Darjeeling's Best Cultural Experience: Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Center
The air becomes crisp as you climb through the National Parks of West Bengal, India, towards this magical town perched up in the mountains. Your method of transportation: a soot-coughing toy train that snakes up the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
Rainbows of Buddhist prayer flags wave you along as the air grows chilly and you pass locals carting produce and wares on their backs and atop their heads.
Darjeeling is an altogether different Indian experience: sandwiched between Nepal and Bhutan, you can feel the spirituality of this place upon entering it. Tea plantations blanket the hills, with the gatherers' pops of color emerging through the rolling green leaves.
Explore a Buddhist Monastery and wander through Darjeeling's shop-lined streets, where you can find treasures like the vintage wood and bone elephants that I transported home.
One of the most unique experiences in Darjeeling is the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center, a spirited village within Darjeeling that was established in 1959 when the Tibetan people followed the Dalai Lama, escaping from Tibet. You'll enter a room of young and old- men, women and children- that is filled with the sound of humming looms, as these artisans make ornate rugs and other woolen treasures to sustain their community.
Chimes ring throughout the day as elderly women make the trek to spin the Buddhist prayer wheels beneath the blossoming trees. Before you go, buy some homemade hats to take home-gifts that are truly globally inspired.