We have reached the half way point of our little jaunt around India, and with two days in Darjeeling, everyone is meant to rest up and recharge their batteries. Whether or not that worked out as planned, you would have to ask the others, but from my point of view, everyone seems to have lost a bit of that early pep that we had at the beginning of this trip.
Entry to Darjeeling involved a harrowing (I’m running out of adjectives for crappy car rides, clearly) three hour drive up, up, endlessly up a mountain, driven by a man who was seemingly dead set on winning the award for most hit potholes in a three hour period. We also had to bypass an angry woman standing in the middle of the street, threatening to hurl rocks at people, and occasionally dragging her rock along the sides of the vehicles passing by. She was collecting donations, naturally.
We met her again on the way down, but she had traded her rock in for a big stick.
At this time of year, Darjeeling is very cold, especially at night. There wasn’t room at the posh hotel that several of the early entrants on this journey booked, so Troy, Emily, Steve and KS and I made our way to an uber-cheap hotel closer to the main area of town. Troy and I shared a room, and I was thankful for three great thick blankets that kept us from being forced into a reluctant late night spooning session.
There was no hot water to shower with, but they were happy to bring up a large bucket of intensely hot water, which was glorious to bathe with, but the aftermath of the hot bucket bath was the quick reminder of just how cold it was as you dried yourself off.
Traveling at this pace takes it’s toil on me, and I’ve gotten reasonably good at this by now, so I’m betting that everyone is a bit worn out.
With the group split into two hotels it was hard to organize anything, and when we finally did get a group together I could feel the scattered attention of everyone, their fatigue, it was the same way I felt too. At one point we agreed to split up, and I started going in the direction we had all been walking, after a minute I stopped to see who else was still around.
And it was sort of fantastic. I continued walking on my own for awhile, not needing to go fast enough to keep up with anyone, not having to stop to look back to make sure we didn’t lose anyone. I wasn’t used to this freedom, and I knew it wouldn’t last very long, so I made a point to take a couple of hours the next day just for myself. It was the best decision I have made in this trip. It’s easy for me to get “peopled out”. I tend to be pretty sensitive to the moods of those around me, so getting to be alone for even two hours was a perfect reset button for me. I hope that everyone who is on this trip got to push their own reset button, wether that meant a long walk on their own or digging in with a bottle of booze. To each his or her own. I’m all for whatever works.
Emily and Bella both left Darjeeling sick, I heard that Steve also was ill for a bit. It might have been the cold, but it may have been the food served to us by a staff of what looked like young teenagers.
The people of Darjeeling were often as cold as the town itself. This does not feel like an Indian town to me, it’s people look, talk, dress and behave differently than any other place I have been thus far. They also feel this difference from the rest of their countrymen, which is why you will find “Gorkhaland” on the majority of business signs. The largely Nepali-Indian hill people in this area want to be recognized as their own state rather than continue to be part of Western Bengal.
There was a real risk of being unable to leave Darjeeling, if a spontaneous workers strike had been called, it would halt all transport up or down the mountain. Three hours before we were set to depart, I heard masses of people chanting. Looking down the hill I could make out dozens of red shirts.
“This does not look good.”
The red shirts turned out to be the red uniforms of a couple thousand high school age girls, rather than the communist unionizers I was dreading. These girls, along with maybe 250 boys coming up behind them, were also calling for Gorkhaland, and had a sign protesting the killing of innocents, something to do with political corruption. I would like to say I took a sharp interest in this, sadly I was merely breathing a sigh of relief that I would be able to get off the mountain in time.
All in all, I would say Darjeeling is a town worth seeing if it is convenient to do so. I enjoyed my time here, seeing unusually gothic architecture, monkeys and dogs fight, watching a monkey nearly attack Troy, seeing thousands of prayer flags at a Hindu Temple, and trying Tibetan bread for the first time (spoiler alert: OM NOM NOM), but my litmus test for wether a place is a must-see is when I consider wether or not I would bring Christine back here so we can share it together. I might be judging it unfairly since it’s currently off season, and truly, there is absolutely nothing like Darjeeling in India from what I have seen, so take my words with a hearty grain of salt; Darjeeling, to me, is for India completists and people who like walking vertically rather than horizontally to get from place to place. I thought it was lovely but don’t feel the burn to return.
Oh, and cow haters. There were no cows to be seen on the mountain. They have the good sense to keep their lives horizontal.