Tea gardens and trash piles. (photos added)
Darjeeling Travel Blog› entry 96 of 251 › view all entries
June 7th, 2008 – by: cmgervais
On this drive we passed over some familiar roads we have already covered these past few days, but then we split off and things started to look a little different. For example, there were tea plantations. I have never seen tea growing before and was surprised to see it grows in small bushes. The tea fields were so green, like little green topiaries rolling along the sides of the mountains. It was really beautiful.
We climbed, then descended, then climbed again. And so on. The skies were very clear and bright at the lower altitudes, and I would let myself get hopeful again about seeing some snow-covered Himalayan mountains in the distance. But the upper altitudes were still foggy and cloudy. Foiled again.
Darjeeling is literally built into the side of a mountain and makes for an impressive first view. We drove through the whole town to get to our hotel, The Elgin. Along the way my opinion of the town ran the gamut from, “oh, how nice!” to “oh, that’s disgusting.” Alongside the road right in town, there were huge piles of trash! I don’t mean bagged trash waiting for pickup, I mean like a dumping ground for garbage. People just walked around it, some of them holding handkerchiefs to their noses and mouths.
The people I saw on the street did not look like Indians. My book said the population is primarily Nepalese in this area, having emigrated centuries ago. I also noticed a few Western tourists, pretty easy to pick out in the crowds. We have really been off the beaten path this past week, and it’s been a long time since we’ve seen any fellow foreigners.
Our hotel has a beautiful gated entrance, leading into the nice garden area in front of the hotel. The building itself is also very pretty, with a gazebo in front, and a view of the town on the mountain. It’s the prettiest of the four Elgin hotels we have stayed at so far. The interior had the same Victorian look as the others, but with a different layout.
I was directly greeted, by name, at the front desk. This is new…they usually look around me and say, “welcome, sir” to Steve. And they seemed perfectly happy to conduct the check-in with me, so that was a positive first impression. Steve sat by the fireplace and read a paper. He is quite happy to be left out of the administrative details.
Our room is on the third floor, up some creaky stairs. It smells like old man, and it seems he has concentrated himself mainly in our pillows. We have two twin beds (they are not big on king sized beds here), and my feet hang off the edge, so you can imagine how comfortable it is for Steve, who’s half a foot taller than I! On the plus side, the bathroom is marble and much nicer than the last place. As a real classy touch, they have supplied small packets of brand name shampoo, Head & Shoulders.
Their Internet was down (and has been down for days) so Steve went off to an Internet Café while I sat in the gazebo for tea and to work on my computer offline. I was starving, but lunch wasn’t going to be served until 1:30! That is way too late for me. I get a little cranky when I am hungry. Still, I couldn’t help but feel very happy in that gazebo, with my hair-raisingly strong tea (Darjeeling, of course). The air was cool and pleasant, and the smell of wood smoke wafted by every so often. Sun shined on the mountain in my view, and even though it wasn’t one of those really tall ones, it was a beautiful sight nonetheless.
Unfortunately, lunch was absolutely horrifying.
I know I keep bitching about the food, but it has been consistently good (though repetitive and tending to be greasy like Indian food in general) this past week, but The Elgin broke that good streak. Steve’s first bite of some mysterious brown lump literally made him gag.
Then I headed off to the Cyber Café Steve had found just next door, while he worked in the room. The café was small and crowded, and the connection was slow. I was foiled in just about every task I attempted. The flights I had booked yesterday on Orbitz didn’t go through, so I had to start at square one with that. My email program just wouldn’t load on any of their browsers. KingFisher Air only takes Amex, which I didn’t have with me.
Although dinner is included in the room rate, we just couldn’t face another bad hotel meal, so we went into town. What a treat that we are in actual walking distance of stores and people! All this time we have been holed up in either our hotel or a car. We both agreed that we felt like we were really traveling again as we walked up the pedestrian mall lined with vendors. The air was cool and pleasant, the shops old fashioned, colonial looking.
We had dinner at Glenary’s, which became jam packed very soon after we sat down. They had a varied menu that included some Western and Chinese dishes, so I order sweet and sour vegetables and a green salad (silly me, I hoped that meant that it would be lettuce, which I haven’t seen since Bangkok. No such luck…it was the same salad they serve at the hotel every night: under-ripe tomatoes, onions and cucumbers). Steve had a chicken kebab. We so enjoyed being out in a crowd and away from the hotel that we didn’t much mind that our meal was just mediocre.
We got caught in the rain again, and ran back to the hotel, where we discovered that the power was out. We walked up the creaky dark stairway, and it just seemed like a fun adventure to me. We were about to light the candle in our room when the lights went back on. Too bad. With the lights out, it would have been easier to overlook the grayish grungy sheets on my bed.
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