Monday, 3 April 2017


In spite of visiting India for over 45 years this was my first time to in Darjeeling. What a surprise. It was like being in a completely different country. Trees, mountains, swirling clouds, dampness.

The city straddles a ridge in the foothills of the Himalayas at about 7,500 feet (2,200m). Surrounded by tea estates. Tea came to India by way of the perfidious British, who stole tea cuttings from China and thus established the massive tea industry in India. It was a popular 
hill station during the time of the Raj, in order to escape the heat of the sweltering of the plains below. Getting there is half the fun by using the famous narrow gauge Toy Train, which climbs 7,000 feet from the plains below.

If you are lucky you can get a fine view of the Himalayas and Kanchenjunga, in particular at just under 8,600m (28,168feet), the highest in India. There is a strong Tibetan presence, with a lot of monasteries and a refugee centre. Nepalese also comprise a significant population.
Top. A part of 'Happy ValleyTea Estate'.
Above. Finishing of a carpet

I visited a tea plantation, but it was off season, thus the bushes did not have that lovely prolific flush of green. Tea tasting compensated, with many first flushes to sample, as well as 2nd flush and autumn pickings, which are much stronger in flavour. 

Ther is still has a strong feeling of the former British presence, buildings like the Windermere Hotel and Glenary's, the town hall, the zoo; all have that feel of a forgotten age. the place is featured in Kiran Desai's book. "the Inheritance of Loss", the 2006 Booker Prize Winner.

Getting up before dawn to get to Tiger Hill, at nearly 9,000 feet, in bitterly cold and windy weather, to catch the astonishing sunrise over the Himalayas and then to see Kanchenjunga all lit up. Unforgetful!

Visiting Buddhist monasteries, in all their colourfulness with a peaceful atmosphere. Sampling local dishes. Struggling up the steep hills. There seems to be no flat spaces.

The 'Toy Train', which brought commerce and exported tea, was built in 1879. The steam trains still struggle on the winding rail line. Unfortunately I am unable to upload my video of it roaring through the narrow streets with me on board, hooting and belching sooty smoke. 

An Anglican church, a reminder of the colonial past

Below. A statue of the Buddha at Ghoom Monastery


Top. View of the Himalayas from my hotel roof
Middle. Kangchenjunga.

Below. Sunrise over the Himalayas from Tiger Hill

The Japanese Peace Pagoda

Colorful interior of the monastery at the Tibetan Refugee Centre

Nathmull's tea shop

The Darjeeling 'Toy Train'

Tibetan ladies spinning woolen yarn

Traditional Nepalese costume

Momos. A sort of dumpling filled with veg or meat.

Below. Tibetan prayer wheels

Tibetan lady weaving a colourful woolen carpet

Tea bushes at Happy Valley Tea Estate, which is the
highest in Darjeeling

An old steam train which still pulls the passenger train up to 
the town from the plains


Not alcohol, but tea tasting for connoisseurs


Interior of the colonial era Windermere Hotel

Below. The 'Toy Train' steaming up the main street of Darjeeling

Heavy and exhausting work moving produce about the town

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Green transport in New Delhi

We often hear about the high pollution levels experienced in Beijing, but in fact Delhi is the most polluted city in the world, by far. The population of 26 million, who inhabit narrow, crowded streets have to contend with having to live in such frightful air pollution. After just a day, or two, I found I had a cough and sore throat. There are no safety nets when you are sick, old or disabled. 

Many of these cycle rickshaw riders sleep under their bikes at night. The huge loads they transport around shorten their lives considerably in such appalling conditions. Without these vital people the city would grind to a halt.