Darjeeling the heavens in India

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April 26th 2010
Published: August 15th 2010
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26/4/10: We slept but not that well; it was noticeably cooler making it more comfortable. We actually arrive on time as the train didn’t even stop through the night. The train stopped at New Jalpurgari, we were told that it was nice to get the Toy Train up to Darjeeling and hopped that we weren’t too late to buy a ticket. We got hassled by jeep and taxi drivers to take us to Darjeeling but we wanted to go on the Toy Train. The Toy Train is a train with very narrow tracks and only around 5-8 carriages long. They are wide another to accommodate four people side by side, it also takes eight hours to climb up the steep mountain range. The Toy train was not running due to some striking so we were force to get a shared jeep. This worked out to be 120rs/person and takes around three hours. We had to get out of town first, this took half an hour just because of the horrendous traffic. Once we were out of town it was only another 10min before the scenery started to change from dry landscape to lush green plantation teak trees. After that we saw a massive mountain in front of us and started climb the winding hill. This is what it was like for the rest of the journey as we climbed higher and higher. The temperature kept dropping and it was great to be above the pollution line while breathing fresh mountain air. Half way up the toy train lines followed the road all the way to Darjeeling. I was so glad we took the jeep as the train would have been painfully slow. The jeep had its down side as well; as usual the Indians fit as many people in as possible and we were squashed in the back seat that had four people side by side. The jeep was only supposed to carry eight people including the driver but we somehow managed to fit in twelve. The scenery was amazing and it was great to look right down the valley until the humidity of the lower plains hindered the view. We got dropped off in town and had a very late breakfast at 12:30pm. Lunch was average so we put on our pack to go and search for a hotel. We had no idea that being 2100m above sea level was going to be a problem but being weak and still recovering from the flu made it extremely exhaustive trying to walk up the steep hills carrying our 30kg packs. One month before and we would have been fit enough to run up. It felt as if I had absolutely no energy what so ever and we both had to stop several times. This was a good wakeup call for us as we will have to start training again for our upcoming treks. It was a perfect place to come and train before Nepal, the very cool mountain air was so nice and we couldn’t believe that travelling 14 hours from Kolkata can put you in a totally different part of the world. The mountains were absolutely huge and the valley below Darjeeling is the biggest valley I have ever seen and I’m sure it’s only a little on in comparison. The clouds kept blowing through the town, greying out the sky for a few minutes until the sun finally came through to shed warmth again. The Darjeeling people looked more like Nepalese than India. Jacinta struggled to keep her breath so I left her with the bags so I could find some accommodation. I started to panic a little when the first two hotels wanted over 1500rs/night and absolutely no one hassled us for a room in a guest house. Usually when you have the packs on you are fresh meat for the taking; I needn’t panic that much, as soon as I hit the top of the hill I found a room for 350rs/night. The hotel is perched right on the edge of the hill making the view from our hotel room amazing; it was just a shame that our windows were that dirty that you could not see the huge valley below. Feeling alive in the cool air we decided to go for an easy walk along the hill top. It wasn’t long before Jacinta ran out of steam and we turn back to our hotel. We were looking forward to a shower so I cranked up the hot element wand and put 20L of water on the boil. The water was that cold out of the tap that it took half an hour just to get up to the temperature of Kolkata’s cold tap water. Another hour later and the water was warm enough to have a quick bucket shower in the tiny bathroom. The bathroom was that small that I had to stand over the squat toilet to shower while Jacinta stood directly behind the closed door of the bathroom. We soaped up and rinsed off quickly before the cool night air started too burry into our skin. We were giggling the whole time as it was such a dramatic cool change from what we were used to. For the last four months we have endured hot sweaty conditions and we were enjoying every bit of the cold. We dressed up in some warm cloths and went out to dinner. The very first thing we ordered was a Masala tea for Jacinta and a hot chocolate for me, they went down a treat and warmed us to the bones. God knows why, but Jacinta had a Dosa after all the times she was telling me she was getting sick of Indian. I ended up having tomato soup and a pizza, both of which were disappointing. Jacinta was still hungry so we hit the street food for some yummy vegetable Momos ( a steamed dumpling with mashed veggies inside served with a spicy sauce). I was full already but wanted to try the momos, I ordered two for 10rs thinking it was just two momos but ended up getting plates instead, what a bargain. I couldn't finish the plate so Jacinta helped. We retired to our little room eager to sleep in the cool mountain air, 9:30 and time for bed as we were both shattered. Jacinta woke me up just as I was asleep; she told me I was whistling from my nose and it was annoying. 