Imagine the largest number of jeeps you possibly can. Now triple that number. Stick all of those jeeps on half a mile of road curving around one of the foothills of the Himalayas, add some mud, and make all the jeeps honk their horns at once and you have a reasonably good approximation of Darjeeling. The town is an old British hill station where tea was and is grown. It has a toy train, as previously mentioned. It is a popular place for Indians to send their children to boarding school, and a fairly popular destination for Indian tourists. It’s possible there are more Western tourists there if you’re not there in April, but we didn’t see that many.
We arrived via jeep from Jaldapara; when we arrived it was cold and miserable and our jeep driver seemingly gave up on us because we couldn’t figure out how to get to our hotel. Darjeeling, it might be worth noting, has no street signs. On the drive up, Harriet has thrown up in somewhat theatrical fashion, which perhaps did not endear us to our driver. Harriet is fine! She just throws up sometimes in cars going up mountains. Also immediately after having come down a mountain. And sometimes on top of mountains. But she’s fine, really. The hotel eventually sorted things out and had a car bring us to the hotel – which was slightly outside of the city center – though the hotel is up a mountain and we had to drag all of our luggage and a sleeping child up the equivalent of maybe seven flights of stairs in extremely cold rain. We were, rather foolishly, still dressed for the jungle, and also maybe avoiding the idea that cold weather could exist as we hadn’t encountered anything like this since last year at about this time.
It was not the most auspicious start? But the room had a space heater and a hot shower and a bed with a multitude of blankets, and the friendly Tibetan owners made us tea and a fire in one of the fireplaces and then we had some momos and thenthuk and things improved. That day had far and away the worst weather we encountered there; still, we were wearing layers most of the time. Our hotel had fine views of the mountains:
What is there to do in Darjeeling? They have one of those Japanese peace pagodas that you run into from time to time. They have a pretty good zoo full of Himalayan wildlife. At the zoo, there’s the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, which is a museum of the exploits of mountain climbers. Tenzing Norgay, who started the Institute, is buried there. You can admire the town’s attractive chickens:
Or its quality pigeon housing stock:
You can go have high tea in the somnolent old British hotels. There’s pretty good Tibetan food. There’s a really good natural history museum. The botanical garden is very pleasant. You can buy fine, or at least expensive, tea, perhaps at this place:
And of course there are fine views of the mountains, which vary as the sky changes. One way to see them is via the ropeway, which is a cable car that goes a long way down the mountain over a lot of tea fields. The line for this is very long – there are not very many cable cars and a lot of people who want to go on them – but we persevered and it’s pleasant to see tea fields from above:
Also you can have pony rides: