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Alone in Darjeeling - Guest Post by Dharlene Marie Fahl

Monday, September 4th 2017 @ 11:06 PM

On the trip of a lifetime to India in 2010, I learned something profound that wasn't about tea.

As the wisdom of the universe worked its magic, I was introduced to a married British couple that was traveling to Darjeeling at the same time as me.

The wife, as it turned out, was the daughter of writer and British Tea Planter, DAVID WILSON FLETCHER. For the first eleven years of her life, she was raised on the tea estate of Chong Tong. She was returning some fifty years later to relive some of her joyful childhood memories amongst the tea fields.

The three of us arrived in the town of Darjeeling, India, well after dark. Oh, the trip up the winding, narrow, and sometimes, harrowing roads was hardly an adventure for the faint of heart. Nonetheless, we arrived safely but exhausted.

We walked up a steep incline on what looked like a road or ramp that had recently been pummeled by rain and could feel our heart rates increasing with the slope of the path. Huffing and puffing at the top, our young, peppy host assured us that we were almost there.

Our lodging was at the historic Darjeeling Planters' Club in a separate building behind the club. We climbed stair after wet concrete stair in almost total darkness following our cheerful guide bumping our suitcases with each elevated step.

Laughing while attempting to catch our breath, we stumbled along to the sound of our young guide's encouraging voice, as he kept assuring us that we were "almost there." Finally, at the top we separated for the night; our guide took us each to our more-than-comfortable rooms as we settled in for our stay at this landmark facility that was built in the 1860s.

The Planters Club

At precisely seven in the morning, I awoke to the sounds of merry music.

It was the celebration of Durga Puja while we were in Darjeeling and every morning of the special festival featured music piped into the town that began at exactly seven a.m. 

Having arrived long after dark, I had no idea of what to expect. To the sounds of the festive music, I threw back the thick curtains and stood there mesmerized by the quaint and beautiful little historic town in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.

Here is what I saw.

I immediately crossed the bedroom to throw back the other set of curtains on the opposite side of the room, and what I saw almost brought me to tears.

This is what I saw from the opposite window.

I had no one to call out to that could come to the window to see what I was seeing. My heart broke when I realized I was alone in Darjeeling.

Newly divorced at that time, I felt the pang of not having someone significant with whom to share this extraordinary moment.

After dressing and descending all the stairs to meet with the Smiths for breakfast, I shared my agonizing pain with Kandy, the planter's daughter.

She and Brian had traveled extensively throughout most of their lives; many trips together and numerous trips alone. She understood exactly how I felt, but then gave me the greatest gift.

She assured me that when you travel alone and when you travel as partners, you have a completely different experience of the same place. Partners tend to keep to themselves, to share experiences with each other, dine together, and often speak only to each other. Not all couples, of course, but I have tested her theory since then, and I do find that she was absolutely correct, especially in foreign countries.

When traveling alone, you speak to more strangers, and strangers talk to you. Dining alone often leads to conversations with those around you, and invitations to join others at their tables, as well. While abroad, English speakers that are alone will more often than not, reach out to other single travelers. You will initiate a conversation with others in an elevator, or at the very least, acknowledge them when you travel by yourself. Couples may not do this and may keep only to themselves in this situation.

Single travelers will have lengthy conversations with shopkeepers, drivers, bellmen, service workers, and complete strangers, too, and this is when you learn the good stuff!

You are forced to go beyond your comfort levels when you travel unaccompanied, and this is when you have deep and profound experiences.

You will smile at more people because you will notice more people when you are by yourself. Partners tend to focus more on each other or on at the mission at hand rather than on others in the same proximity.

Strangers will offer to help you when you are a single traveler; whether it's with your luggage, directions, questions, or with tips on where to dine or where to go.

Most of the traveling I do is by myself, but I know that strangers are just friends I have yet to meet, and I make the most of every travel experience.

I wasn't really alone in Darjeeling. I had a wonderful couple with whom to share my experiences, as I was blessed to share the return home of one of THE CHILDREN OF KANCHENJUNGA. Kandy Smith and I are still wonderful friends to this day and have taken trips to visit each other since our heartfelt journey to Darjeeling in 2010. You truly must see the beauty of this mountain range for yourself. KANGCHENJUNGA Yes, you will see a few different spelling versions.

David Wilson Fletcher's recount of his young family's life in Darjeeling right after the Second World War is a magnificent read. The title of his original version was The Children of Kanchenjunga. Later, when republished for this side of the globe, was called HIMALAYAN TEA GARDEN. Kandy's father is still alive, and I met him in person in 2012 and found the man to be utterly fascinating! I reread the book after meeting him and enjoyed an entirely different experience.

Side note: As I write this story, I wish to express my sadness at the current state of unrest in Darjeeling. As Durga Puja draws near, there is a good chance few will be allowed into the town of Darjeeling for the 2017 festival, and this is devastating news for so many business and teashop owners.


~ Dharlene Marie Fahl -

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DHARLENE MARIE FAHL is a Certified Tea Specialist, World Tea Traveler, Author, Poetess, Tea Goddess, Blogger, Mother of Two College Kids, and Lover of Life. Dharlene says, “Tea brings me great joy and I share that joy with as many people as I possibly can. I see tea as the bridge to other countries and cultures. While people are sipping the tea I make them -- I take them across that bridge.” - Learn more about Dharlene’s work at

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