Posts Tagged With: darjeeling

India… The good, the bad, and the downright evil

Well India has provided some of the best and some of the worst experiences of our lives. In some areas the scenery, people and food are among the prettiest, friendliest and tastiest (respectively) we have seen, met or had…in other areas …not the same story. Despite this we covered a lot of the country, saw a lot of sights, places, cities and have some insights that may prove useful to future travellers.

India certainly has a lot positive to be said about it and there are some must see items that make planning a trip very worthwhile. There are also some places that quite frankly are ruined by the people that you are forced to encounter along the way. Our trip was more low budget that some but higher budget than the typical backpacking style holiday.

We spent our money on the food, beer, accommodation and transport…choosing to pay that little bit more for the extra space and comfort and things like private bathrooms. That said…accommodation was generally about $20 a night for both of us and at its cheapest was $10. For not much extra (than our allowance) per day you could plan a very nice Indian sojourn and by paying the little bit extra can avoid some of the shonks that we hit along the way. You will be overpaying for what you get but the extra money takes away some of the headaches and surely that is worth a little more.

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Indian Must dos

With the beauty of hindsight this is where I would go to if I was to plan a short (2-3 week) holiday in India (in no particular order).

Agra – Taj Mahal and the fort…this one is obvious but they truly are that good. I suggest that 2-3 days is about the right amount of time here.

Amritsar – golden temple and the border show. Can be done in a one full day journey if time is tight but the people and food are so nice you will want to stay more.

Aurungabad – Ellora and Ajanta caves…absolutely stunning. Two days is about right. This was the surprise for me, had never heard of them but were the highlight of the trip.

Hampi – absolutely fantastic with so very much to see, need about 2 full days but will want more as the people and place are so good.

Jaipur – this has 3 forts, temples, a palace and all the old city walls and is again worthy of about 3-4 days depending on your schedule and timings. Jaipur is in Rajasthan and most of Rajasthan is pretty similar with forts and palaces etc. They are all different but are also very similar so if time is against you Jaipur would be my pick.

Ooty – the Indian blue mountains (Nilgiris) with a toy train ride to boot. Stunning scenery and clean by Indian standards.

Udaipur – we loved this place. The water and lakes make it very different to the other sights you tend to see. If you come in early in the morning you could see everything in a day and a bit so one overnight would be about right..add an extra night if you want to hit the fort and Jain temples which are a bit of a way out. We stayed for 6 days and enjoyed it all but most people will not have as much time.

The end.

My list would leave out 2 key ones on almost everyone else’s list and they are

Goa – a must for beach goers…we could have skipped it. It was nice and we had a good time but unless you are in dire need of sand and water it could be skipped.

Kerala – the cruise of the back waters was nice and a good treat. Our cruise was probably a bit long and one to two nights would be about right. There are afternoon cruises but you stay in the main channel with all the boat traffic.

Great if you have extra time

Now if you have a little more time available then these are my choices for good second tier spots with nice attractions, people etc

Darjeeling – tea fields, toy trains and the Himalayas on a clear day.
Hyderabad – an Indian city that is really trying to get it right.
Jaisalmer – desert, fort, safari. Nice if you have the time.
Jodhpur – nice place..very Rajasthan with forts and palaces.
Kanyakumari – the southernmost tip at the edge of 3 oceans
Mumbai – beautiful architecture, the gateway to India and Elephanta island.
Pondicherry – the French parts

Nice if you have LOTS of time

Mangalore – still the best food I have eaten in India (just not much to see)
Cochin – a nice afternoon but not too much to see
Trivandrum – good zoo and some nice architecture
Bangalore – not too much going on here

Don’t even bother

Bhubaneswar – caves and temples…not that fantastic and the experience is wrecked by the lying and cheating of what feels like almost everybody in the town. The worst that India has to offer.

I have left New Delhi off this list entirely because my experiences in New Delhi were entirely terrible. I came to Delhi 4 times (including transits) and had an atrocious experience each and every time. I may have been entirely unlucky…or it may well be the worst capital city on the planet, full of lying cheating scoundrels. Alas as New Delhi is a major transport hub you may just have to stop here to get to some of the nicer parts of India. Should you wish to do such a trip then I will let you form your own New Delhi opinion and would be happy to hear it.

I will leave the India topic with a few of my favourite moments…

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And my all time favourite moment…was…

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Farewell India…it has been an experience…

 

 

 

 

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Darjeeling and monster transits

After leaving Aurungabad we found ourselves in the world of a monster transit. A 5:30am cab ride to the airport, a flight to New Delhi, a wait, a flight to Bagdogra, a cab to Siliguri, a really bad sleep and a cab in the morning to take us to Darjeeling…via the Sumendu lake at Mirik. Our opinion of New Delhi has not changed…even on a 3 hour transit…

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The drive to Darjeeling was spectacular passing (surprisingly) tea plantations at every turn. The coolest bit was that for a period we skirted the India – Nepal border with the left side of the road being Nepal and the right being India. Of course we had to step to the Nepal side and got the photos of Nepal behind us. On a clear day it is said that you can see Mount Everest from Darjeeling however I think the number of clear days would be severely limited. The elevation brings with it the onset of clouds and a significant drop in temperature…meaning you are in the midst of misty mountains.

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Alas my trip to Darjeeling was marred by gastro which saw me in bed, sweating, shivering, and generally feeling sore and sorry for myself. As time was tight princess went off to explore on her own. She hit the zoo, the mountaineering institute, governors house, church, and wandered along mall road while supping upon her favourite wonton soup and pork fried momos.

While Darjeeling is technically in India there is nothing Indian about the place. It has the look and feel of Nepal or Tibet. The people are different, so is the religion, as are the clothes and the food. In fact you could hardly find a curry anywhere in town (to the point that Jill overheard Indian tourists complaining about the lack of food options).

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We stayed at the most magnificent guest house. It was very cold and was poorly heated but was fantastic. The staff were lovely and the tap at the door in the evening to provide us with our individual hot water bottles was a great touch. Breakfast was included and the staff could not have been friendlier or more helpful.

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Our exit saw us taking the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway which is a toy train that snakes its way through the mountains. We got onto the Diesel engine rather than the steam engine which in hindsight was a huge mistake. As the train criss-crosses the road and runs through the heart of the towns the train is very heavy on the horn. Something about the pitch or tone of the train horn was like a dog whistle to me causing intense physical pain. As it zig zagged the road I had 3 hours of this sound that had a fingernails on the blackboard style effect on me…

The steepness of the roads mean that they zigzag and snake their way up the very steep mountainsides all through this region. This made the drive down the hill fraught with danger and while on the train on an uphill section we were actually overtaken by a pedestrian as the train hauled itself up as best it could. The steepness has necessitated innovative methods of getting up and down the hills with goods. People here put what seems to be 3 times their body weight on their back supported by a strap across their foreheads and hike the super steep hills in a low oxygen environment.

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We stopped at Kurseong for an overnight before heading back to Siliguri for another overnight (and Jill’s birthday)…The Kurseong to Siliguri section saw us hopping a shared jeep for the 50 kilometre drive down the mountain (for under $3). The shared jeep was in essence the Indian equivalent of a 7 seater landcruiser (the Mahindra) which 12-14 people plus their luggage get jammed into and then you hurtle headlong down the mountain. We were lucky and got only 12 jammed into ours. We stopped at a nice hotel for the darling’s birthday before getting up in the morning for a flight to Kolkata…a wait then another flight to Varanasi.

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