Darjeeling, a few winters ago…

Had a dream about shooting fashion in exotic locations and I imagined trekking through a cold, mountainous landscape, with models dressed in Jedi outfits and reindeer antlers. Yes, I’ve always had very interesting dreams (which makes waking up to the cold, hard dawn of reality a little bit disconcerting). It helps that it’s as- ahem- cold as it gets in Singapore, now that it’s mid December. And of course, we’re going to have some thundershowers, so understandably enough all the elements have been conspiring subconsciously to set up this dream. 

The landscape in the dream was very Himalayan and it brought back memories of a trip to Darjeeling from a couple of winters ago. I’d first gone to Darjeeling in 2004 and had quite liked it, though even at the time it was obvious that tourism was taking a toll on the world famous hill station’s infrastructure. When S and I returned a couple of years ago, we found nothing charming about the main town- definitely not in the constantly honking water-tankers racing up and down the hill roads, and the ghastly experience of bumping into fellow tourists from one’s own part of the country. For a first time visitor, there are still some nice parts to Darjeeling (Glenary’s, the bakery, comes to mind, and also the walk along the Upper Mall road), just as long as one’s not stuck in the lower reaches of town. 

Rescue came in the form of Avinash and Anila Rai, who run a beautiful homestay, enticingly called the Singalila Jungle Lodge (http://singalilajungle.blogspot.sg/) (Facebook: http://on.fb.me/225Un3b), right on the fringe of the Singalila National Park. A 3-hour drive from Darjeeling, towards the Nepal border, this place is an antidote to all the impersonal, soulless places we had experienced in Darjeeling.
We spent the daytime doing short treks into the national park, or just enjoying wherever Avinash and his merry band of able lieutenants took us to. In the evenings, we’d hang out with Anila and learn to make momos, and keep warm with a bottle of Old Monk rum. What a terrific vacation! 

 These pictures have been a long time coming, so thank you Avinash and Anila for your hospitality and for a vacation that we still talk about!

Chitrey Monastery, 2530m

In conversation with the gatekeeper of Chitrey Monastery

Avinash and Anila Rai

Best momo chef in the world. Take that Din Tai Fung!

Inside the world’s best momo restaurant

New Enfield in town

The Boss Man

Vishal

Vishal’s sister and my next model!

Able Lieutenant #1

Able Lieutenant # 2

The boss and his merry gang

Photographer, meet your maker…

Vishal’s grandma

Vishal’s family

The Kanchenjunga range

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