Beautiful Darjeeling

9 Oct

Well, Astrid and I are coming to the end of our stay in Darjeeling. After 12 days, I feel like I know the place pretty well. We leave tomorrow for Gangtok, Sikkim to spend ten days or so exploring this ancient hill area. Yesterday we went through the rigmarole of getting our permit to enter Sikkim which was an experience in itself.

We arrived at the Office of the District Magistrate (a 3 km walk from our hotel) well before the 11:00 a.m. opening time. From there we waited (something I am getting quite used to in India) until 10:30 a.m. for the office to open. Someone finally arrived at around 10:40 am and nonchalantly handed me a form because I happened to be waiting in the room. Four Israeli tourists that were there before us got pissed off that I took the first place in line when they were there waiting longer. I told them to get used to it- it’s India- there is no such thing as a queue. I finished my permit form first and got my form stamped- then the fun began- we then had to go across town to the Foreigner’s Registration office about 4km away-uphill and get the form stamped there as well- THEN we had to return to the Office of the District Magistrate to actually get our permit. Save the hassle and get your passport stamped with a Sikkim permit when you get your visa.

After walking 11km to get the permit we decided to walk some more- to the movie plex and coffee bar- I mean real coffee- espresso- good espresso. We watched an American movie and felt transported back to NYC- if only for a couple of hours.

Darjeeling has really been wonderful. The people are kind and gentle and full of smiles. They are totally helpful and will do anything to make sure that you are happy. The scenery here is absolutely incredible. On a clear day Kanchanjunga watches over the town and you can see villages on other peaks across the multiple valleys. Birds don’t look like they fly as much as glide over the mountain tops. On most days however the clouds roll in and wrap the town in a fine mist that blows through the streets.

The street dogs here are healthier than in other parts of India- they sleep all day and bark all night. Our joke is that they hold meetings and get the other rival dogs worked up. Once the city shuts down at about 9:00 p.m., the town belongs to the dogs. They run, bark, eat garbage, bark, shit everywhere, bark, play, and did I mention bark?

The Chowk Bazaar as you enter Darjeeling is ALWAYS bustling with people from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. buying everything they need- fruit and vegetables, breads and cereals, toys, clothing, electronics, and anything else you would ever need. The narrow alleyways of the bazaar are by far the best part- people squeezing into them to look at the shops, the smells of chaat (snack) shops and chai fill the air. Sweet and cake shops are packed to the gills with people buying cookies, sweet buns and beautiful, sticky colorful candies.

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