"Drinking a daily cup of tea will surely starve the apothecary."Chinese proverb
Okay, readers, here's the lowdown. You guys know that I have this series of travelogues I've been writing since late March, right? It's hard to miss 'em. I've been writing them for the past four-months-and-a-half or so. And I have yet to finish them. Appalling, no doubt, to those of you who take offence at the very existence of people of my ilk in this world who like to take things easy (the horrors!) but in my defense, I did have to put a lot more effort into these posts. What I've been trying to do all along was to try to describe, as accurately as my ability to write is able, the impressions which I got when I first visited those amazing places myself. I hope to give you an honest, unfiltered vantage point of how a Malaysian student sees them all. I want everyone studying here to catch my wanderlust, to stop being so damn prejudiced about the incredibly deep culture by which this civilisation is painted and head out of their doors. Maybe then they'd stop bitching like a bunch of ninnies about how homesick they are for a change if they try less hard at hating where they are stuck at. Homesickness is a very, very alien emotion to me. Maybe it's because of the typical Asian pragmatism by which I was brought up - no one in my family ever complains of being homesick. Phoebe, I was delighted to learn, is entirely of the same mind as I am on this.
There! I always knew that there's a Chinese version of that lame apple aphorism.
Here's the second last post of my said trip in March. This time, it's about Darjeeling, the unofficial capital of Indian Tea-dom. It might be a bit picture-heavy but look, I've got a deadline here. It's pretty crappy that I am going on another backpacking trip starting this Saturday when I haven't finish talking about the one before it.
At the Glenary's restaurant. I have no idea why Joon Keat and Patrick look so much like old lesbians here.
Our first night there was spent at Glenary's, and if there's ever such a thing as a one-stop food and beverage station, it's this place. Picture a generously windowed triple-storey shop that is a multi-cuisine restaurant upstairs, a bakery and cafe in the middle and a Hollywood-themed bar in the bottom and you'll have a pretty good idea of what sort of creature Glenary's is. I had the chicken rashmi kebab, as per recommendation of the Good Book of Travellers Too Lazy to Do Their Own Research (the Lonely Planet) which was basically chicken meat marinated in spiced yoghurt before being baked in a tandoor oven. Damn, even the words taste good.
In the cafe below, I bought a whole bag of homemade liqueur chocolates which I planned to share with Phoebe when I got back (but unfortunately, I ate all of them that night). They also had a whole tray of chocolate bunnies on sale for the coming Easter but the salesgirl said that they wouldn't keep, so I couldn't get one for Phoebs either.
Right after that, we headed down to the pub, naturally. It's the order of things, you see; dinner, dessert and booze to top it all off. That's where I tried the Irish Coffee, my first ever encounter with a hot cocktail. Great stuff to have for the below ten of the the typical Darjeeling evening, if you ask me.
And oh, Patrick jammed,
Those instruments were just sitting around anyway. Apparently, the house band only play in the weekends so for the rest of the weeknights it's all pretty sedate hereabouts. In spite of that notice right behind Pat's left's shoulder which said, "Only Band-members are Allowed on Stage", he got the good to go anyway. Then after a couple of songs, the real band decided to fuck it, fuck the dumb weekends only rule and played anyway,
Reminds me of the lyric's from that Fratelli's song, 'Vince the Lovable Stoner'; "... I haven't seen a pupil in his eyes for 16 days..."
Pat on bass. I know that because the bass guitar only has 4 strings. Why do I know these things?
Anyway, I could tell that the audience was pretty happy about the impromptu performance because quite a lot of them got off their seats to watch. I can only imagine just how crowded this place would be on a Saturday night.
Switch. I know you girls are creaming your panties for that hawt Darjeeling band lead guy. How typical.
