Karmi Farm and the Drunken Tattoo of Regret!

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March 20th 2012
Published: April 18th 2012
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I was sad to leave Darjeeling but was also very much looking forward to our next destination and looking forward even more to the journey to our next destination. Our next destination was Karmi Farm, a farm/guesthouse owned and run by a man of Anglo-Indian descent who was himself brought up on the farm. Our method of arrival (well mine and a few others) was by foot, this may not sound exciting but the prospect of a challenging, long walk through beautiful countryside and rural villages sounded as good as a plate full of bacon, sausage, beans and hash browns. We were warned in advance that it would be a challenging walk being around 25km in length and involving 2000m of steep decline and 1000m of very steep incline, however having never done anything with quite so much incline/decline the warnings meant little to me as I had didn’t have any comparative experiences. From the off the walk was beautiful, we passed through rural villages and idyllic tea plantations built on the steepest of valleys, the trail was also noticeably steep, each step taking a serious toll on your knees and slowly turning your calf muscles into an uncontrollable jelly like substance that can no longer provide any resistance to the forces of gravity. Just before we reached the bottom of the valley we came across a deep valley and river which we needed to cross. The bridge passing over the river was of the Indiana Jones variety i.e very flimsy and liable to break with dramatic effect. Swiss Jenny and myself were the first across the bridge, I have to admit that she was a whole lot braver than me and seemed to relish the experience whereas I was holding on to the metal railings for dear life, panicking that at any minute my foot would break through one of the rotten wooden planks or one of the rusty tension cables would snap. I tried hard to pretend everything was cool but I’m pretty sure Jenny cottoned on to my poorly disguised terror and show of faux manly I’m not scraredness, still when I got to the other side I felt good about the whole experience. Little did I know at this point that I would later cross many much more hazardous bridges on my treks in Nepal and even sadly become rather blasé about the whole experience.

After around 4 hours we reached the bottom of the valley crossed a river, met up with those that had decided not to walk and had a fantastic lunch. At this point I was feeling the burn, my body was tired and I felt completely drained of energy, I was very much not looking forward to the 1000m steep walk uphill, but I knew it was something I had to do, especially as I would be doing a whole lot more walking up hills in Nepal so if I couldn’t manage this I might as well get a taxi to McDonalds, stuff my face and cry uncontrollably. So with some reluctance after lunch I set off on the journey to Karmi Farm, the number of walkers by this point had dwindled from the initial 15+ to just 5 as most of the group had made the sensible choice to take a jeep to Karmi Farm after lunch.

It was just after 13.00 and very hot as we began our journey uphill, from the beginning the trail was very steep and unforgiving and with a belly full of food and jelly legs getting going was a real challenge. I do always find the first 10 minutes or so of any trek the worst, especially after I have just eaten, after this I usually find my rhythm and things become much easier. Fortunately with this trek that was the case, although it took me a good 20 mins or so to stop feeling like a further few steps would result in violent projectile vomiting. About 45 mins into the trek we took a much needed rest, I think we all thought at this point that we were at least half way into our journey so it was disheartening to say the least when we were told we had barely done a quarter, it was at this point that we all realised that this actually would be a real challenge and the prior warnings that it would be tough were not just hype. Damn. The scenery on the way up was again very pretty, although most of my concentration was spent on making sure I put one foot in front of the other and didn’t collapse into a sweaty heap. We were regularly overtaken by school children who had just finished school and whom apparently were unfazed by the frightening incline of the hill, indeed our guide told us that he used to walk 1 ½ hours each way on the trail twice each day to go and return from school, I think I and many others would have been truant 99.9% of the time had I had to walk so far to Tretherras (my secondary school). As we climbed higher and as the day progressed the weather became cooler which meant that we started to get cold whenever we stopped and the cool breeze blew across our, well my, sweat ridden clothes and body. As such three of us who were walking slightly quicker continued on ahead of the other two. The three of us got into Karmi Farm after 3 hours of tough walking and were welcomed with what felt like a rather over the top but also very nice and ego massaging hero’s welcome. I was feeling justly proud, it really did feel like we had achieved something. It had been a very tough physical challenge and it was awesome and for me surprising to receive so much congratulation from the group upon our arrival. Once again it made me realise what great people I was travelling with and how lucky I/we were to be in a group that gelled so well. Once again little did I know that the physical challenge that I faced that day would pale in comparison to the daily beastings I would face in Nepal, this time however with no hero’s welcome.

Apart from the nice welcome upon arrival we were also greeted with a table full of incredibly good looking food served on the finely placed terrace which looks out over the farm estate, deep down into the valley and up to the mountains of Sikkim on the other side of the valley, a stunning and very relaxing sight. As it turns out the food tasted even better than it looked, we were served the best onion bhaji’s I have ever tasted, served with a beautiful coriander chutney, alongside his we also had an incredible carrot cake which was by far the best cake we have had in India and I would go as far to say in the top 3 carrot cakes I’ve ever had and I’ve had a few. We were also served a banana cake, but I didn’t have time for that I was just concerned about consuming as much carrot cake and as many onion bhaji’s as I possibly could, I’d just burned some serious calories and now I needed to replace them and perhaps even exceed them as quickly as possible.

