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The Darling Darjeeling Escapade

I had decided to explore Darjeeling on my own after a trek I had gone for nearby to this beautiful hill station. As I bid adieu to the new friends I had made during the trek, two things were rattling my mind. I needed to find a place to stay soon and I needed to have a bath. I found this hotel called Charlie, which is where I stayed. It offers a wonderful view of the Kanchenjunga, which is why I stayed there.

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It is owned by Santosh Rai, who was really helpful with the places to eat around and he also took me to this place called Nathmulls for tea. He introduced me to his fiancée who suggested good places for shopping. I had a bath and set out to explore the enchanting hill town. I had breakfast at Bonny’s and decided to go to Happy Valley Tea Estate.

Happy valley

I took a sharing taxi to Happy Valley. When the British set up Darjeeling as a hill station, they explored it for developmental options and planted tea seeds and saplings along the Himalayan range. The tea harvested in Darjeeling had the best flavour and hence it became synonymous with tea gardens since the 19th century. Happy Valley was established in 1854. It is a 429 acre garden with a staff of 330. It is now a part of the Ambootia Tea Group. I took a tour of the Happy Valley.

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Junita Lama, the tour guide showed me around the factory and plantations and explained the process in which the fresh tea leaves are plucked, withered, rolled, fermented, dried, sorted, graded and packed to produce a variety of teas like green tea and white tea apart from the traditional black tea. She explained how the production of green tea is different from the traditional tea as it is a difficult one wherein they conserve the anti-oxidants. I saw some amazing machines for withering and rolling but couldn’t take pictures as it wasn’t allowed. Junita also explained the plucking seasons and how they produce different flushes of teas. Check out www.ambootia.co

Museum and Zoo

I had heard about the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and I really wanted to visit the museum in their campus. I saw Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s shrine and the equipment which he had used to climb the Mount Everest. I also saw a lot of other mountaineering equipment and the belongings of many other mountaineers along with their pictures. It is a must-visit.

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The Padmaja Naidu zoological park has been named after Sarojini Naidu and is the highest altitude zoo in India. You can see animals bred in alpine regions. The speciality is the animals which dwell in cold regions. I also saw the very popular Royal Bengal Tiger. The black leopard and snow leopard looked handsome in their fur.

Ropeway – the Rangeet Valley Passenger Cable Car

This is the longest ropeway I have ever been on. It takes 20 min to take you to the tea valley and another 20 min to bring you back.

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I met Leena Bansal –Miss Walking Shoes, a popular travel blogger, on the ropeway.

Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre

Located on a hilltop, this had been set up for rehabilitation of Tibetans who followed Dalai Lama and escaped their homeland way back in 1959. You can still find the younger generations of those Tibetans making carpets and handicrafts. 

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The beautiful Tibetan artwork is captivating. It is amazing how these people have kept their art alive. You can even purchase items like carpets, shawls, wooden crafts and leather items here.

Tenzing rock

This is named after the great Tenzing Norgay. A comparatively smaller rock, tourists can try their hands (and feet) at trekking on a steep hill.

I also saw some places like the football ground, tea garden, a monastery and the Ava art gallery.

I ate breakfast at Keventers – it is said your trip to Darjeeling is incomplete without breakfasting here. It’s an open air restaurant with a beautiful view of the mountains including the Kanchenjunga.  

The boat restaurant that one can see from the Keventers

I ate lunch at this place called Frank Ross Café. It is a pure veg café. On my last day in Darjeeling, I decided to give myself a treat and headed to this fancy bakery cum restaurant called Glenary’s.

There are exquisite little tea boutiques in Darjeeling which have shelves lined up with exclusive tea from the gardens of Darjeeling. I went into one of these called Kho-cha – meaning ‘black tea’ in Japanese. The store in-charge Hemanta was an expert on teas. He told me they had teas from all the 87 tea plantations of Darjeeling. I had some First Flush White Tea which had a sweet flavour with mild astringency and some Rose Green Tea. 

There were various teas like Golden Orange Pehoe, Sencha green tea and Muscatel organic tea – second flush. Hemanta kept sipping tea as he spoke and told me he ends up having around 40 cups of tea every day. He has been working there since five years and hasn’t ever taken medicines from the doctor; whenever he isn’t alright, he makes himself a cuppa. Kho-Cha, Nathmulls and Golden Tips – all three are owned by the same person and are the most popular tea boutiques.

I was really tired and had an unmanageable runny nose by then. I had bought pink toilet paper from my trek, which was really handy for my runny nose, and it was the only thing which made me happy, because of its utility and the colour. I had to get back to work in Mumbai and had no strength or inclination to sit on a train for the next two days. 

I flew back to Mumbai via Delhi from Bagdogra. Luckily, due to clear skies I could see the entire length of the North East Himalaya all the way to Delhi. It was a mind blowing view.

I was really happy to see the bright Mumbai sun as I landed but the tall white mountains were definitely being missed. Those who have seen them know that if you see them once, a part of you would always miss them.

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