In 1959 The Dalai Lama fled to India and eighty thousand of his countrymen came with him. Many ended up in Darjeeling where they set up this self help centre. Although the Tibetan diaspora has spread throughout India, refugees still live and go to school in the complex, where they also sell carpets and other hand made goods.
Stretching the full length of the building, thick hardwood beams support the walls of the spinning room, and a bank of windows maximises natural light. Rows of swaddled Tibetan women quietly work on both sides, using spinning machines cannibalised from old bicycle wheels. Mounds of lanolin-rich sheep's wool dot the floor in rough woven sacks. Next door, the carpet weaving room contains four rows of enormous weaving frames, made from polished ancient hardwood. Ateliers surround the main courtyard: a few wizened men work hand sewing machines in the tailoring section, cigarettes clamped between jaws; a woman paints intricate flower designs onto greetings cards with fine paint brushes; and there is a room full of jaunty ladies knitting woollen bags, mitts and hats. A small photographic exhibition reminds visitor of the on-going troubles in Tibet.
65 Gandhi Road, Darjeeling
+91(354)225 2552 (Factory), +91(354)225 5938 (Office)
Google map: bit.ly/UOfdhW
The "Toy Train" was the first to be built of its kind, and is still considered by UNESCO to be 'the most outstanding example of a hill passenger railway' in the world.
Rather than taking the full bum-numbing eight hour journey from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, I recommend the half day "Joy Ride", a comfortable return journey from Darjeeling to Ghum. We were lucky to purchase a ticket for the same day, but if it's a busy time you may need to book in advance. The 83km journey costs 360rupees each and includes entry to the railway museum in Ghum.
The windows in the first class carriage were enormous, giving us close up views of the mountain on one side and the valley on the other.
We stopped at Batasia Loop, where we were suitably humbled by the memorial to the Gorkha soldier and stunned by the view of Kanchenjunga, India's highest mountain (the third highest in the world).
When we arrived in Ghum it was swathed in a blanket of cloud, illustrating the reason for its nickname of “Gloom”.
We strolled through the small railway museum, and learned all about the history of the mountain railway system. When the driver was happy with the train's health we all piled back into the airy carriage and with another surge of steam, hoots, hisses and chug-a-lugs left Ghum, Ghoom or Gloom.
For the best views of India's highest mountain head to Singalila National Park. At 8,586m Kanchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world, but you only need to reach 3000m to catch the dawn over this spectacular Himalayan massif.
The first leg is the steepest, but once on the ridge the walk is less strenuous. Tiny wild strawberries littered the trail when we were there in May, but we were too late for the wild rhododendron bushes and orchids which carpet the mountains in April. Renowned for its wide variety of bird life, the park is also home to wild boar, black bears and the beautiful clouded leopard. If you are very lucky you might see its most famous resident, the shy and rare red panda.
In the dark, smoky huts dotted along the trek, try quenching your thirst with 'tongba', a millet beer served in bamboo segments. If you want something stronger then the Himalayan hooch 'rakshi' will warm up hands and heart. After a well-deserved hot evening meal a cosy night's sleep under heavy blankets is all you'll need.
The clearest skies are usually found in November when panoramic views will enthuse budding photographers looking for the perfect image to enter in the Guardian's 'Been there' photo competition.
Guides are compulsory and can be pre-booked in Darjeeling. Apart from showing you the way, they have encyclopaedic knowledge of the area's flora and fauna.
Google map: bit.ly/xXcEk9
If you're looking to relax and unwind after a hard day's trek along the vertical slopes round Darjeeling, then don't come here. Hasty Tasty is frenetic, hectic and loud. Packed from the minute it opens (9.30am) till it closes (around 8pm) this strictly vegetarian cafeteria delivers exactly what it promises, fast and delicious food.
Choose from the vast menu displayed above the long counter, pay (around a quid) for your meal, grab a piece of paper with a number scribbled on it, and see if you can bag a table by the window. As you wait for the waiter to call your number - and if it's a clear day - you can gaze at Kanchenjunga, India's highest mountain, the third highest peak in the world. If you've had enough of mountains (is that possible?) I recommend some simple people watching: a cavalcade of characters swiftly passes through, mainly very cold-looking domestic Indian tourists in idiosyncratic get-ups (the women in be-jewelled, kitten heeled sandals, the men in extravagant bobble hats and tight gilets).
We ate here several times, and a typical meal would include two enormous bowls of (veg) chow mein and two lassis for 120INR (around £1.50).
The kitchen is behind the counter, so you can watch all the food being prepared and cooked in front of you. It doesn't get much fresher.
Opening hours: 09:30 to 20:00
13, Nehru Road, Darjeeling
Google map: bit.ly/xbCQ9e
This cosy restaurant with a clear and varied menu serves up delicious Tibetan and Chinese food.
I went for the Thenthuk veg soup with flat noodles for 65 Rs (95p) and fried vegetable momos (Chinese dumplings), which were the nicest I'd had anywhere. The soup was warming and extremely satisfying - ideal if you're finding Darjeeling a little chilly.
Other options are Bhagthuk soup, which as far as I can tell is the same as Thenthuk but with round noodles, spring rolls, plus lots of other noodle dishes like chop suey and chow mein.
The fresh mango juice I had was mouth-wateringly tasty.
Kunga also does breakfasts, including Tibetan bread for 60 Rs (90p) which is made with eggs and fried, resulting in a texture a bit like doughnuts but less sweet.
One curious item on the menu was 'Tibetan tea (salt and butter)' - but since I didn't order it you'll have to discover it for yourselves!
51 Gandhi Road, Darjeeling
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