The cakes, bhaji’s were all just for afternoon tea, in the evening the good food times continued when we were served dinner. Dinner was a buffet affair, but a buffet of a very high standard. We were served beef curry, bombay potatoes (or something similar), fried and spiced spinach, dhal, radish and cottage cheese salad and fruit salad for desert. Every item was exceptional, I was beginning to really enjoy my time at Karmi Farm, beautiful, peaceful surroundings, good food and a fridge full of beer, what more could you want?

The following day most of us left after breakfast to go and help out on a local project which Karmi Farm supports which was actually first initiated by a previous Dragoman group. In Autumn 2011 a village at the bottom of the valley had been holding a village fair. Apparently it was the busiest it had ever been and people from all over the valley and beyond turned up. The fair was held on two sides of a river and people passed from each side of the river on a cable suspension bridge, much like the one we crossed on our walk to Karmi Farm. These bridges are designed to hold the weight of a few people and perhaps a few donkeys or someone on a motorbike, however due to the popularity of the fair on that day hundreds of people were using the bridge at the same time, many more than the bridge was designed to hold. Unfortunately no one did anything to stop this, or was unsuccessful in trying to do so and the weight in the bridge became so much that one of the tension cables snapped. Apparently several hundred people died in what must have been a surreal traumatic scene of carnage and terror, some died falling on rocks below, some drowned in the river and others were electrocuted as the villages main power cable which was connected to the bridge tumbled into the water below. It sounds like a scene from a disaster movie, it must have been truly awful to watch. The project that Karmi Farm supports is for a victim of that disaster, a girl who was paralysed from the waist down after falling from the bridge and now lives on top of a large hill in what must be one of the most wheel chair unfriendly places on earth. The aim of the project is to make life a little easier for her by building a wheel chair friendly house so that she can have at least have some independence and not have to rely on her family and friends to do even the simplest of tasks. It’s a very worthwhile project as without this assistance she will essentially be living life as a cabbage unable to move around or do anything for herself at all. It took around an hour to walk to the project 30 mins of which was up a very steep slope, something my legs didn’t enjoy after the previous days marathon of a walk. The location of the project was on top of the ridge of the hill Karmi Farm was built on and had great views over to Darjeeling and the valley below. The access to the property was pretty terrible, there was no way that anything remotely wheel chair friendly could be put in place any time soon as the trail was thin, muddy, slippery and very steep. When we arrived the girl whom the project was in aid of didn’t look very happy to see us, I was a little peeved at this at first as I thought she could at least be a little grateful that we have come to help build her house. Then I remembered that she couldn’t use her legs and was stuck living in the most disabled unfriendly place you can imagine and thought ah fair enough I’d probably be pretty peeved if I was in that situation also. I also realised that we were really contributing very little, I think we did maybe 1-2 hours of labour before marching back down the hill feeling very proud of ourselves and like good little ethical travellers, now we don’t have to feel so guilty about all those poor brown people as we have done our good deeds! Joking aside I think we did help a little and while we didn’t make a big difference it was worth us visiting.

That evening much merriment was had, a little too much perhaps on my behalf and a few others, you know who you are! For several weeks now the girls have been threatening to put henna in my moustache and dye it orange, fortunately I dodged a bullet that night and kept the henna away from my facial hair, my right arm was not however so lucky and I ended up with a rather unfortunate and rather noticeable henna tattoo that was not a bit like the ones you get on the beach.....

On our final day at Karmi Farm I did very little, mostly because I was very badly hung over, I didn’t feel too bad about wasting the day though as everyone else also spent the day relaxing, reading a book or like myself nursing a hangover. I did attempt in the evening to help the kitchen staff make Momo’s (Tibetan dumplings) but after a few pathetic attempts gave up, had I not been hung over I think I would have tried a little harder. Fortunately Noelle, Lucia, Annaclaudia and Sonia had more commitment than me and helped the kitchen staff make over 400 momo’s! I did end up helping out in the end though by eating an impressive 26 Momo’s, not bad for someone who was feeling nauseas at the time.

The following day it was time to leave, I was sad to leave Karmi Farm, I could easily have stayed a few extra days although the continuous food output would have started to have a very damaging effect on my waistline. I urge anyone in the Darjeeling area to stay at Karmi Farm you will not regret it. Next stop the state of Sikkim and the state capital Gangtok.

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21st April 2012

So you had 7% of the entire batch of momos that were suppose to feed 25 people! So that's why the kitchen staff didn't have enough for themselves hmmm... :p

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