Darjeeling: Beyond Tea

A woman prepares the mornign tea for her household just after sunrise.

A woman prepares the morning tea for her household just after sunrise.

I came to Darjeeling knowing nothing about the city beyond the fact that they produce some world class tea. Originally I was meant to spend just a few days here before heading east to the border states of Assam and Nagaland, but Darjeeling has been such a captivating place that I haven’t managed to leave.

Perched on the top of a mountain 2 200 meters above sea level, Darjeeling is sometimes referred to as the “Queen of Mountains,” a moniker I think of bitterly whenever I am gasping for breath. Due to a mixture of thin air and the fact that I am terribly unfit, even a short walk is a minor ordeal.

Though technically part of West Bengal, the people of Darjeeling look nothing like their neighbours in Kolkata. They don’t really look Indian at all, at least in the way that I think of Indians. Considering that I can see across the valley to Nepal on a clear day, maybe this shouldn’t be surprising, but it is. In many ways Darjeeling feels like a country within a country. The differences are so clear that the locals have tried to separate from West Bengal and form their own state – Ghorkhaland.

Regardless of how the political situation plays out, the Ghorkas are fantastic people: quick to smile, wonderfully photogenic, and extremely welcoming.

These images are from my wandering around Darjeeling’s streets and villages and I wanted to share them before I shift the focus of my posts to my current project about Tibetans in exile.

Enjoy.

 

Two men sit in a black market bar which serves homemade rice whiskey. Alcoholism is an increasing problem in the area. This photo was taken at 7am.

Two men sit in a black market bar which serves homemade rice whiskey. Alcoholism is an increasing problem in the area. This photo was taken at 7am.

The Ghorkaland flag flies above a residential area of Darjeeling. Ghorkas are of Nepalese ancestry and many would like to form a state seperate from West Bengal.

A flag flies above a residential area of Darjeeling. Ghorkas are of Nepalese ancestry and many would like to form a state seperate from West Bengal.

A boy is seen walking through a tear in a poster which is urging for unity among India's people.

A boy is seen walking through a tear in a poster which is urging for unity among India’s people.

A small Catholic cemetary on the outskirts of Darjeeling.

A small Catholic cemetary on the outskirts of Darjeeling.

Part of a ten meter blood streak resulting from a leopard attack. Leopards have begun to attack inside the city more frequently as the natural enviroment around Darjeeling is increasingly transformed into tea plantations.

Part of a ten meter blood streak resulting from a leopard attack. Leopards have begun to attack inside the city more frequently as the natural enviroment around Darjeeling is increasingly transformed into tea plantations.

A woman and her granddaughter walk towards the city center. Darjeeling is known as "the Queen of Mountains" since it is built on a mountain top. Even short walks leave the unfit breathless.

A woman and her granddaughter walk towards the city center. Darjeeling is known as “the Queen of Mountains” since it is built on a mountain top. Even short walks leave the unfit breathless.

A tiny shop overlooks Darjeeling's Happy Valley Tea Estates. Darjeeling produces some of India's highest quality tea, sometimes exlusively for large companies like Harrod's of Knightsbridge.

A tiny shop overlooks Darjeeling’s Happy Valley Tea Estates. Darjeeling produces some of India’s highest quality tea, sometimes exlusively for large companies like Harrod’s of Knightsbridge.

A retired school teacher sits in a small tea shop. Darjeeling has a respected education system, with some of its schools ranking in the top 20 of India's best.

A retired school teacher sits in a small tea shop. Darjeeling has a respected education system, with some of its schools ranking in the top 20 of India’s best.

A 27-year-old Ghorka man poses for a portrait. The Ghorka's are exceptionally friendly people and many love to be photographed.

A 27-year-old Ghorka man poses for a portrait. The Ghorka’s are exceptionally friendly people and many love to be photographed.

A woman looks out the window of her small shop in one of Darjeeling's outlying villages. While the city center is a tourist hotspot, the surrounding villages are seldom visited.

A woman looks out the window of her small shop in one of Darjeeling’s outlying villages. While the city center is a tourist hotspot, the surrounding villages are seldom visited.

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