15minutes later I was almost asleep and I was awaken by Jacinta swearing under her breath at the loud guest next door to us. There were four Indians talking Hindi at the top of their lungs with the door open to their room. Once again this confirmed that most Indians don’t give a crap about other people’s privacy and personal space. I tried to ignore it but the talking and laughing was too much to ignore. We took the opportunity to tell them to be quiet when one guy started to talk right out the front of our door. I leant over, opened the door and told them to be quiet because we were sleeping. I did all this without even leaving the cosy warmth of my bed. They shut the door and carried on talking loudly as if nothing happened. I tried desperately not to lose my temper hopping that their visitors were going to say goodbye leaving everything quiet again. 15minutes and I stormed out of my room went up to reception and complained. I was too tired to confront the inconsiderate Indians so it was easier just to let the staff handle it. I heard them come down and say something to them in Hindi. 10min later and the talking didn’t even sound like getting any quieter so I had to go back up to reception again to tell the staff to shut them up again. I was pissed off by now, I think the staff were too because they got the owner of the hotel out of bed to speak to me. I explained what was going and reason why we picked this hotel, because it was quiet and if the talking persists then we will checkout tomorrow. That put a fire cracker up the owner as losing money was not an option. Finally it was quiet again and I could get back into my warm bed and go to sleep. As soon as I got comfortable I noticed that I was so wound up that it was impossible for me to sleep. Jacinta fell asleep straight away and I felt like waking her up just to get back at her saying that she whistled out of her nose. It was quiet, too quiet; it was so quiet you could hear a cockroach fart. I laid awake for what seemed like an hour before I finally started to feel tired again. That exact moment is when all the dogs in Darjeeling started to bark, keeping me up for another half hour. I’m not sure what time I actually fell asleep but it would have been after 12:00 midnight.******
27/4/10: We woke up late around 8:00 and we didn’t get out from our warm toasty bed until 9:30. It was great to cuddle under the blankets again. We dresses up and went for a walk around the town, we didn’t push ourselves to hard as we found it tough enough. We headed to the markets and stocked up on some fresh fruit and veggies. We also stopped at a bakery; this was a treat as we hadn’t had any type of breads or baked goods since they are few and far between in India. The rest of the day was spent catching up on backpacking duties, washing cloths and internet. The day went rather quickly, by the afternoon we felt like we could crawl into bed and fall asleep under the warm covers. We are really enjoying walking around Darjeeling; we haven’t been hassled once by street hawkers, shop owners, drug dealers, guest houses and beggars or the lack of them. The town was really busy and in some parts quiet difficult to walk. It got dark early as the clouds started role in and the temp started to drop. When we walked out from our hotel the visibility was only around 40m due to the mist. We both had noodle soup, hot chocolate and a tea to warm ourselves for dinner. When we walked out from the restaurant it started to rain, this was the first time we had seen rain since Lao, over three months ago. We crawled into bed and studied up on our next destination Nepal.****
28/4/10: We had a big day today, Our trek training had to get serious now so we hit the Darjeeling hills. This first thing we had to do was work out how to read the stupid free map from the council. The second thing was to try and find our way to the Tibetan refugee camp located around 3km away. On the way we visited observatory hill only to find that we need to take our hiking boots off to go up to monastery, walking on the cold road, and giving a donation for the privilege. We decided that it just wasn’t worth the hassle so we took some photos of the monkeys hanging around outside. We carried on following the road to take some photos of the beautiful valley and tea plantations below. From one of the road side lookouts we could see the Tibetan refugee house roof around 200m down the hill. This was deceiving because you had to snake you way down 1.5km of winding track to get to it. We meet a couple of Aussies on the way and got talking for awhile, it was good to catch up with some fellow countryman as the Australians are few and far between in India. We finally made it to the village, we looked at all the handy crafts that were made in the sheds. It was amazing to see the beautiful rugs, coats, scarfs and other things all hand made by the Tibetans. Jacinta bought two handmade wool blankets that double as a scarf they both only cost 230rs each and we could not believe something so nice would be so cheap. All the money made, goes straight into the refugee village so it was a good feeling we helped out in some way. We were sad that we weren’t going to see any of Tibet and this would be the closest we would get to seeing some of their culture. I wish the Chinese government would wake up to themselves!
