18 hours on another train brings us to darjeeling. thousands of meters up in the air, it's a city of winding market streets that drop suddenly into steep mountain faces, big spectral clouds alighting on the tops of urchin-spiny pines. everywhere there are twists and turns in the roads, the ramshackle old buildings packed to tight against one another that you often miss the stairway alleys until you have already passed them. the tea and the people are both warm and delightful. the food is excellent. the cool mountain air and oxygen-thin atmosphere are a welcome change from the sapping heat of the northern lowlands. after the sprawl and challenges of veranasi, darjeeling is a delightful contrast.
our small room is slightly damp and cold all the time, and just outside a long balcony connects all the rooms of the same level. from here, you look out over a steep valley, impossible steep to take it. always there is the sense that you will tumble from the balcony, over the roofs below and down into the heart of the valley. yet there you are, tea in hand, steady on the wide concrete balustrade, watching the omnipresent clouds crawl over, down and up the hills. from under the heavy, over-stuffed blankets on the hard wooden bed, you hardly notice the cold or the damp.
awaking a few times in the night, i'm overcome by how quiet it is here or, rather, how the sounds you hear are pleasant and normal - a dog bark, the wind blowing, the building settling. no rickshaws put-putting up the roads, no motorcycles blasting their horns, no merchant calling out in the morning. the city is clean, too. well kept and, even if poorly planned, charming in it's chaos. i cannot say the same of other places we've been. perhaps it's just the elevation or the clean air, but i like this place very much.
the food here is all dumplings and warm broths and noodles. hot tea, decent coffee and the smell of grey-green cold make the comfort almost palpable. in a way, this trip has taught my this - that of all the places i love, it is the wet, gray, densely forested, wild places. give me trees, fog and a cold breeze, topped off with a little rain and a good book. between my wanders, that's where i'll be.