What I really like about the bar is the atmosphere. It's not one of those dark, depressing joints people frequent to drown their sorrows in spirits. It has a truly cheerful soul, the sort that life-loving travelers go to exchange stories, friends getting together after work for a good boozing, and a bar owner who truly enjoys running the sort of establishment that these people go to. Just take a look at the background of this picture (and try to ignore horny Josephine who was attempting to lean as close as she could to whatzisface-generic-hot-band-guy),
There's a canoe hanging from the ceiling along with many expensive-looking model planes and automobiles. Old movie posters and other cinematic memorabilia were put up on every wall and in every nook and corner. There's a bit of the bar-owner's personality on display in the form of cool knickknacks, ornaments or toys - the sort that they don't make anymore these days - everywhere you turn. They are an absolute joy to look at and I could just sit there for hours, swirling a glass in my hand and examining each item closely from my chair.
People who think bars and drinking are evil obviously have never been in a really good one before.
Sunrise at Tiger Hill
We got up (i.e. I banged on everyone's doors to wake them up) at about 4:30 am the next day in order to catch the sunrise at Tiger Hill, the highest point of Darjeeling. In the previous night, the fog was so thick that people walking 5 feet in front of us in the streets were just creepy silhouettes stumbling about like they were in a 2008 remake of the Night of the Living Dead. So it was agreed that we would sleep on the plan and wake up sometime at the ungodly fourth hour of the next day to see if the fog would let up. Of course, no one took that proposal seriously besides your truly (I was the only person who actually set my alarm, come to think of it). Throwing the window open at 4 am in the morning, I was totally blown away by how free of fog the city was. I was, understandably, a bit peeved that no one else bothered to wake up like I did so... yeah. Still, all of us got there on time. I had to wake the hotel tour people who were sleeping in the basement to arrange it, but amiable Tibetan hospitable folks they are, they get pissed at me not.
Sure, it doesn't look half as soul-shuddering as some of the other sunrises we've seen, but that's just because you don't know that the sun was actually rising from behind The Himalayan mountain range. Yeah, the same one Everest's on. The main attraction here is the Khangchendzonga, the highest mountain in India and the third highest peak in the world. It's name in Tibetan means, "Big Five Peaked Snow Fortress", and for a typical fantasy junkie like me, it's as close as any earthly geologic formation comes to being freaking epic - and by epic I mean, the battle between Chinese Kung Fu mountain immortals and a bajillion ugly orcs. God, if you're taking notes, this is how you can make reality more awesome than it already is.
On a really good day, you can actually see Everest from here. For us, all we got was the massive, MASSIVE shadow of the Himalayas stretching from one end of forever to the other, looming from behind the mist. Hey, pretty darn neat on its own if you see it that way.
The Himalayan Zoological Park
We went to a zoo. That's about all the explanation you need here.
I don't usually do this, I swear.
A flamboyantly gay chicken.
A flamboyantly gay leopard.
A flamboyantly gay panda.
It's pretty hard to get the red panda to get this close to us for us to snap its picture. We had to wait till all the local visitors with their incredibly bratty kids to bugger off, for one. I wonder, was I like those kids too when I was young? God, if ever my own kids act that irritatingly and noisily in a zoo, I'd personally flay the living daylights out of the lot of 'em.
What people don't realise is that it's so much easier to watch the animals when they are quiet and watchful. That's what the zoo-going experience should be. We've already grabbed a bunch of wildlife and caged them up for "study" and "conservation" - the least we can do is afford them some dignity and respect. I mean, kids will be kids (though flaying is in order), but when adults act like that, I feel like stabbing them. Everyone knows that I have very clear opinions on what is right and wrong and I was never someone who is afraid to say them, even to my own friends if I have to.
I think it's disgusting how 20 plus year old medical students would be uncouth and barbaric enough to rattle the cages of zoo animals just so that they would react, or hiss or do whatever that animals do when they feel threatened. That's the problem with people today, I always say; Zero empathy. They won't get it till some madman comes over to their houses, bang on their windows and scare the shit out of their families - and even then, I think they still won't get it. Damn, I hate people so very much sometimes.
