As the jeep switched gears and started its ascent into the hills of West Bengal, I realized that I hadn’t really researched anything about the city I was about to visit. The topography of its location, for example. How did I not realize that Darjeeling was actually in the mountains? I assumed that I’d be seeing some mountainous landscapes, but the beauty I that lay ahead of me was unlike anything that I’d ever imagined.
Getting there was scary as hell, though. There were times I thought we were going to fall off the mountain or surely collide with other vehicles while making sharp turns. Three hours and a few newly sprouted gray hairs later, I had arrived in Darjeeling, and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It definitely was a highlight of this India trip.
Darjeeling is located in the Lesser Himalaya region and looks as if the city was carefully embedded into the mountains. Its elevation is 6,710 feet and it was much colder than I thought it would be. I left most of my warm clothes in Mumbai thinking that it wouldn’t be so cold; all I had to protect me was one long sleeved shirt, yoga pants, a light windbreaker and a scarf. So that was my wardrobe for four days! (The life of a backpacker might be sunshine and rainbows, but it does not always include clean clothes). It didn’t help that it was raining off and on. I would come home in wet socks and shoes that never dried by the time I went back outside, but I didn’t even care because I just loved this place.
By the way, you read that correctly: I did just refer to a place in Darjeeling as my home. That’s the best part. I had the pleasure of staying with a Tibetan family during my stay, and it was the best experiences I could have ever asked for! I was very lucky in finding this homestay and the credit all goes to an Aussie friend whom I met in Varanasi. We planned to room together to cut costs on accommodation but when he arrived a day before me, he found that all budget hotels were full. Cue the German travelers he randomly met who took him back to their homestay. The rest is history. It turns out our homestay “mom”, Sonam, had picked them up off of the street just a few days prior! Sonam, her son Tenzing, and her cousin were the most heartwarming hosts, giving us endless cups of refreshing Darjeeling tea and feeding us delicious Tibetan meals. The cold nights and lack of consistent running water was a product of living on the mountain, but Sonam’s home was very comfortable and truly felt like a home to me.
Walking around Darjeeling in the rain felt like I was in an enchanted forest that was floating on a cloud. There was lush greenery hidden in soft, white clouds as far as the eye could see. We set out in search of a few monasteries, but mostly just walked and observed the beauty around us. At one point we were stuck in a downpour and found shelter under the tin roof of a house. Coincidentally, my friend said that he would love a cup of tea right then, just as the owner of the old house, an old man, invited us into his home to wait out the rain and have some organic Darjeeling tea. It was the best cup of tea I had tasted in Darjeeling, and I was averaging about 10 cups a day!
When the rain finally let up and the clouds cleared a day later, we were finally able to see the Himalayas. It was a surreal sight; I couldn’t stop staring at the snowy mountain peaks in the distance. We walked to the highest point we could find and just took in the view. It felt like we finally found what we were looking for.
The entire community of Darjeeling was unlike any part of India that I had experienced before. The people looked either Indian or East Asian, likely because of the large Nepali and Tibetan influences. Everyone we encountered was so nice and friendly. I know that I will never forget Sonam, Tenzing, and their family. Now I feel like I have family members to visit in Darjeeling the next time I come to India!
Maybe it’s because it was such a breath of fresh air from the India I had seen for the past weeks (literally, the air was so fresh), but Darjeeling really won me over. I’m so glad that I didn’t do much research before arriving; everything I saw was a surprise to me. It was such a great feeling.
This has happened to me before. I’ve visited many cities and upon leaving, I think to myself that it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. And then I move on to another destination that proves to be unbelievably beautiful as well. Isn’t it wonderful that the beauty in this world never ends?