Thursday, January 11, 2007

Trip: India
Place: Darjeeling
Date: December 25, 2006

I am spending Christmas in Darjeeling this year. I came to Dooars, India on December 17th for a Fulbright Conference. It was a wonderful event. I learned a lot and I got to meet many Senior Fulbright Fellows from India and Nepal. (I already knew the two who attended from Bangladesh.) Even though the conference was for the Senior Fulbrighters (not the Fulbright Students like me), the organizers forgot to mention this fact to the Embassy contacts in Nepal and Bangladesh so several of the students from those two countries participated as well. All in all it was a great event and I look forward to attending the next one in March.

The conference was called the "Darjeeling Conference", but it was actually held in Dooars, India which is three and a half hours away. (This is a little like saying you are having a conference in Chicago and then actually having it in Iowa City...) Since the participants were all disappointed that they were not going to see the famous "Darjeeling", the organizers took pity on us. They rearranged the conference schedule and set up transportation so that we could spend the last day in Darjeeling. I decided to stay here for a few extra days so that I would be here during Christmas.

Darjeeling is a beautiful town set in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was originally a British hill station and the buildings still have a decidedly British flavor. Darjeeling is also close to Nepal so many of the handicrafts, clothing, and jewelry have a Nepali character to them. The Hindi and Bangla signs, the sari-clad women, and the ubiquitous monkeys do remind me that I am in India, however.

The views are spectacular with Mount Kanchenjunga in the background and rolling hills covered with tea bushes in the foreground. The shopping is also spectacular! I picked up several items for myself and friends at very reasonable prices. The only downside is the cold weather. Since I knew I was moving to steaming Southern Asia I left all of my winter clothes back in New York. Consequently, on arrival I needed to buy a coat, a hat, gloves, long underwear, and 15 handbags. Well... I didn't NEED to buy the handbags, but they were so pretty and cheap that I couldn't resist!!

I found a charming little British cafe in town called "Glenary's". I had a traditional Christmas dinner there last night (complete with plum pudding!) It is a cozy little place with a tea house, restaurant (upstairs), bar (downstairs), and bakery. It is also one of the few places in town that is heated, so I spend a lot of time there! Sadly, my hotel is one of the unheated places, so I bundle up in two sweaters, my long underwear, wool socks, and handbags (just kidding on the last one!) before I go to bed. Thankfully the hotel does provide a hot water bottle. It is amazing, but that little bottle does provide quite a bit of heat and it stays warm all night long!

Today I went shawl shopping again. They have these wonderful handwoven Kashmiri shawls here. The designs are really intricate and beautiful and the shawls are double-sided. They are quite popular, however, and the shop owners only bring four or five each day to sell. Most are in lighter colors like red and green and are fairly monochromatic, but the darker ones - like the blue and maroon ones - are more variegated and are extremely pretty! The black ones are the rarest and I was only able to acquire two of those! For the last three days I have gone out to the the stalls as the owners are setting up to treasure hunt for Kashmiri shawls before the others tourists can snap them up!

After my shopping escapade this morning I went to the Mayfair Hotel. I met the manager there and he invited me to tea. We talked quite a bit about the hospitality industry in Darjeeling. He was an excellent source of information and a really nice guy too! After my second glass of tea I excused myself to do some more sight-seeing before the sun sets on my last day in Darjeeling...

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