Saturday, 8 December 2012

Tea for two - Darjeeling

Our adventures continue… The bus from Rishikesh to Delhi is the worst journey to date. The seats, in fairness to them, did their best to give us a comfortable ride but they were thwarted by the suspension, the square wheels, the virtually dirt track roads, the appalling brake, accelerate, intimidate driving style of the ignorant twat at the wheel and the incessant beeping of the horn.  We arrive in Delhi in a deserted parking lot at 3.30am, argue with grumpy, greedy, play-acting cabbies to get a decent price to get to the airport which we share with a couple of other guys. We then spend 6 hours of our life in Delhi airport curled up on a metal chair trying to sleep. Flight to Bagdogra ok, the journey from there to Darjeeling is a further 3 hours in a jeep traversing, possibly, the worst roads in india and we are thrown from side to side whilst enveloped in dust. Then climb a few thousand metres on very skinny roads with sheer drops to one side and large lorries or buses on the other. Highlight of this part of the journey (which again we managed to share with some other travellers) was her telling us that she nasal washes (netti) every morning with her still warm first … I don’t know about you lot but with Rachel was to perform this particular ablution on a regular basis I would be seriously questioning my choice of woman. And, who tells total strangers that they piss up their nose every morning!!!!??

 So Journey stuff out of the way we wake to a crisp, clear morning in lovely Darjeeling. Breakfast is upstairs in our very pleasant and spacious homestay in the owners living room which sits on the top floor of the building and has walls adorned with old photos and loads of Tibetan imagery. The view through the wide open widows is stunning and overlooks valley and the third biggest mountain in the world, the 8,560 metre high Kanchenjunga. This sacred mountain is the home of a sleeping god and it is forbidden to climb it in case you wake him up. This makes it seem even more surreal as this mountain of five substantial peaks stands higher than the clouds so seems to be floating in the azure sky. The view takes your breath away – breath that is already in short supply as this is another high altitude town at about 2500metres. The other thing that took your breath away was the cold in the dining room. All of the windows were open and the staff served us wearing coats!!! And although the windows had to remain open they were kind enough to position a little electric heater between us to keep our omelettes and legs warm.

Darjeeling is a series of very steep hills built upon with Tibetan style housing. The people are Indo Chinese in their look and many are Tibetan. They are a friendly lot with ready smiles and helping nature and our entire stay here has been all the better for talking with them.

The weather in the day is about 25 degrees and its probably about 8 degrees at night. I know compared to UK this is not cold but since we only have summer clothes  we are adorned once again with blankets and scarves as soon as the sun gets low. Our first day was spent walking along the main ridge of the hills on which of the town  is situated. For 200 Rupees we take in a little zoo where we see a tiger, a leopard, Wolf, Panther and lots of goats. Highlight were red Pandas (very cute). We continue the walk to a cable car that descended 1000m over tea plantations which, from above resemble heads of broccoli. The landscape is steep and stunning with tea bushes,, bamboo and other greenery all abundantly growing. At the bottom of the cable car there is a 10 minute walk to the nearest plantation which had pretty much finished its last harvest of the year so was almost deserted. We eventually found someone and paid them 60 Rupees to go into the plantation and were allowed to wander freely around the factory on our own amongst the machinery, the drying rooms, by the furnaces and in and out of offices with documentation on the desks. Very strange! Later we get the cable car back up and take a long (getting lost) style walk back along quiet roads and find ourselves in Tibetan Refugee centre where 450 families live. Eventually we are shown our way home to the hotel and after a quick meal head to our nice warm beds.

Day 2 and we once again brave the artic dining room before going to the train station to ride the miniature narrow gauge steam train to Gloon (the highest railway station in India). The station is a bit run down with sleeping dogs laying the little tracks and people generally just walking wherever they choose. The sun is shining the mountains are in the back ground and there was a smell of coal fire in the crisp air. We were so excited as we got the last two seats and as the engine (called Victor) chugs towards us to link to the two carriages we are acting like little children. The train sets off and runs directly beside the road all the way to Gloon. Traffic vies for position but has to give way to the trains so there are little traffic jams as we go. We steadily climb onwards with copious smoke belching from the stack and fireman swathed in plumes of white steam sitting on the coal pile. The journey takes us directly beside sheer drops and virtually in the living rooms of the road side houses. It is a great experience which lasts a little over two hours and gives us a little time in Gloon to visit a monastery before heading back. The rest of the day is spent wandering around Darjeeling, lunching and drinking tea and finally finishing of the  day by seeing Life of Pi in a little cinema where once again the colours on the screen were bleached, the images jumped and the sound was up to high. Having said that it was good to see such a great film in India.

Last day comes and we have our final sub zero breakfast before leaving. We take in one last cup of tea in a little café and share it with a rat – Nice!. Then all aboard the skylark and we trundle off along the roads from hell back to the airport and our flight to Calcutta. Both Rachel and I suffering with back pain due to the hideous journey. We won’t moan too much though since we have discovered that the best places are generally the most difficult to get to.


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