Travel Stories 3: Sipping Tea in Darjeeling

It was quarter past four in the morning when my mother woke me up, whispering that the clouds had finally cleared. I stumbled out of bed, vision still blurred from sleep and made my way to the window down the hall — the one facing the gardens. Lining the horizon were the Himalayas and, taking centre stage: Kanchenjunga — the third highest peak in the world.

At this point, my family and I had spent nearly a week in the small town of Tumsong, situated about 25km from Darjeeling. The house we stayed in boasted of a view of the Himalayas. However, each afternoon, the clouds would roll in, and the world would disappear from view, while we’d be left staring hopefully at the spot where the mountain range should have been.

My mother would begin her days by checking for the mountains, and, the first thing she’d tell us each morning was that they were yet to come into view. The thing about nature, though, is that it is unpredictable. No amount of wishful staring would draw away the clouds, and, it was more than likely that we wouldn’t see the peaks. Fate, however, was kind to us and, the day before we left, the skies cleared so that, when the sun rose, the Himalayan range became visible.

I no longer remember the view from our window; minutes later, I was back in bed, sound asleep and, by the time I’d rise again, the clouds would have returned. I do, however, remember the warmth I’d felt upon seeing them, and I know that I wouldn’t have missed staring at the mountains for anything in the world.

After all, how many can boast of having seen India’s highest peak from their window?

Our tryst with the clouds didn’t end in Tumsong, the drive to Darjeeling was through a dense cover of clouds and, nose pressed against the cool glass pane, I’d squint at the scenery as we drove past it, trying to make sense of the shadows visible through the fog. In contrast to the tall buildings and traffic of home, the forest cover and sweet-smelling air of Darjeeling were undoubtedly a refreshing change.

Later, we took a ride on the ropeway, where a small cable car took us down along the hillside. From above, our view was one of rolling tea gardens, winding roads, dense woods and, shrouding the scenery, were the now familiar clouds. At first, all of us leaned out of the windows, cameras aimed at the hills. Soon, though, we settled back, eyes bright and smiling. Some sights, we’d silently agreed, are too beautiful to witness only through the lens of a camera.

Where Tumsong had been for sitting in the garden and sipping chai, Darjeeling was about hopping from shop to shop, eating pastries, momos and, of course, sampling a variety of local teas. There was always the next shop to visit, or the next site to see.

We took a ride on the toy train and took turns at attempting to recreate the iconic Shah Rukh Khan train scene while at the station. We visited a mountaineering institute that pays tribute to Tenzing Norgay and all the others who have summited the Mount Everest and drove to the highest point in Darjeeling, despite the chill of the early mornings.

More often than not, though, we found ourselves sitting in a quiet bakery, sipping tea and snacking on freshly baked desserts. Often, we’d cut down on our plans for the day, choosing to sit a little longer and catching up on the months we’d spent apart. Darjeeling was the first holiday we were spending together after I’d left for college and, it seemed significant in that.

That’s not to say our holiday was dull. We drove through clouds so dense that we couldn’t see the road ahead of us. At one point, our jeep was filled with blood-sucking insects that refused to leave. We had a riverside picnic, got caught in the rain, climbed up hills and back down them. Every day gave us something new to look forward to; be it yet another spontaneous adventure, or even more good food to eat.

With endless tea plantations, winding roads and quaint shops, the Darjeeling seemed to exist in a world of its own. Perhaps, I was bound to fall in love with the place, for I left knowing that, someday, I’d love to return.

Written by Naintara Singh for MTTN

Graphics by Yashovardhan Parekh

Images from Google Images


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