The air around me is cold and clean and ever so refreshing!
(*inhales deep breath*)
I am also wearing a ridiculous amount of layered up clothing to keep warm, which I apparently wasn't really prepared for. I have no thermometer but am pretty sure that through the night it must get as low as single digits up here. It is so surprisingly cold. I keep remembering the disgusting, uncomfortable, sweltering, heat of Calcutta and the rest of India when it's on the tip of my tongue to complain (complaining to you Garry, doesn't count ;).
I have been up in the Himalaya's, in Darjeerling, for almost a week and it really has been a breath of fresh air. I've done almost nothing and that feels great too. I was debating whether to do a trek from here, but got sick the first day here and that made up my mind not to. So I have spent my days wandering about, drinking the most amazing tea and exploring the hillside.
There is a little steam engine that runs through the mountains and I took a 2 hour "Joy Ride" to Goom, the highest hill station in India. It chugged ever so slowly through town after town, and a famous place called the Batasia Loop. We got to stop and hop out a few times. It was an odd mixture of touristy and kitsch, and authentic and interesting. The weather changes so quickly here that we passed through beaming sunshine and then eventually, when we got to Goom there was a thick fog that added a really misty, ghost like quality to the atmosphere in the small, old train station.
Another afternoon I visited the Himalayan Zoological Park (fancy name for a zoo), the Natural History Museum and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. It all made me feel like a bit of a kid again, which I fully relished in. The zoo was fun, although mildly disturbing to see all the cats pacing back and forth in their enclosures. The cages were plush and huge, but they were still cages. I took mild comfort in reading that the two tigers had been rescued from a circus. Most of the animals were native to the mountains so it was interesting to learn about red pandas, the asian black bear and all the different cat species. There was an 'exotic aquarium' set up too, which was hilarious! I think the fish tanks in my grade school classrooms could've done a better job at "exotic".
Another highlight was visiting Happy Valley Tea Plantation. This is where Harrod's in England get their organic packaged tea. I just wandered into the plantation and was guided through the factory and told how the whole process works. I was allowed to wander the hills where the women were picking and it was such an interesting process to watch. I've never really thought about how any of my tea actually gets from Point A to Point B, my cup. The women in the hills were gossiping a mile a minute as they plucked away, and even stopeed to chat with me as I walked by. At the end of t I sat in a little cafe and drank the freshest tea picked earlier that week. The kicker was this plantation doent sell to just anyone, its exclusively produced for Harrod's, and also the employees are allowed to have it as part of their contract. But this little lady that runs the tea garden in the hills gets it from the employees and sells it under the table to tourists or who ever else is interested in it. Its al really hush hush, she wont even let yuo bring a camera in and the tea is hidden under the seats. Black Market tea, I loved it! It was totally overpriced but I bought some anyways. "Super Fine Tippy Golden Flower Orange Pekoe One", thats what I got. Top of the line stuff, in our tasting, the tea was so fresh sheonly had to brew it for 5 seconds and it was amazing. Ahhhh, the underbelly of Darjeerling!
Yesterday was my last day here and it was probably the best of all. I wandered down the side of the mountain in search of a small monastery. It looked deserted when I found it but I ended up running into a monk that takes care of the place. He unlocked it and sat talking with me for ages, pining away the afternoon. he explained all the paintings on the wall, the powders used to make it; the history of Buddhism, how the monastery ended up there and so much more. He was old but nimble as anything, and a sense of humour that had me giggling more often than not! It was such an incredible and unexpected way to spend my afternoon and it reminded me how lucky I am to be here and why I have such a passion for travelling. He sent me on my way through a sneaky mountain back route to get to a Tibetan Refugee centre and I was off.
This morning it is torrentially raining and I am all geared up with al my stuff and about to make the journey to Nepal. A jeep taxi down the mountain for about four hours is the first step and thats about all I know so far, keeping my fingers crossed I will make it to Kathmandu sometime tomorrow.
And so, then next phase of my travels begin.