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…
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.