What does one expect when landing in a country like India?
It’s best to let go of expectations, I’ve found, since life often has a mind of its own, and that is especially so in a place like India where people somehow find rhythm in the midst of chaos.
My Western upbringing and sensibilities have attuned me to expecting some sort of order wherever I go. So needless to say, India came as a bit of a shock. Not that I was not expecting getting shocked; I had mentally prepared myself for the carefree ways of this country but well, it’s not an exaggeration to say nothing can prepare you for India.
I was headed to the northeast of the country as part of a trip that further included South East Asia and culminated in Bali, Indonesia. From there it was back to States. (This was in July this year.)
It was a group of five of us, two boys and three girls, who had come to India with romantic notions of sadhus and colonial architecture. But India being huge and time and money always being a problem, we zeroed in on the north-eastern part of the country (apart from capital Delhi and the mandatory trip to Benaras), because a) it’s lesser explored in the larger scheme of things, and b) we thought it would be good preparation for SE Asia, seeing the proximity of the regions.
We arrived in Darjeeling on a rainy afternoon in late July. July to September, by the way, is monsoon here in India, and it rains very hard, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
So that was our first introduction to Darjeeling. Pouring so hard I could barely make out my friends standing next to me.
We had booked a taxi which took us to our hotel (also pre-booked). We all got nice rooms. Nothing fancy, but good enough for our purposes, and more importantly did not pinch our pockets.
Post a hot shower we had, guess what, the Darjeeling tea! (I personally took a few boxes back with me to America, because this is special tea and oh-so-expensive.. I got it at a good discount and would be savoring it for years to come!)
We also had momos and thukpa, basically dumplings and soup, and alu dum (spicy potatoes). The food was yummy. And so was the hospitality.
We went out after it stopped raining that evening but it gets very dark very soon in Darjeeling so we had to cut short our stroll.
The next couple of days we caught up on all the places to visit on our list and ate some more local and absolutely delicious food.
On the third day, however, one of the girls in our group lost her backpack, and along with that her passport, all her cash and credit cards, as well as the air tickets for the further journey. We spent an entire day visiting the local authorities and wanting them to resolve the situation. It was frustrating.
Here’s something I learned from my experience – losing your passport in a foreign country is the worst thing that can happen to you.
Alright, maybe second worst, but you get me. We contacted the American Embassy in New Delhi and they assured us they would sort us out.
With the locals there was language barrier everywhere, but that is to be expected. After all, I can barely speak a foreign language myself! We were faced with the prospect of leaving Susan, the girl who had lost her backpack, back in India as we traveled on to Thailand. We did not want to do it but ultimately that’s what we did. And Susan left for the US embassy in New Delhi. (She has been issued another passport since and is not happily back in America.)
With the lost passport event constantly at the back of our minds, we decided to make the most of our time in Darjeeling.
We snapped like crazy because this has got to be among the most beautiful places on earth. The undulating hills and the lush green tea gardens, beautifully landscaped and made even more beautiful by the rains, were a sight I’ll never forget. Combined with the food, the warmth of the locals, our quaint little guesthouse, and yes, the trains, I was won over. Completely. That’s one vacation I wouldn’t have minded to go on and on.
Two days later it was time to leave for Kolkata from where we had a flight to Bangkok. As our taxi wound its way out of Darjeeling at 11 in the night, my eyes were moist. I will be back, I promised myself.