The Himalayas rose almost out of nowhere. One minute the Maruti Suzuki hatchback was cruising the humid plains of West Bengal, palm trees and clouds obscuring the hills to come; the next it was navigating a road that squiggled up through forests of cypress and bamboo. The taxi wheezed with the strain of the slopes.
For an hour or more, as we climbed ever higher, all I saw was jungle with hardly a village to break the anxious monotony. Finally, around 1,200 metres, or 4,000 feet, the foliage opened just enough to allow a more expansive view. From the edge of the road, the hills flowed up and down and back up, covered with low, flat-topped bushes. Tiny dots marched among the bushes and along the dirt tracks that zigzagged up the hillsides - workers plucking leaves from Camellia sinensis, the tea bushes of Darjeeling.