India - Part 4 - Monks, Mountains and Mist, Oh My!

A view of the town of Darjeeling.

A view of the town of Darjeeling.

This is part 4 of my adventure in India. You can read the earlier entries here.

First off, apologies for not posting last week. I've been getting everything ready for our massive lineup of holiday shows and the blog unfortunately had to be put on hold for a few days. But now everything is ready and packed up and I'm ready to kick off our very first show tomorrow! Online sales are absolutely great but I'm looking forward to meeting people and selling in person. Tea absolutely has to be seen and smelled to truly be appreciated and I can't wait to share it with people. You can check out all our upcoming shows on our Events Page.

So, back to the adventure. After a few days of touring Darjeeling's wonderful tea estates, we actually got a day on the town! Of course, just because it was our "day off" (ha!), that doesn't mean we were slacking. We woke up just as early as usual (aka the crack of dawn) and went for a nice breakfast and a walk. Even though we'd been in Darjeeling for days, this was my first chance to see the town. Unsurprisingly, it was another misty day. There were monkeys running around the town square causing a bit of havok, jumping all over things while vendors tried to set up their stalls.

Misty morning walk. (Shabnam and Nalin)

Misty morning walk. (Shabnam and Nalin)

Woman serving chai in the town square.

Woman serving chai in the town square.

Cheeky monkey in the town square.

Cheeky monkey in the town square.

We all loaded up in our little bus again and headed off to Ghoom Monastery, which was shrouded in mist (shocking, I know) and filled with the sound of chanting monks when we arrived. It was quite a magical place. Very peaceful and beautifully decorated.

Misty Ghoom Monastery.

Misty Ghoom Monastery.

A beautiful painted wall inside.

A beautiful painted wall inside.

While walking back down into Ghoom, the famous Darjeeling Steam train came along and passed by within a few feet of us. To throw another weird wrench into the wild world of Darjeeling roads, the train tracks share the road with the cars and pedestrians. This means when the train isn't going by people use the tracks as a sidewalk or as extra driving space. When the train whistle goes off, everyone moves to the side to give the train room. Luckily the trains are pretty slow. The train that passed us by was powered by coal and we could see the man shovelling the coal into the fire.

The train approaching. You can see how close everything is together. This narrow space all has to be shared by buildings, pedestrians, two lanes of traffic, and a train. to one side is a cliff and to the other side is a sheer wall of earth.

The train approaching. You can see how close everything is together. This narrow space all has to be shared by buildings, pedestrians, two lanes of traffic, and a train. to one side is a cliff and to the other side is a sheer wall of earth.

The steam train, passing by about 2 feet from me. Not pictured: Me squeezing tightly up against this building so that it wouldn't knock into me.

The steam train, passing by about 2 feet from me. Not pictured: Me squeezing tightly up against this building so that it wouldn't knock into me.

On our way back toward Darjeeling, something unexpected happened: The sun came out. It was not an illusion. Actual sunshine. Unfortunately the mist didn't clear enough to see the Himalayas, but it was still stunning. 

Is that the sun gracing the hills with its presence?

Is that the sun gracing the hills with its presence?

We stopped at Batasia Loop, which I found completely fascinating. The mountain is very steep, yet the trains manage to get all the way to the top. How do they do this? The Batasia Loops holds the answer. The very top of the mountain was in fact too steep for trains, but a very clever person realized that if they built a spiral loop into the tracks, the train would have a longer distance to travel to reach the top of the mountain, lowering the gradient of the slope, allowing the train to reach the top. Pretty neat! In addition to being a cool engineering trick, it's also a very beautiful park, scenic lookout point, and a memorial to the soldiers who lost their lives fighting for Indian independence.

A view from Batasia Loop.

A view from Batasia Loop.

Our very gracious new friend, Nalin Modha, had a treat in store for us when we got back to Darjeeling. He got us permission to go to Campbell House to see where Dr. Campbell planted the first Chinese varietal tea bush in Darjeeling, back in 1841. Dr. Campbell's experiment was a great success and led to the founding of the tea estates in Darjeeling. If this tree hadn't been planted, Darjeeling tea would not be what it is today. It was great to pay tribute to the plant that made this whole trip possible. We even got to keep a leaf, which I have pressed and hanging in a frame on my wall as a reminder that one man's experimentation can change the world.

Seeing the first tea bush planted at Campbell House. From left to right: Nalin Modha, Shabnam, Louise, Gabriella, me.

Seeing the first tea bush planted at Campbell House. From left to right: Nalin Modha, Shabnam, Louise, Gabriella, me.

We all did a little shopping, since this was the only chance to get any souvenirs on the trip. I think a lot of people back home would get a kick out restaurants and stores that we know here in Canada that I also saw in this remote, hard to reach town at the top of a mountain. There was a Domino's pizza and a KFC. Some things are everywhere, I guess.

Sadly, this was our last night in magical Darjeeling. The next few days would be jam packed and would see us off to the very different, and much much hotter, Assam.

Thank you to everyone in Darjeeling who hosted us and helped us. I already can't wait to go back, and hopefully next time I'll actually see the mountains.