Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yeah, okay, Gorkhaland, that actually makes pretty good sense.

I've spent the last five days in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, a couple of towns up in northern West Bengal. West Bengal is a big state that also includes Kolkata. But these hilly places up north feel more like Nepal than India. For example, when you walk past a taxi driver, and he says "Hello, taxi?" and you say "No thanks", the conversation ends there. Also, momos everywhere.

So the local people, a mix of Nepali, Bhutanese, Sikkimese (Sikkim is a tiny Indian state just north of Darjeeling), and Indians, form this mix that's sort of Indian, but really not very West-Bengali at all. And they want to become an independent state, called Gorkhaland. Now it's kind of low-key, you just see some signs around, but I guess they had serious protests a couple years ago.

Anyway, I liked it. It was freezing cold at night (50 degrees inside), but I liked it. I'm developing a medium-to-strong preference for mountains over flat places in India, cold places over hot places, and small cities over big cities, so long as they're big enough to have some culture (read: something to do).

You may know it for the tea. They have like 84 tea plantations. I got to tour one; here is some tea drying.

There is a zoo that is actually pretty good. It has red pandas. These are the cutest dudes ever. There's an attached mountaineering museum that I had to flee because a couple schoolkids asked me for a photo, and soon I was swarmed by the whole class. Nevertheless, the museum was neat: stuff from Everest and Makalu exhibitions, and the grave of Tenzing Norgay (along with Edmund Hillary, first to climb Everest).

And a "moon bear". This guy has a double chin.

There is also a "toy train". Technically it runs all the way to Siliguri, about 70km away, but it's dang slow, so the thing to do is a "joy ride"- a 7km round trip in two hours. It's a pretty ride, and it's kind of neat because it's a still-running steam train.

Anyway, yeah, Darjeeling, good place. I guess there are some arts going on too, and a coffeeshop/gallery that I could never quite find, and some cool hotels (mine was called "Revolver", it was Beatles themed, and it was great), and exactly one pub ("Joey's Pub"). The latter is perfect, because it means if you want to go meet some other travelers (or otherwise-unoccupied Indians), there is one place to go.

Kalimpong was nice but uneventful. I met up with a friend of a friend named Bappa, and he took me around the city for an evening and a morning. It's small; good for nature or something, not a lot to do. Bappa was a cool guy though. We drank Nepali beer and listened to American music in a Chinese restaurant called "King Thai". We met one of his friends, who runs Kalimpong Tours & Travels (kalimpongtravels at yahoo) and he seemed pretty honest, so there's a recommendation for you.

In other news, I continue to grow a moustache. I've got a "worst moustache" competition with Rob going, and I guess a "best moustache" one going with my dad; I'm pretty sure I've got a lock on one of those. So if you want, feel free to donate. It makes my hair grow faster.


  1. Who picked "Gorkhaland"? That person should be deposed by coup as soon as they gain independence. Viva la Dorkaland.
    What a cool Panda. Don't tell him that he looks like a racoon.
    Congratulations on your moustache. Young Ghandi had a moustache and look what it got him.
    Take care of yourself and eat more food.

  2. Gorkhas/Gurkhas are a particularly feared regiment of Nepalese fighters. They're such champs that the Brits still hire a regiment to fight in their army. After viewing shops full of nasty-looking Gorkha Kukri knives, I am not inclined to mock them.

    Unless I can stun them with the shining brilliance of my magnificent 'stache.

  3. Heck, I think whilst over there, especially near Pakistan and in Iran, I wouldn't mock anything. Nor chew gum, nor spit on sidewalks, nor wear a NYY cap...but maybe a Browns' hat to gain sympathy.