Depending on how late you stayed out at Joey’s last night, you may need some caffeine today. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We can’t write about Darjeeling without recommending breakfast and tea at Glenary’s. It’s a backpacker staple and perhaps the best place in town for fast Wi-Fi and a fantastic spot to gaze out of large, bright windows onto the Himalayan views. If you’re lucky you’ll see Kangchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world and a technical beast for climbers, many of whom die while trying to reach its summit. All of this can be pondered over pots of Darjeeling and Assam tea, assorted pastries (try the chocolate “heavy cake” for a treat), and western-style breakfasts. Glenary’s also has a good, but somewhat pricey, restaurant on the second floor.
As you probably know, Darjeeling is all about tea. The Happy Valley Tea Estate is only a short walk from town, and a visit there will have you well on your way to understanding what all the hubbub is about. When you get there, make sure to head directly to the factory to ask for a free tour. There’s a teahouse on the grounds that isn’t associated with the estate, and a “tour guide” (she’s actually the night guard’s wife) may offer to take you around and tell you the factory is closed. They know about this but don’t stop her from offering unofficial tours. We started by walking through the tea fields after she showed us which way to go. The fields consist of big, hilly groves of tea bushes, and spring is a good time to watch the pickers at work.
After scrambling through the steep hills of the tea field, head into Happy Valley, which operates one of the highest tea factories in the world. They’ve used organic farming techniques since 2007, although the factory has been around since 1854, making it the oldest in Darjeeling. This is a good place to acquire a basic understanding of how tea is made, and to learn key terms like “first flush” (spring harvest) and “second flush” (summer harvest).
Happy Valley manufactures traditional black tea in addition to green and white varieties. Their principal buyer is Harrods and they don’t package their products for sale in Darjeeling or anywhere in India. But there is a shop on site if you’d like to pick up a small package to take home.
Time for my favorite meal in Darjeeling! For lunch, go down to Hasty Tasty for tomato soup and a south Indian thali. The entire meal will cost you around $3, and it’s enough for two. The play on tangy and spicy south Indian flavors is delightful.
After lunch, the tea odyssey continues at Nathmulls in the square. They offer a staggering collection of tea and you can choose which varieties to sample in their Sunset Lounge.
Nathmulls has been in business selling Darjeeling tea since 1931, and Mr. Sarda will walk you through the whole shebang, showcasing his vast knowledge of Darjeeling teas, and great patience for any questions you may have.
It costs Rs.300 ($6) to try five types of black tea – we chose two first flushes, two second flushes, and an autumn selection.
Coming from Denver our palates are fine-tuned for beer tasting, so the nuances of fine teas may be lost on us. But even if it’s not quite as awesome as beer, tea tasting is still a fun activity. Two hours and five pots of tea later, you’re sure to be wired.
Chiave d’cosmos near Sonam’s is a snug but pleasant dinner place with good barbeque roasted chicken, potatoes and strong chai. A few games of Connect Four will keep you entertained while you wait for your meal to be prepared. If you’d like a nightcap, visit the wine shop in Chowrastra for MRP-priced drinks, which are always nice to find.
Thus concludes your visit to Darjeeling, and our time in India. Next up, Nepal!