Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A monastery, a garden, and a cup of tea.

From Tiger Hill Station, we drove to the Yiga Chongling Monastery which is a Tibetan monastery for monks of the Yellow Hat sect.

I have to admit that after having seen Bhuddist monasteries in Tibet as well as in Mongolia, the thought of seeing yet another monastery is well, ho hum. They all start to look and feel the same after a while - even the crimson robed monks begin to all look the same.

One thing for certain though. Tibetan monasteries in India are no where as grand or as well kept as the ones inside Tibet. Yiga Chongling is a pretty modest monastery in both scale and decoration.


As a Gelugpa (Yellow Hat sect) monastery, it has all the trappings of a typical monastery - a chanting hall lined with benches for the monks to sit on and pray, statues upon statues of Bhudda in one form or another, scrolls housed in tall wooden, glass front cabinets, drums and horns. There were the usual metal bowls burning oil though unlike their Tibetan counterparts, none of the Bhuddist monasteries that I have been to burn yak butter so there's none of that stinky (okay, that is my opinion) smell that is so gamey strong that it seeps into your clothes, hair ands skin and the monastery floors are not slicked with the residue of burned yak fat. One other difference is that in India, you have to take off your shoes when you enter into a Tibetan monastery. I don't remember that we had to do that in any of the monasteries in Tibet.

The chanting hall is so small that you can see it all, even if you go as slow as a snail, in about 10 minutes so I was in and out in no time.


I waited in the courtyard for the rest of the gang to finish up. Once everybody was back together, we all piled back into the cars and headed down the road to our next destination - lunch!

After lunch, Ross and I decided to head to the Lloyd Botanic Garden. Earlier in the day, I had found out that he is a horticulturalist by trade. Of course, I love to garden so had a shared appreciation for plants. With some rough walking directions from Sanjeev and the help of strangers along the way, we eventually found ourselves at the turnstile that is the entrance to the garden. What a nice surprise it turned out to be.....a peaceful patch of greenery that provided peaceful refuge from the chaos of the streets of Darjeeling. For a brief moment in time, we could enjoy strolling along walkways without fear of being run over. There was only the sound of chirping birds....no honking cars. Ross and I walked around the various paths that wound through the gardens. Darjeeling has a nice mix of highland flora so ferns, orchids, bamboo, hydrangeas and rhododendrons happily grow side by side.






On our walk through the garden, Ross and I also came across the greenhouse that houses the orchid collection. At this time of year, the only species in bloom were the Lady Slipper orchids so there was not much to look at. The garden also has a very small collection of bonsai though nothing that I would consider to be prized specimens.


Ross and I leisurely strolled our way back to the entrance and then backtracked through town. Part way back, we found ourselves standing at the entrance to a shopping mall that is home to the Golden Tips (famous brand) Tea Shop where just yesterday, Ross and Megan had enjoyed cups of really delicious masala chai. It was just about 3:30pm and we decided that that was tea time so how appropriate for us to be standing in front of Golden Tips. We decided to indulge in some tea and I followed Ross into the store. Ross told me we could sample teas and I have to admit that for as much as I drink tea (at least two cups each work day and a medium sized pot on weekends), I know virtually nothing about tea. We sat down at a small table and the waitress handed us a menu. As I had feared, it was a confounding list of teas. Although descriptions were provided for each tea (e.g., Spring Flush, Summer Flush, 2nd Flush), unless you already know something about characteristics of tea, the words are meaningless.

So, when the waiter came over to ask me what I wanted, I told him I like my brew strong and he then offered to brew up a sample for us to taste. Of course, I accepted his offer :-)

In addition to serving tea, the shop also sells tea (by the 100 grm lot) and tea making accessories. I resisted the urge to buy anything as I know that whatever is sold in specialty stores like this one will cost you an extra arm and a leg so I will wait to buy my tea elsewhere. Pretty certain, I can buy tea for cheap in this neck of the world.

The waitress appeared with a few small cups of tea. The cups were clear glass so you could see the color of the liquid. To my untrained eye, they all pretty much looked the same - much lighter in color than the Boh tea that I have at home. The waiter then returned with mason jars filled with tea. Each jar was labelled on the outside with the name of the tea. He placed each mason jar behind the corresponding cup of brewed tea. Ross and I began sampling and each one did taste different. Because I had told the waiter I preferred strong flavored teas, most had a bitter after finish - some more bitter than others. I finally settled on a Darjeeling Tea - Queen Flush. I have absolutely no idea what that means but I was certain that with the addition of some sugar, I would have a very enjoyable cup of tea. So I placed my order for a cup. In the meantime, the cup of masala chai that Ross ordered arrived so I told him to not wait for mine to arrive before starting to drink his. Tea is best enjoyed when you sip it hot.

My cup of tea came in no time and yes, with a bit of sugar added to it, it was perfect!

After we finished our teas, we left the shop and parted ways. Ross wanted to go and get a haircut so with rough walking directions from a local, he headed off. I wanted to go back to the hotel and do this posting before dinner as tomorrow would be a long travel day which means little chance to write.

Today was our last day in Darjeeling and it was another memorable one though I have to admit that Darjeeling was nothing like what I expected. I had visions of a historic town populated with colonial British style buildings, Tudor style homes and tea plantations. Instead, we got the hustle and bustle of a rural Indian town crammed way up onto a hillside. Perhaps Darjeeling didn't match my expectations but it most certainly held my interest for two days.....and I have a few souvenirs of my stay to remind me of my brief visit to this place!