When I write a book about Darjeeling, India, it won’t be titled The Most Fabulous Tea in the World, though it could be, or A Favorite Place in India, though it is. I will call it The Edge of the World. To get to The Edge of the World, you must find your way to North East India, secure a four wheel drive, then travel high into the Himalayas, ford shallow streams, pass enchanting waterfalls, bounce over rutted roads, plunge blindly through clouds and then travel up, up high above them so that when you finally get to the Edge and stand looking down, you see nothing but pools of white puff daring you to plunge in and take a swim.
Yep. The edge of the world. I’m pretty sure it’s the real thing.
If you stand there long enough, the clouds float up and past you, catching in the piney trees and turning the whole forest into a misty land of fairy. The enchantment is magnified by snow capped mountains and jewel green valleys everywhere else you look. Built by the British years ago as a sanitarium, you can certainly see how Darjeeling would help anyone who is sick, tired or losing their mind.
The days are cool and the nights cold and damp. This late morning you beat the chill by wrapping yourself in a Tibetan-wool blanket and climbing steep, marble stairs to a cozy room lined with windows and old books and warm fragrances wafting from the kitchen. Snuggling into a chair, you drink tiny cups of steamy tea, nibble vegetables and hot Tibetian bread dripping with honey, then read contemplative books while peering through latticed glass towards the fog laced Edge of the World.
Sitting here, you can’t help but wonder if the words “mist” and “mystics”, and “mystery” came from the same root, and then you wonder if in the Midst of the Mist, Mysteries were revealed to the Mystics. You chuckle because that’s silly but also makes complete sense, as some of the most ancient mystic religions were birthed in these very parts.
Emerging from the guest house, you pick your way steeply down or agonizingly up gravelly roads that are so brutal only four wheel drives make it and shared jeeps are public transport.
In front of you trudging up hill are two old men with fantastically heavy loads on their backs. One of your dearly held philosophies takes shape in the men as they navigate the hills in the same way you navigate life – one. step. at. a. time. Step. Step. Step. You watch, watch, watch. Step. Step. Step. It takes a long time to witness their whole creaking journey until finally their loads fall on their doorsteps and you are left inspired.
Heading down the path to the tea fields you see only the tiny tip tops of the tea plants being picked for the very best of teas. The tea factories were set up by the British during their colonization and produce one of the world’s most loved teas. You’ve been taking an informal survey with the residents, is it pronounced DARjeeling or DarJEEling? A firm answer is not to be found, it depends on who you ask. DarJEEling seems to be winning so you go with that.
Suddenly you come to a house right in the middle of the path to the tea factory. A cheerfully persistent woman invites you in to learn about teas, so you find yourself sitting in a tiny room with four French travelers who have also been “invited”, unsure if this is an official factory tour but happily hearing the hostess tell how tea is picked and dried. Then she brews some up. Ummmm. Very good. But “two tastes only and then you pay for more.” When she gives a hushed caution to “say nothing” of your visit with her, you are now certain she is not part of the tea factory, but she charms you anyway, as do all the varied Nepalese, Tibetan, Indian and Chinese people of the area.
From the tea fields, you travel a path of comically crazy monkeys. You really don’t like monkeys because they are OUT OF CONTROL and also can bite the sh@t out of you, but at a distance their antics are completely fun, especially when an old man runs them off with a stick because they get to close to the market.
Related Video: Monkeys Getting Swatted
Now, It’s 5 pm, time to head to the town square where neighbors gather to hear news, watch children play and sometimes even see a cool show. The residents sit on benches surrounding the square and you get the feeling this has happened every day for time-on-end. The little blond-headed, blue-eyed girl selling pony rides is a mystery though. She’s obviously not from these parts, but, just as obviously, belongs right here. Turns out, she’s from Missouri and her family is starting a coffee shop with the profits dedicated to women escaping human trafficking. You think that’s cool and wonder how you can be a part of it.
On the way home you stop at a teeny-weeny cafe run by two brothers who would serve anything you cared to ask for if they knew how to fix it up. They are creating delectables for a French girl and two Swedish boys. You and your friend join them and the five of you completely pack the place out, violating probably every fire code in existence.
Meeting other travelers is fun.
It’s late and time to go home, up the rutted steep inclines, into your damp cool room to drop your things, and then further up to the toasty library. Tibetan bread is on the table. Hot tea with sugar fills your mouth. The words on the page of your book jump to life. The sun has retired over the Edge of the World and you are happy.