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Kalimpong to Darjeeling
I could not imagine a more beautiful day—curving narrow roads, the freedom of a motorcycle, a brilliant blue sky, and the backdrop of the Himalayan Mountains.
In the morning light, the chimney of our hotel pointed toward the fading moon:
On the rooftop patio, we joined two of our group members, Glynn and Marian, basking in the view of the snowy peaks of Kangchenjunga:
The Kalimpong Park Hotel had been a wonderful place to spend the night. We were very touched by the generosity of the staff who had surprised Ben with a birthday cake late last night. At breakfast, we had shared that cake with the other members of our group. As we prepared to depart, some of the staff came out to look at our bikes and watch us make our final preparations:
Relaxing in the hotel courtyard: Larry, Fred, and Ben:
Today we would be riding from Kalimpong to the city of Darjeeling. It would be a short ride, only about 30 miles. I would have liked to have had a longer ride. A lot longer, in fact. But, as the saying goes, it is the quality that counts, not the quantity. And today’s miles were definitely high quality, with lots of steep switchbacks and some of the most amazing scenery ever.
We started out by climbing on roads with such severe inclines that the throttle power of our bikes was tested to the max. At one point, the road actually made a spiral loop on the mountainside—incredible!
Every so often, we would pass a painted roadsign with a proverb or quotation. I liked this one:
We pulled over to take a peek at the famous “Triveni Viewpoint.”
We parked the bikes by the side of the road, with overhanging trees all around:
(Note: The photos Ben took today were with his cell phone, and the images were low-resolution; you may recall that his “nice” camera had been stolen in Bhutan during a sacred fire ceremony at the Jambay Festival.)
The Triveni viewpoint had a small platform from which we could see the junction of two rivers. The large river running from top to bottom was the Teesta River, and the smaller river intersecting from the left was the Rangeet:
Here are Ben and I at the viewpoint:
Across the river, we noticed some terracing and a couple of houses on the side of the steep mountain:
A close-up view:
On the way back to our motorcycles, Ann and I were approached by a young Indian couple on vacation from Mumbai.
The man asked if he could take our photo, and we said, “Of course!” After snapping a shot of us, he came over and showed us the digital image on his camera. Ann and I burst out laughing as this "snap and show" action was exactly what we had been doing with people whose photos we had taken throughout Bhutan and India! The tables were now turned, and we didn’t mind a bit!
More photo-taking ensued. First, the woman wanted to stand between Ann and me:
Then it was her husband’s turn:
Then her husband posed with Ben and Dave:
After riding along more twisty, fun roads, our next stop was a tea house nestled on a hillside:
Here is a photo of the front of the teahouse; Dale and Larry are next to their bikes, and Dave and Ann are just arriving (riding two up) with Gyan close behind:
Across from the teahouse was a jaw-dropping view of the distant Himalayan peaks. At first glance, the snow-covered crags appeared to be white clouds floating above the nearby hilltop. But then a sense of wonder descended as I realized those "clouds" were mountains so massive that they towered above everything else. The lower portion was almost the same color as the sky, making the tops appear to be floating in air.
Even with the intrusive power lines, it was a stupendous sight!
Moreover, the thin zig-zag lines on the mountain across the valley had me wishing that I was on a dirt bike, with some time to do a little exploring!
With so much beauty around me, I was a photo-taking fool!
The slopes all around us were covered in tea bushes:
Some women emerged from around the bend, carrying baskets of tea leaves on their backs:
The basket “handle” was looped across their foreheads, a carrying technique that isn’t common in the U.S.:
I asked this woman if I could take a photo (motioning to my camera), and she nodded her head:
Then this man appeared and motioned for me to take a photo of him, so I did:
When I went to show him the digital image, however, he rubbed his thumb and forefinger together—sign language for “give me some money”! I was caught off guard, as this was the first time in our trip that anyone had requested money for a photo, and the man hadn’t mentioned money before motioning for me to take a picture. I didn't mind giving him a little something, but when I reached into the pockets on my motorcycle leathers, I realized that I didn’t have any money on me. Larry (another rider) witnessed my predicament and appeared at my elbow with 40 rupees (about twenty cents in U.S. money) to give to the man. (Thank you, Larry!)
After having a cup of delicious milk tea, we continued riding toward Darjeeling. Our road snaked along the contour of the mountain, without any more significant climbs or drops.
Rounding one corner, we could see the backside of Darjeeling ahead, with the snowy mountains looming above it:
Darjeeling straddles a mountain ridge, and we would be staying in the portion that flowed down the other side of the mountain.
A closer view of the backside of the city and those beautiful peaks:
We could see our road ahead, slicing straight across the terraced mountainside (about 1/3 of the way down in the photo below):
Our hotel in Darjeeling was up a small hill, near the heart of the city:
As we were parking the bikes, this man walked by carrying a heavy load:
Our cozy and clean room:
The hotel patio provided a wonderful place to relax and soak up the sunshine:
A panoramic view from the hotel, moving left to right:
Mount Kangchenjunga rose up in the distant range:
The peaks did not seem to be attached to the earth.
Surely they must be a piece of heaven, dangling down, to entice us all with their beauty.
My eyes sought those peaks out again and again, as if to confirm that they were real . . . that they hadn’t suddenly disappeared. Looking at them gave me a sense of lightness, as if my spirit was being drawn upwards to that same glorious level.
The city of Darjeeling had the feel of a real working town. We walked down the hill to the clock tower, located in the central business area:
Then we strolled through the winding streets.
Whoever designed the electrical wiring system definitely didn’t follow the “less is more” philosophy:
Ann had wanted to visit a place that offered high-quality pashmina shawls, and I tagged along “just to look.” (I will inject a big “ha!” here). Our beautiful, gracious, and very knowledgeable salesperson spent time showing us many shawls and educating us regarding the different qualities involved in the weaving and embroidery.
Her father owned the shop:
During the shawl presentation, he asked if we would like some tea. I wasn’t particularly thirsty, and I didn’t want him to go to any trouble, so I politely said, “No, thank you.” (So did Ann.) From my cultural background, it is perfectly acceptable to refuse offers of food or drink, especially if you aren’t hungry/thirsty or if you think that a “yes” answer might inconvenience or impose a burden on the person who offers; sometimes people even wait for a second or third offer before feeling that it is polite to finally accept. Well, that is not the case in India. The offering of tea is much more than a gesture intended to quench a guest's thirst. It has social significance. And we apparently had offended the store owner by refusing his tea. After a brief pause, the father very gently said, “You should never refuse the offer of tea.” With much chagrin (which I still feel whenever I think of that moment), I filed that valuable tidbit of advice away for future reference.
Darjeeling is famous for its variety and quality of teas. Here is Ann (with her bag of shawls) getting ready to search for some leafy treasure:
Inside the tea shop:
Back on the street, we wandered past the old municipal building, which indicated that the city of Darjeeling had been established in 1850:
These street musicians were quite talented:
We browsed through the Oxford Book Store, which had an extensive offering of English books (but we left empty-handed).
For dinner tonight, our itinerary had called for a “white glove” dinner. At the last minute, the meal was changed to a less formal affair. However, Larry had bought white gloves as a joke for the three women in our group. Here are Marian and Ann with their gloves.
After dinner, we slowly climbed the sharp incline back to our hotel. I felt like Darjeeling had cast a spell over me. Surely a place that has "floating" peaks in the distance must be magical.
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