Tag Archives: west bengal

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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The Road to Darjeeling

After a few interesting weeks in Kolkata I’ve been heading slowly north towards the mountain city of Darjeeling. Though the travel itself was gruellingly slow and uncomfortable, I was able to spend a few days in the small towns of Rampur Hat and Tarapith. While Tarapith is famous as a spot for ceremonial cremations, Rampur Hat is famous for nothing. Since virtually no tourists stay in Rampur Hat for any length of time I found that the locals were extremely welcoming and curious about me – a refreshing change from the big-city indifference of Kolkata.

Here are a few selected images from the two days in these small towns. Newer work from Darjeeling to follow.

A group of men warm themselves around a fire at sunrise. Temperatures in the north of West Bengal regualrly drop below freezing in the winter.

A group of men warm themselves around a fire at sunrise. Temperatures in the north of West Bengal regualrly drop below freezing in the winter.

A woman and her baby wait for their morning chai to be ready.

A woman and her baby wait for their morning chai to be ready.

A crow hops between ledges in a residential area of Rampur Hat.

A crow hops between ledges in a residential area of Rampur Hat.

Straw figures waiting to be covered in clay in a small artists workshop.

Straw figures waiting to be covered in clay in a small artists workshop.

A group of men in blue lungis take a break after lunch on the streets of Rampur Hat.

A group of men in blue lungis take a break after lunch on the streets of Rampur Hat.

The local representative of the National political party sits in his small office in Tarapith.

The local representative of the National political party sits in his small office in Tarapith.

An old woman sits inside a Hindu shrine in Tarapith, chanting prayers for those who make donations.

An old woman sits inside a Hindu shrine in Tarapith, chanting prayers for those who make donations.

 

 

 

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