Wednesday, January 17, 2007

India Travels #3.5: Darjeeling, India: Blood and Chocolate

Darjeeling, India
January 16, 2007

We're arrived back in Darjeeling after a challenging and flipping freezing 6-day trek along a high-altitude mountain ridge along the foothills of Himalayas.
Our trekking map was covered in bits of blood and chocolate from my fingers....since our arrival in Darjeeling, we've been layered in long underwear, double layers of fleece, down vests and jackets, hats, gloves, and bright purple and red yak wool wraps.
There seems to be no central heating anywhere in Darjeeling. Not even in the local businesses or restaurants. We've spoken to a few foreigners staying in fancy hotels and even those places have no heat. We eat our meals wearing gloves and fleece hats but have gotten somewhat accustomed to the temperatures.
We've found a bakery named, Glenary's, which specializes in chocolates (coconut, mint, and rum raisin) and makes daily batches of chocolate cakes, chicken curry rolls, cheese sticks, apple muffins, and amazingly, jelly-filled doughnuts.
We've made friends with many of the staff at our favorite haunts and corner stores and the walk through the local market has become familiar to us. It's funny what home becomes in such a short amount of time.
The rich sounds of Nepali roll across my tongue and I mimic all the words I hear mentally like a parrot...ramro...deri jaro cha...mero ama...kye lagu?...meetoh Nepali vocabulary started coming back to me on the trek. I'd be sitting at breakfast eating a hot bowl of porridge and suddenly the word "hajur" would enter my head as the appropriate phrase for "sure."
From our trips to the Himalayas in Nepal and China/Tibet over the past seven years, this mountain culture has become nostalgic to us and comfortably familiar. Although there are national lines drawn across these mountains (India, China, Nepal, and Bhutan), these people are all of one heart and similar ancestry. The lingua franca here, although it is technically in North India, is Nepali. And it would be easy to walk through the villages and get a sense you were in North Nepal or rural Tibet.
The people are handsome and Buddhist. They eat momos, dahl baht, and Tibetan bread. In Darjeeling, the British influence is still evident. Thankfully, they introduced better roads, the steam locomotive, tasty porridge, and popcorn (which we sprinkle on our hot soups here)!
We love it here so much that we changed our departure for another day later. Yesterday was filled with serendipitous encounters with strangers who became friends. A family who owns the oldest tea room in Darjeeling...their daughter owns a gorgeous little boutique filled with hand-beaded saris, rhinestone jewelry, rajasthani-sequined pointed shoes. We were there so long that her family ordered several trays of tea and delightful sugar cookies, cheese sticks, crunchy snack mixes, and this divine confection called, "Barfi," made from sweetened milk and roasted pistachios.
Needles to say, we've been eating like queens.
Our hotel room is only $10/night and we often have huge meals that cost under $3 for both of us!
Next we head to Rajasthan, land of the Maharajas....the famed "pink city" and the land of sand dunes and camel trains.