Darjeeling: The Faded Jewel

station sign

Darjeeling, a former jewel in the British crown, lies across the Himalayan foothills like some dirty folded blanket, its inner creases the grimy streets or trash strewn lanes, its outer folds the ramshackle and rundown hotels that cling to the hills as mere shadows of their former splendor.

Darjeeling pan View 1

When I imagined Darjeeling I saw a shining town sitting proudly on its mountainside, vast swathes of verdant tea fields rolling gently down into the valleys, and snow topped mountains glistening under clear skies all around. I was only half right. The mountains are there, looming magnificently in the distance. The tea fields are there, sloping off in all directions, their fragrant crops the life blood of the town.

Cars green 2 girl on tracks

But I was wrong in one thing; this town hasn’t shone for apparent decades. No street is swept, no paint unpeeling. Broken windows go un-repaired, and stray dogs lay dying, too sick or lazy to eat. And behind the smiles of the colorful locals I see an innate melancholy, weariness that comes from too many poor years. They are tired, as this town is tired. Even our hotel is exhausted. The polite staff are friendly but lethargic, and rooms go unmade. Curtains hang dirty on too few hooks, and refuse to close, the permanent ray of sun illuminating the layers of dust. Taps drip through the night, while the hands on a broken clock don’t turn.

Chickens Docs 1green 1

But as I peer through the curtain’s ever present gap, I’m reminded why I traveled so far to get here; the view is quite simply spectacular. Off to my right I spy the brilliant white caps of Everest and Kanchenjunga, the world’s 1st and 3rd highest mountains. Straight out in front the early sun casts an ethereal orange glow on the far away hills as the world comes alive. The sky is vast and blue and clear. I open my window, and breathe crisp cool air, a far cry from the stifling, choking polluted air of Kolkata. It instills in me an energy and effervescence not felt in months, and it’s good to be alive.Mist

But I look down, and below me, a slowly waking town dawns. Cockerels crow, and the locals yawn along with the emaciated strays. The energy I feel is not evident in the town’s people. As I look forward to striding out into the stunning landscape, hiking the trails and basking in the glory of nature, they must face the prospect of another day of slack business in the market place. When you wander through those chaotic and colorful markets, it is all smiles. But they are forced, and fade quickly as you move on. You stand and watch, admiring the vast array of wares on display, from fruit and vegetables, to fabrics and shoes, to tools and tea…so much tea. But one thing is obvious; no one is buying. Plenty are looking, but little money changes hands.market

 

Times are hard in most of India, and in Darjeeling, former crown of the British hill stations, times are hard too. The people are weary, as the town is weary. It needs some Himalayan giant to grab the ends of the dirty blanket that is Darjeeling, raise it up and shake it down, as you would when making a bed. Shake away the dirt, and shake away the melancholy. There are political issues here. The region is known locally as Ghorkaland, and it has long been in a struggle with the Indian government for independence. It might just be that successful independence for Ghorkaland could be the shake up this worn out town so desperately needs. Maybe then the jewel might once more shine under a bright Himalayan sky?

House blue Grave Tiger gate Best Mt Field Red picker Yellow flower II mountains II TH 7

 

All images by the Nomad.

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9 thoughts on “Darjeeling: The Faded Jewel

  1. Pingback: Darjeeling in Pictures | Chic Adventurer

  2. Steve, This is so beautifully written – it really cast a spell over me as I was reading. The natural beauty of the setting juxtaposed with the plight of the people is quite moving. And your photos are stunning. Where to next? ~Terri

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  3. Wow Terri, thanks for the kind words. It’s a very cool place, and despite it all I do love it here. But, in a few hours we leave for Varanasi, an 18 hour journey, but it will be worth it. It’s such an amazing, wild, crazy place and I can’t wait to get back there after a 12 year wait. Cheers.

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  4. I agree that this was an enchanting read. Beautiful pictures, too. Although the town is still a bit under the weather, at least the scenery remains breathtaking. Thanks for the post!

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  5. Pingback: 2013: Annis Memorabilis | Twenty First Century Nomad

    • Thanks Tommy.
      As you can see, I had mixed feelings about Darjeeling, but overall I would recommend a visit. The tea fields are great, as is the tea, and to arrive at Tiger Hill for sunrise, with the stunning Himalaya views, was totally worth it. And go for a few pints at Joey’s Bar…great character.
      My girlfriend Leslie wrote an article in ‘Travel + Leisure’ magazine, with my pictures…check it out fella. (http://www.lesliepatrick.com)
      Have a great trip if you go.
      Cheers mate.

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  6. Pingback: And The Winners Are… | Twenty First Century Nomad

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