Present day overdevelopment and political upheavals will not turn us away from this erstwhile summer capital of the British in the days. That’s simply because Darjeeling is the most accessible, and at the very heart of the Eastern Himalayan experience that has captivated visitors for decades.
There are things about the Darjeeling Hills which still hold us in thrall and it’s this very essence that Anirban Dutta, internationally acclaimed-film maker and passionate advocate of the heritage and culture of his beloved hills, captures on the series of new walks he has put together in his travel initiative, Darjeeling Walks. Anirban and his team have determined to use tourism as a tool to bring together local residents and tourists using minimally invasive travel initiatives in the hills and their communities.
While one may be familiar with many of the highlights the town’s colonial-era days on the Summer Capital Walk, even here you will discover some hitherto lesser known myths and stories.
But what we love best of all is how these walks put the spotlight on the barely touched-upon richly layered multi-ethnic landscape of the Darjeeling town and its gorgeous surrounds.
The Culture Shock Walk, for example, celebrates the pluralism in Darjeeling and its rich internationality, which has rarely been focused on seriously by tourism initiatives in the past. Not many visitors are even aware that while Darjeeling was initially inhabited by the Lepchas/ Rongpas, this beautiful hill town and its surrounds have served as home to many communities including Germans, Jews, Parsis, Marwaris, Biharis, Newari, Chinese and Europeans–apart from Anglo-Indians, Nepalis, Tibetans and Bengalis. This gentle ramble through the town involves visits with households / families / settlements of various ethnicities. It opens up conversations with the locals to understand how and why they made Darjeeling their home.
While the popular snacking hubs, momo counters and restaurants like Glenary’s are par for the course when food is on your mind in Darj, a pleasant surprise awaits you on the Go for Gastronomy Walk.This amazing multi-culinary jaunt across town unveils a treasure trove of the stories behind the dishes you eat. You will surely get to sample Darjeeling’s most iconic street food offerings, but the icing on the cake is the immersive insights into the Tibetan, Nepali, Newari, North-Eastern, Chinese, English, Bengali, and tribal cuisines that thrive in the hill town. Mingle with local diners and chat up cooks to unravel the stories behind unique recipes from the hills.
One of the most unique offerings is the Baithak in the Hills Tour because it whisks you away from the well-trodden tourist trails in town to introduce you to the illuminating story of indigenous traditions of folk music and its related practices in small hamlets in the Darjeeling hills. This is a specialty experience, organised and curated with the aim to construct and establish a dialogue between the oral traditions of the diverse music scenes of the Eastern Himalayas, the lesser Himalayas, and the institutionalised customs, practices, documentation of local music, and its history.
Savour with delight this adventure in remote landscapes through music by attending lively musical performances of different ethnic traditions in a rustic setting in the Darjeeling hills.
. Lock into face-to-face dialogues with farmer musicians from the plains of Nepal. The folk musicians of the Jhapa district in Nepal travel miles by pedalling, walking and public transport to commute to Darjeeling to perform the music taught to them by their forefathers. Never burdened with their existential struggle, they worship music as a way of life.
Join the musical sessions interspersed with conversations about Nepali folk music, the themes, their meaning and even their musical instruments. These generations of folk musicians perform well-loved Nepali songs with their ever-loved companion, i.e., the beautiful Nepali sarangi, now in danger of getting wiped out by the modern cacophonies of Nepali music.
Anirban and his team from Darjeeling Walks can be contacted through alphonsostories.com, a B2B platform which encourages and brings together travel curators of unique travel experiences, and their counterparts internationally