It was time to hike back up the hill and head to the Zoo and Mountaineering institute and museum. It was tough work walking back up and we were both breathless in the thinner air. We stopped regularly to look back at the magnificent view until we were ready to carry on again. By the time we were on the right track we were getting hungry so we sat down at a little restaurant and had some Veg Momos and a hot chocolate and tea. We spoke to the owner named Rambo, he organises his own two day treks costing around 1600rs. We may very well consider doing a trek around this part of the world as it backs onto Bhutan. We carried on down the hill until we finally made it to the zoo. The fee was 100rs/tourist and only 20rs/Indian once again showing how racist India is. The fee included entry into the mountaineering institute and museum so it was quiet cheap considering. The zoo showed most of the highland animals you would find around the Himalayas including the rare and endangered Snow Leopard, highland wolf, Black Panther, Asian black bear and many other endangered goats and animals. It was only a small zoo but it was worth every cent as the animals were well looked after, the enclosures were clean and well maintained. The snow leopard was awesome, he had a massive long furry tale and a beautiful fluffy coat. He was housed next to the black leopard who were both paceing back and forward along the fence line. We walk further until we got to the Mountaineering institute at the top of the zoo. The museum was good; it had all the climbing gear from the first accent of Mt Everest and lots of photos and history. It also has Himalayan geological rocks and minerals on display as well as poorly taxidermy birds and small mammals. Even though it wasn’t a huge museum it was still worth seeing. They had a new museum built just above the old one and were in the process of doing the finally touches. A large statue of Tensing Norway stood outside the new museum with a plaque saying he was the first man to walk on Mt Everest along with Sir Edmond Hillary as side kick. I thought that was very strange; then again they still haven’t found the camera that proves who was first. Oh well; they are both still hero’s for what they achieved and if you really think about it, what was the name of the second guy that walked on the moon. It was getting late and we were getting tired of walking so we headed back to town for some veg momos for dinner followed by a well deserved hot shower.*****
29/4/10: We woke up to thunder and lightning early in the morning and it would have been impossible to get out of bed if it wasn’t for the hard mattress. The rain started to clear around 10:00 so we got our packs ready for a long walk to Tiger hill some 12kms away. I had to meet up with a tour company again to get more info on the 8 day trek, instead we meet another group of girls that were going on a 4day trek only costing 1200rs/person / day. This got us thinking, we previously found Rambo that would do it for slightly more but we were only trekking one way and not coming back the same way we had just be through. So we went back to speak to Rambo and it turned out to be a better for Jacinta as we could take out own sweet time and not worry about other people. We agreed on a lesser price of 1350/each. With most of the details sorted we had to get a move on if we were going to make Tiger hill before dark. We walked back from Rambo’s at 1:00 and started our trek towards a town called Goom and from there we would trek up the steep mountain road to the lookout at Tiger Hill. The clouds started to lift and it was shaping up to be a nice day. The storm we had turned out to be the first rain Darjeeling had in seven months. It helped clear the sky of all the pollutants in the air, helping the view out immensely. It was great to see some distance and it was the first real indication of the mountain system behind the mountain system. Our walk turned to be quiet tough in some places, there we real steep sections in the road that would test even the fittest of legs. Slow and steady wins the race and we kept on walking and walking. We finally reached the town of Goom some two hours after we had started and it was looking like we were going to miss out on the views, the clouds and mist started to role in again. We started to walk up the steep section of Tiger Hill and Jacinta’s legs were already tired. There were only a few jeeps going up at this stage and we felt as if we were the only ones until a guy started to catch up from out frequent stops. We asked how much farther and with very broken English he said 30mins. We were stuffed and it looked like every corner we turned it was going to be the top. Over the next hour of walking up the hill we asked several people coming down on their motorbikes how long until the top? They all said half an hour and it was getting ridiculous as we had levelled off some 500m back, the cold fog and fading light gave us an indication that we were never going to reach the top so we turned around before we would be walking back in the dark. It didn't take that long to walk back down but we were using different muscles that tired easily. We made it back to Goom and caught a jeep back to Dajeeling before it got to dark. We were so tired, we had walked a total of 19km for the day.****
30/4/10: Today was a rest day and to catch up on things to do. Our legs were quiet stiff from yesterdays trek and if possible we wanted to take it easy. We found the post office so we could send some stuff home. India has an amazing packaging system which involves a man stitching a cloth bag tightly around your item; this forms a neat tamper proof parcel. Then after the stitching is done he then lights a candle and melts red wax, this is used to stamp the joins of the stitching every 100mm to form visual tamper detection. We then have to fill out four copies of paperwork detailing what’s in the package (No carbon paper here). This then gets stitched to the white cloth on the parcel as well as the wax stamp. Then all the addresses are written on the outside of the package and for the final process of being weighed and a tracking code placed on the package. All up the package weighed 9.8kg and cost 850rs which is a little over $20 Aus dollars. This took around half an hour to sort out which was a big improvement on our last package which took 1.5hours. The rest of the day was spent shopping for our trek tomorrow this included chocolate, lollies and protein powder to keep up the energy and the protein used for building muscle. I have dropped so much weight and most of it is due to loss of muscle. Also any muscle that is built up on the trek would be handy to keep when we start trekking in Nepal. We meet up with Rambo late in the afternoon as we had been waiting for a call from him all day. We finally got a hold of him so we could organise a time for payment and a few more questions, he said he would meet us in 10min at the restaurant; it ended up being more like 40mins. We found out that his grandmother had just passed away and that is why we hadn’t heard from him all day. After the meeting it was time for a really hot bucket bath and pack some gear for tomorrow trek. Jacinta and I had a funny feeling in our stomach late in the afternoon, it made Jacinta feel like she was going to throw up and me a little crampy. I hope it goes away because we just don't need this before the trek.

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