When the opportunity to visit India presented itself to me, I knew right away that majestic Himalayan Darjeeling would be the top of my list, as the world-famous Darjeeling tea grows there. Darjeeling is all about tea estates covered in clouds; white mountain tops in the distance and tasty tea. If you enjoy at least an occasional cup of tea, it’s definitely worth visiting the Indian paradise of tea in West Bengal, Darjeeling! It’s the place to see how hundred-year-old tea bushes grow, how locals pluck the leaves and it gradually becomes the tea we all know.
I fly into the military airport in Bagdogra, and looking at the short distances between the cities here on the map, one might think that everything can be seen in a few days’ time, but just the road from the airport takes more than three hours. We start at the sunset and can only imagine the abyss right next to the road. There are a lot of cars on the road, at times it is only one and a half lanes wide, and you do get the occasional bus driving in the opposite direction. After monsoon, the roads are washed out and at every turn, the driver is honking to make sure there isn’t anyone driving in the opposite direction. Sometimes the traffic stops, the mirrors are carefully folded in and somehow the cars manage to get going. My companions sitting at the road sign admire the Milky Way and lightning in the distance, but I mostly see the side of the mountain, at times just a few centimeters from the window. At times it is raining, and the higher we go, the colder it gets, so I now appreciate the warmer layers of clothing I have with me.
When arriving in Darjeeling, all I can compare it to is the few buildings I saw from the taxi when spending one night in Delhi, and what I saw on the way in Bagdogra. The people look different here, buildings are closely built, slopes are covered in tiny houses that look like they were built on top of each other, ten stories high. It is already dark, but I am crossing my fingers to get a room with the view – luckily, our hotel has a beautiful view of the valley with Darjeeling on the slope.
We spent the first day exploring the city and riding the world-famous Darjeeling Toy Train. We arrive with plenty of time to spare and observe the vegetable market on the tracks, men carrying large and heavy items tied to their heads, and stray dogs. Plenty of opportunities to witness wonderful moments that go into our photo albums. Finally, we are ready to go! Every few meters the train crosses the road, so it keeps on honking for nearly two hours while the journey lasts. It’s raining quite heavily, so, unfortunately, we don’t get to see the famous views. Just at times, we get a glimpse of the opposite slope. It clears up in the afternoon and we try to find a better view of the city from the top. It’s also getting much warmer than before and we finally leave our coats at the hotel. In our explorations, we visit the Shiva Mahakal temple and observe peace and quiet here. Later I learn that “Durjay Ling” means “Shiva of invincible prowess, who rules the Himalayas”, which makes you think about the origins of the name “Darjeeling”. Though popularly, Darjeeling is said to have been derived from the Tibetan words “Dorjeling,” meaning ‘The Land of the Thunderbolt.’ On the way to the temple we see a monkey colony with the little ones, these must be the first monkeys I have ever seen in the wild!
While we went to the temple, we saw quite far in the nearest valleys, but the furthest peaks were covered in clouds. At one point something white shines in the distance – is it true – snow? We are hopeful for the next morning when we have planned to go see the mountains at sunrise.
On the second day, we wake up around three in the morning to be on time for the sunrise at the Tiger Hill viewing point. With the first rays of the sun, the heavenly Kanchenjunga peak starts to shine. It’s cloudy on the side of the sky where Mount Everest is, so we don’t get to see that, but with the sun raising the scenery is out of this world. Shining snow-covered peaks in the distance, layers of clouds in the middle and Darjeeling seems to be almost as under the water.
On the way back from Tiger Hill we also explore a Buddhist monastery that is fully awake at 7 in the morning, with boys brushing their teeth and moving around wide awake!
Later we spent the whole day walking in the city. Visit the Darjeeling Himalayan Mountaineering Institute that has an interesting exhibit on the first ascent to Everest, and see the local animals in the zoo.
Evenings are the time to sit down on the hotel roof terrace and see the sunset. Clouds turn pink and yellow, lightning strikes in the distance, and at times electricity disappears in the valley. We have some tea from the room and plenty to talk about – what to do on the next day and what has surprised us the most so far. It’s a good feeling to sit down and relax after a long day of adventures.
On the final days of our visit, we stay at a tea estate. The experience is a little different from what we expected, as this particular tea house still is very fresh at taking visitors. The tea estate is what I personally was most looking forward to, as I am a fan of teas, and even now, writing these lines, I have a cup of Darjeeling tea right next to me.
When we reach the estate, we are greeted as the first-ever tourists from Latvia and we proceed to drink tea and walk in the tea gardens. Finally, I get to see how tea grows! We hike the tea gardens, see the production facilities, interact with tea leaf pluckers and enjoy a small tasting tour.
We also get to experience clouds coming in the room from outside, enjoy complete silence outside until a football match taking place right outside our windows. We go to see the games, but it starts to rain, so we head back soon, thinking how it is possible to play when you don’t see the other side of the field?
Upon returning to the estate, we sit down in the dining room and drink tea, liters, and liters of tea with some tasty samosas from the lovely lady cook. At times the rain stops and we peek out to see the game still continues. Then it resumes pouring and continues to do so all night. We get worried about our way back, as even getting here was a challenge, as roads are narrow and washed out.
On the last day, we again get to see the amazing snowy peaks, just as in the morning when we went to Tiger Hill. They can even be seen from the terrace at the resort. If not for this clear morning, we wouldn’t have had a clue of the views from here. We get ready to get back to Bagdogra at six o’clock in the morning, and everyone else is awake too, we see school children dressed in uniforms walking to their schools. Quite a long walk from the tea estate to the schools!
Darjeeling will always have a special place in my heart, the first place I visited in India, the land of tea growing literally in the sky. It takes a long journey for it to get to my cup, but now I always unmistakably recognize it whenever I am served it. With every sip, I remember little streets, snowy peaks, and pleasant locals in Darjeeling.
Alina Andrusaite is a marketing professional and an avid world traveler who has visited over 40 countries so far. She LOVES to travel and write about her travels, and if she won a million dollars, she would divide it in such a way that she would get to travel all over the world, without having to work.
Jekabs Andrusaitis a software architect and his biggest passion is photography.
Together Alina and Jekabs have won the National Geographic Latvia travel story of the year, which encouraged them to start their own travel blog.
“Together we hope to encourage people to travel more and outside of their comfort zone!” – says Alina
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