The Glenburn Experience: Day 3

Darjeeling Town
It was, quite literally, a walk in the clouds that day. Once we stepped out from the jeep, that is.
Cold and foggy, our vision limited to a few metres in front of us, the uphill drive towards Darjeeling became an experience that I thought bordered on suicidal. Our driver skillfully maneuvered the vehicle through narrow paths that were only slightly wider than the jeep itself, one side dropping sharply into the valley. It took a while before we joined a broader, smoother road, where I felt encouraged to breathe again.
This is the view from the windshield. (A bad picture, but hopefully, worth a thousand words, nonetheless.)

We stopped at Ghum (or Ghoom) Station to take the toy train to Darjeeling. It was small and quaint, reminiscent of a much earlier time. At a little over 7,400 ft., Ghum Station is, apparently, the highest station in India.
Ghum Station
Ghum Station – Front View
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which we know better as the Toy Train, is listed as a Mountain Railways of India World Heritage Site – only the second of its kind to be bestowed this honour.
The train chugs slowly, but noisily and merrily through the town alongside the road for almost the entire route, even crossing it at places. 

At one particular point in its route, the train makes a spiral loop, crossing its own path through a tunnel. This is the picturesque Batasia Loop, with the Darjeeling War Memorial rising in its centre.
Darjeeling War Memorial
As the train followed this loop, we got a breathtaking view of Darjeeling town when the mist thinned momentarily. 
The train ride was enjoyable, traveling within inches of houses and shops in places, giving us a closer glimpse of life in the mountains.
We drew up into Darjeeling Station around half-an-hour later. The jeep had driven on from Ghum and was already waiting for us at Darjeeling when we arrived. So we hopped in and continued the drive into the heart of this pleasant little town. It was unpredictably foggy one minute, and clear the next. On observing aloud, Ranjan, our guide, revealed a common saying around town – ‘In Darjeeling, never trust the weather, or a woman.’ (Aww, seriously?!)
We chose to walk down the Mall Road, a busy street crowded by mostly tourists, like ourselves, and lined with shops on either side, selling pashminas, woolens, local crafts and antiques.
We halted at Glenary’s for lunch, a place highly recommended by people back home. However, we weren’t impressed by the restaurant menu, which offered Indian, Chinese and Continental cuisines, mostly because we were hoping for a taste of the local stuff. We ordered fish and chips anyway, because we’d already settled down at a table. The fish was bland and the chips were soggy and tasted like wet cardboard. The verdict – fail!

Our lunch incomplete by far, we asked Ranjan if he knew of any local places that served authentic Nepali food. And of course he did! He led us to a tiny hole-in-the-wall Nepali restaurant called ‘Hotel Penang’, a short walk away, where they serve a Tibetan thali among other Tibetan specialties. Left to ourselves, we’d never have found the place, and even if we had, we might not have ventured in. It was dark and dingy and airless, but we were hungry and just went with it. 

Entrance to Hotel Penang
The chicken momos, served with sauce and a hot, very tasty broth, made the impossible number of narrow, steep steps we had to climb down to get to Hotel Penang, completely worth it. We learned that the broth is prepared by simmering chicken stock over a low flame for the better part of the day. We also ordered the Tibetan thali meal. It looked like any other thali meal I’ve seen, with a generous mound of steamed rice surrounded by numerous little bowls containing meat and vegetable preparations. The taste was definitely unfamiliar and over-the-top unusual.
Our guide pointed out the dishes and named them for us, giving us an insight into its ingredients as well. The little green veggies served over the rice is called niguru, and made from the leaves and tendrils of an edible fern. The dull green broth-like preparation contains fermented beans. Or spinach. I forget. I think it was called gundruk. There was mutton curry or paku in the second dish. The third had crispy-fried potatoes and next one contained pickles of some sort. And I’m unable remember what was served in that last bowl.
After lunch, we walked further down Mall Road to Chaurasta. It’s a large open square, really, filled with a floating population.
We didn’t linger here, though, and walked on to St Andrews church, before trudging back the same way we came to the Glenary’s café for a hot cuppa. The café is way better than the restaurant, and I liked it as quite much as I’d disliked the restaurant. It offers a wide selection of cakes, pastry, and hot beverages, as well as free Wi-Fi. The ambience is pleasing too, with warm lighting and a very red, very antique telephone booth in the corner. After coffee and cake, we started back for Glenburn. 

Glenary’s Café

We passed Ghum once again, and stopped at the Yiga Choeling Monastery, more popularly know as the Ghoom Monastery. This stands at an elevation of 8000 ft., and is said to belong to the Gelukpa or the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. When we reached the monastery, it was drizzling and the heavy fog made it impossible to see the surrounding area. The monastery itself seemed to loom in front of us like some ghostly apparition. As we drew closer to the monastery, we observed these prayer wheels on the outside.

Ghoom Monastery
The monastery is small, but peaceful. We stepped into a narrow waiting area of sorts, with small wooden benches. Large prayer wheels stood on both sides of the room. We had to take off our shoes here, before entering the main sanctum.
An impressive, 15-foot statue of Maitreya Buddha (future Buddha) stood before us when we entered. This is one of the biggest statues of the Buddha, in the Darjeeling area. There are oil lamps placed in front of it that are kept burning all through the year. The walls are filled with colourful paintings of stories from the Buddhist scriptures. There is a 10 Rs charge for each photograph that you click within the monastery, and 50 Rs for shooting a video. 
The ride back was foggy and bumpy and scary as before, but Glenburn arrived before nightfall, and we lived to tell the tale – over a divine spread of cucumber sandwiches, banana bread and chocolate cookies, served with a very welcome cup of tea. 

2 thoughts on “The Glenburn Experience: Day 3

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