are the names of all the peaks in the photo above. I'm not sure if you can make them out, but if you're interested I'm sure you can look up their names. The tallest one in the middle is called Kangchendzonga, which is 25,794 ft. Everest is 29,029 ft.

On our first full day, our happy bunch booked a jeep to Tiger Mountain, which is a popular lookout where you can see Mt. Everest on occasion and other Himalayan peaks. The view was very nice, but spending time with these fine folks was the real joy. Joe left that same day, unfortunately. However, there's still a chance for me to connect with him, because he is spending the next two months in Kolkata, Thanks for making it such a great trip, everyone!

Wandering the widing lanes in hilly Darjeeling. The red flowering tree at the top is really beautiful, and Mikes face in the bottom right is the cherry on top.

This spot in the market was so jammed with shirts and cloth and other clothing items that it was a bit stifling, yet enjoyable. Mike is in the center, marching in our direction. The market in Darjeeling was similar to most open air markets that you find in India, but with plenty of tea.

More exploring in the market.

This photo doesn't do justice to the slope. Darjeeling is built on a mountainside, so we were contstantly walking up and down very steep hills. Many of the locals had monstrous calf muslces, and there were fewer pot bellies than in the plains where CKS is located. Coincidence? Any nutrition or health sciences people looking for a study topic?

One of the first tourist attractions we decided to scout out was the Tibetan Refugee Center. certainly not it. This was along the road on our way there, and is a private school. Mike said it looked like the school in Harry Potter, which I can't remember the name of. Sorry, I'm more into Lord Of The Rings, not that it has to be a choice between the two : )

A nice view of tea estates and Darjeeling flora on our way to the Tibetan Refugee Center.

There was a whole museum detailing the history of the Tibetan struggle, and I can't match the breadth and depth of the information it contained. However, I will mention that this refugee center is one of many throughout India and neighboring countries. In 1950, the People's Liberation Army led an invaded Tibet. A year later, representatives from the PRC and Tibet signed onto The Seventeen Point Plan, which formalized China's sovereignty over Tibet. Many people fled Tibet, especially after the Dalai Lama became an exile in 1959. Tibetans have suffered greatly over the past sixty years.The refugee center was established in the 1950's, by a group of caring locals. It has grown a lot over the years, and provides education, homes, and job training for aound 500 refugees.

The courtyard, which was surrounded by different types of workshops where Tibetans produced hand made goods. A shop in this same courtyard sold the goods, which raised funds for the center and individuals living there.

Hand made carpets. This looked tremendously labourious, and I can only guess how long it would take to make one. On the other hand, it must be incredibly meditative once they get good at their craft.

These were very interesting. From what I gathered, each cylinder contains pages and pages of prayers. When they sping them, it is like praying thousands of times as the prayers spin around. I like their rationale. On the left: Andrew, Mike, Loren, and someone we didn't know - all exiting the premises.

The cousin-brothers on the top terrace of Hotel Aliment. Thanks for making the trip a memorable one, Mike. I love you so much.

This is one of my favorite photos of the group. This night we were in one of the only bars (that we were aware of) in Darjeeling. From left to right: Marie, Mike, Poppy, Andrew, Loren, Jeff

Mike and Loren. My cousin-brother (as they say in India) and fellow intern. Beautiful people with big hearts.

This was at the entrance of the zoo. Since being in India, I've noticed how much I must take the Christian influence for granted in the US. It must be there, but we're so accustomed to it that it's not big deal. It's been a great learning experience attempting to navigate Hindu society, and in some areas (like a portion of Darjeeling) Buddhist.

Red Panda! Woo! They really did move like Pandas, but looked more like big red racoons. Either way, they were really beautiful.

The Sun Bear was much bigger than any I've seen in the Woodland Park zoo at home. This one was napping on his back. He looked like he was acting out a slow, dramatic death by gunshot. Oh, how boring and demeaning life in a zoo would be.

One of the booths in the zoo offered to take a photo of you dressed up in local traditional garb. Mike and Poppy went all out and certainly reaped the benefits with this photo.

On one of our many wanderings. How can you not love that face?!

Happy Valley Tea Estate - one of the oldest in Darjeeling. It was established in 1854 guessed it...British from the East India Company. It was a nice walk there from the hotel, although Mike was suffering from severly dry feet (to the point of bleeding). Thanks Mike, for toughing it out and making it a nice visit.

Rolling hills of tea. Loren likened it to Napa Valley.

We were given a nice tour of factory, but did not see it in action because we came on the off season. It was great learning about the different steps and machines that are used in the process. Loren or Mike would remember better than I, but all totaled it required five or six steps to make the tea we brew and drink.

After the tour we were invited in for some tea, and had the chance to buy some high quality stuff. The women entertaining us was very charismatic, and we had a good time. Other tourists piled into this small room, and eventually there was something like nine people sitting around a small coffee (or tea) table sipping top quality stuff and getting quizzed on information we were told during the tour. Multiple times, I forgot the most important lesson of all; the name of the highest quality tea - Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe 1, or SFTGFOP1. Each word describes a step in the harvesting process, all of which I have forgotten by now. Leave it to me to forget the most important lesson at a Darjeeling tea estate!

This was posted on a lamp post, and got me thinking. We REALLY must take things for granted in the US if people in other countries win Green Cards in lotteries, not millions of dollars.

Sunrise on the roof of Hotel Aliment.

This was one of our favorite places for breakfast. There, we met a really interesing fellow named Casper. He is from Holland, and quit his job as a business consultant about a year ago. Since, he has been traveling all over, and happened to be in Darjeeling when we were. He also joined us for a few meals and said his goodbyes to us after touring the zoo together.

The reason we first went to Sonam's was because it served good coffee, which is nearly impossible to find in the parts of India I've been to. Coffee here is a warm cup of milk with loads of sugar and a bit of instant coffee added. My first cup at Sonam's broke my dryspell of nearly two months. It was so refreshing and delicious.

Andrew and I managed to make it to Mass on the only Sunday we were there. To be honest, Andrew went several times besides that Sunday, and I only made it that once. I have to give credit to the Vatican, because their goal of making Mass similar no matter where you are seems to have been met at this church. Although a few things were different, it was pretty much the same. That was the first time I attended Mass in India. Here in Bolpur, there are no Catholic churches that I'm aware of. My heart aches for it.

On our last morning in Darjeeling. We decided to go for a nice walk as the sun rose, and stumbled upon a family of lively and super agile monkeys. I'm not sure what species they were, but they were impressive. When Loren got to close to this one, she leaned a bit closer to him and showed him her teeth. Sometimes, there's just no need for words.

On one of our morning walks in the main circle. This looks like something from a Cat in the Hat Book or pieces in 'Dog Tetris' that need to be moved around and fit together. Wild dogs out here bring out a range of emotions in me - they often amaze me, make me laugh, make me faun, and make me sad.

Our last day in Darjeeling together. It was an experience of a lifetime. Thank you, Andrew, Mike, Loren, Poppy, Marie, and Joe. Your presence was such a blessing.

Thanks for keeping up, everyone. I love you all and will continue to hold you close.




  1. It looks so beautiful there, right now all we have is rain. :(

  2. Wow, Jeff, it is so amazing to see your pictures and read your posts! I want to go there soooo bad, now.


  3. Yes! You both would really enjoy it, I'm sure. If ever in India, Darjeeling should be on the itinerary, certainly. Take care, Friends!

  4. Hi Jeff,
    Can you please tell me can we get a mountain view from any of the room of "Hotel Aliment".