03 June 2013

Some Enforced Site-Seeing in Darjeeling

Day Two
Since we had to go back to the hotel with Mike's passport for registration, we decided to eat at the breakfast buffet there. So another walk down the hill and back up it was needed. Breakfast started at 7:30 and we had arranged for a car to pick us up at the resort at 9:00 for site-seeing so we needed to get back-and-forth with a reasonable amount of speed, for India.

We didn't come to Darjeeling very prepared with touristy things in mind to do. We wanted to walk around, see some mountain peaks, and drink some tea. Tea was the easy part. The weather was too cloudy, and even rainy at times, to see the Himalayan peaks. There really wasn't much to walk to in town, especially if you wanted nature. So we decided we may as well start with the standard tourist package. We'd heard the zoo was worth the fifty-ruppee (one dollar) entrance fee and we wanted to tour a tea plantation so if that's all we could do that day, we'd be satisfied.

The driver was supposed to pick us up at 9:00 but everyone forgot it was a lunar holiday and traffic was completely stopped in town as celebrants paraded with Buddhist texts on their heads toward a temple. He showed up at 11:00. We had no idea where he was going to take us; we decided to go with the flow and see where we ended up.

Pooja traffic.
We ended up at the zoo, which is also where the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute founded by Tenzing Norgay Sherpa is. The zoo has red panda and snow leopard breeding centers. It's small, but seeing the pandas, a variety of leopards, and peeking in at the mountaineering museum was certainly worth the dollar we paid for admission. Muffin was fascinated by the mountaineering gear and the statue of Tenzing Norgay. She started talking about how she wanted to climb mountains. She even insisted on standing on the "little mountain" next to his statue rather than on the ground in front of him when she posed for a photo.

We unfortunately ruined the whole day for many zoo-goers who wanted to take Muffin's photo. We wouldn't let them. It slows us down and makes Muffin withdrawn. Plus, she's not an exhibit. We were watching the snow leopards. One was actually walking around very close to the front of the cage and I'd never seen one so close before, nor so active. They are always curled up as far away as possible. So I was pretty mesmerized and was enjoying myself. Until someone asked me if they could take Muffin's photo and they kept insisting after I said, "No." Eventually I said, "There's a snow leopard right there! Take a photo of that! My daughter is not part of the exhibit." I cannot get over the fact that so many people feel it's okay to intrude on our day to take a photo of Muffin and get insulted when we say it's not okay. It's never just a quick snapshot; even if it were, a quick snapshot for ten different people asking becomes a large amount of time for us. It's not as if she's a celebrity and she owes it to her fans. She's a regular little girl trying to enjoy the zoo with her parents.

Okay, that rant is over.

After the zoo we told the driver we wanted some lunch. I specified "Good Chinese food or good Indian food" so he'd have some idea of where to take us. He drove up to some kind of tourist attraction and we could smell the fried snacks. We were very annoyed. But then he pointed down a treacherous staircase along the side of the hill. "Go down there and cross the street." We did, and we saw a sign that said "Burmese Restaurant." We were hungry and didn't know what else to do so we went inside.

It was pretty dirty. But we got some fried rice and Mike had dumplings and they brought us a yummy cilantro soup. It made us warm and full and didn't make us sick later in the day, so that made it a good lunch.

When lunch was over we told the driver we wanted to tour a tea plantation. We didn't care about his enforced itinerary anymore. He seemed confused. He'd also seemed confused about our request for lunch. We were not sticking to the plan anymore. But Muffin could only last for so long and gosh darnit, we were in Darjeeling and wanted to see the tea.

The tea plantation was a pleasant surprise. We were at Happy Valley. The guide told us they are the only plantation that does tours. I have no idea if that's true or not. But it was free and I ended up buying some tea so everyone was happy. It was a tour of how the tea is dried and processed once it's picked and how the black tea, green tea, and white tea are handled differently. After the tour of the building we asked if we could walk around outside and the guide said it would be okay. Muffin took off down a path saying "Follow me, guys!" ("Guys" is a new thing for her. It's funny, but I still want to be "Mommy.") Then she saw some local children playing in the tea and the next thing I knew, she was climbing her mountain right into the middle of the tea bushes. She was running and laughing and having so much fun that we didn't stop her. We just let her go for a while. We could see her head and her red sweatshirt and we could hear her laughing and yelling. Eventually I followed so I could fish her out and help her back down the hill. She refused and kept climbing higher.

Just outside of Happy Valley, there was a little old lady with a snack shack who invited us in every time we walked past. Once we were done with our tour and our walk, we obliged her and went in for her tea. I'm a little confused about her operation but it has something to do with the tea that is given to the pickers each week as a supplement to their salary and she collects it and resells it so the pickers can get more money. She had several small bowls with different tea leaves in them. She taught us how to pick up a handful, blow on it, and then smell it to see if it's good tea. Muffin loved that:

Then she taught us the super-secret-special thirty-second brewing process. I found that it's just like brewing tea any other way, except the result is weak tea. Muffin loved the tea, though (with more milk than tea and a little sugar):

After our tea adventure we asked the driver to bring us back to the resort. We'd accomplished our goals for the day and Muffin was approaching melt-down time if we tried to squeeze in one more tourist attraction. Plus we needed to rest up for the walk back into town for dinner. We'd forgotten to put our order in at breakfast and we wanted to try a different restaurant anyway so we walked to the Mall and went to a Continental-style diner/bakery. We were hungry and it was edible.

We walked back up the hill to the resort for the night, remembering to put in a breakfast order before we went to bed.

Day Three Coming Soon.

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