The ultimate feel-bad moment at the zoo came when I arrived at a tiny cage within which a tiger was pacing to and fro in the most agitated state I've ever seen a living thing in. I think it was put there while its proper enclosure was being cleaned or something.
Why so agitated then? It's because retarded zoo-goers kept shouting and screaming at it in order to get it to roar or lunge for photographs. There's this dangerous impulse in me to just snatch their cameras and dash them on the rocks. I was this close to losing it. I sincerely wished that the tiger could actually break down the mesh and eat a kid, so that all these bastards won't feel like they are such big fucking heroes taunting a poor, scared, caged animal.
Look at it after the crowd went away,
Looks a lot happier now, doesn't it?
Of course, some of Darjeeling's best animals aren't confined in the zoo at all. One of the more distinctive characteristics of road etiquette on the streets of Darjeeling is the hop-aboard hitchhikers. People who want to get from one part of town to the other would just jump onto the back of a passing vehicle when it slows down for a turn or at an intersection, and then leap off when they reach where they were going or when their ride makes a turn contrary to the one they want to take, only to hop on another one going their way. Drivers here are awfully tolerant of such behaviour. This explains why there is a strange absence of auto rickshaws in Darjeeling - they don't need any. In most towns and cities of India, you can't even open your eyes without seeing a couple of autos on the road at any given time.
Here's me, at the back of our minivan - and our uninvited ape-man passenger,
I saw this gang of dogs just loitering about right outside my hotel (Tibetan Home, impossibly cosy place at an incredibly cheap price - look it up).
It's pretty much like how I judge individuals as well. If you like dogs, I tend to think of you as a nice person. And in a town where a lot of people are perfectly okay with a whole lot of docile mongrels wandering about, it speaks a lot about them, really. There's a linear relation between the number of dog lovers in any given town or city with the measure of how friendly they really are. Go plot some graphs if you don't buy that.
Okay, I don't have any pictures to back this up but I just want to say this; Darjeeling has the highest ratio of hot women to average-looking and ugly women compared to all the other Indian cities I've been to. I think it's because of the Nepali subpopulation here. If you like women-watching, come to Darjeeling. We need more Nepali women to marry foreigners to improve the global gene pool. I mean, they are hording all the good alleles! Sharing is caring, or some shit like that.
Tea, of course
In the evening, Torng Lei, Vincent and I made our way down to the Happy Valley Tea Estate, a plantation that reputedly gives good guided tours but our stars must not have been aligned right because the day we went there was the day it dismantled its old factory and was only halfway through setting shop in a new building. I was pretty darn disappointed. All we got was some new machinery which was so new that you can still smell the newness on them, and no one was around to operate them yet. However, there was this one caretaker guy who explained to us what all the hardware actually does - but that just sucked as bad as having to learn anatomy using plastic replicas of human parts (take that IMU'ians, LOL). We did, however, get permission to get lost in their vast tea planting estate. It was pretty deserted at the time, though.
Right before dinner, the whole bunch of us stormed the Goodricke teahouse for a small tea-tasting party. Basically, we just kept trying different types of tea till we found one we liked, and then, we trooped down over to Nathmull's Tea Room to buy those particular types for ourselves. I bought a pretty darn pricey brew for Phoebe's mom and a less-pricey White Tea, (a sort of uncured and unfermented tea) for myself. I have a rather dainty taste for the less overpowering varieties of the beverage, those that don't leave a chemical aftertaste in my mouth like most black tea does. And I also dislike adding sugar or milk when I drink them.
Nathmull's a really good store to go to no matter what kind of tea you want to buy and you can get them to package your purchase for you in these little decorative embroidered drawstring pouches that looked like they are more likely to contain jewelry than some dried plant bits - and inside they have enclosed detailed instructions on how to best brew a pot. They make pretty classy souvenirs to give to your friends and family, even if you've bought the absolute barrel bottom leaves.
Not that I did that, of course.
P.S. Nathmull's also has a website where you can contact them when you run out of your favourite tea and get them to FedEx you some more.
k0k s3n w4i