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November 2nd 2008
Published: November 3rd 2008
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One of our sleeping companions

We told you last time that we were off to look at wildlife at Jaldapara. Now we are back here is an extract from our journal covering a diverse and very entertaining trip. We hope you enjoy it.

Day 95 - Wednesday 29 November
We set off for Jaldapara driven by Banu. Banu was the first member of staff at DGH we met when he collected us at the airport on arrival. On the way we stop at Kalimpong to buy paracetamol and a few essential items of chocolate and while we are in the shops Banu picks up his brother, allegedly, and he acts as co-driver to Jaldapara. Getting anywhere in India by road is tortuous and no less so from Kalimpong to Jaldapara. The roads are okay once we get down from the mountains and into the plains of Dooars but we still regularly run out of road surface and into one huge pothole even on a major highway. We finally get to the wildlife park and go to Hollong Lodge where we are staying the night. From the start we smell a rat. The agreed price of 10000 rupees for the two days is way over

Diamante and her chums on their way to work
the real price. The accommodation and food are crap. The room is filthy, the staff could not care less and dinner when we get it is seriously poor. The afternoon is saved by the appearance at the salt lick of a family group of female elephants complete with a baby. It is just as well we saw them before dark as when night falls there is no low level lighting as promised to view the animals. The way of seeing animals in the dark is to get a guy from the kitchen to shine a big torch across the river to see if any animals are there. And no surprise to find that there are no animals in sight. This is not surprising as the staff in the compound are letting off fireworks for Diwali which was actually yesterday or maybe it is in anticipation of Kali Puja which is tomorrow. Come to think about it life here is apparently one great long holiday. We get to bed after trying to get rid of two of the most enormous geckos on the planet who live in our room. They stay put and we get into bed and try to ignore

Diamante and Philip
them. During the night there is obviously activity at the salt lick but it is impossible to see as the guy with the torch has apparently gone to bed.

Day 96 - Thursday 30 October
We waken early for our early morning elephant safari which is absolutely magic. Before leaving we see a rhinoceros at the salt lick and take pictures in the dawn light. But the best is still to come in the shape of Diamante a 37 year old female elephant who gently takes us through woodland and grassland in search of rhinos and buffalo. We sit on her back on a howdah with two Indian people. The man has a large plastic bag which makes a tremendous noise in the early morning silence of the forest. However we do see rhinoceros, deer and buffalo during the trip. Diamante is surefooted and careful. She is dressed like her companions with a tikka on her forehead for Kali Puja. And quite fetching it looks! When we return we have a very average breakfast and then the fun begins. Mithun Das proprietor of Bluebird Tours and Travel Agency who arranged the accommodation on behalf of our old friend Neelam

from Gangtok arrives to transfer us to the Jaldapara Tourist Lodge outside the park. By the time he arrives we have established that the maximum amount we would have paid without his help is 4500 rupees for the two nights including elephant ride and jeep safari, about which, more later. So his demand of 10000 rupees makes his commission a bit over the top. We tell him to get lost and we begin a day of protracted negotiations. He pesters us all day for his money and I give him 5000 rupees and tell him he will get the balance in the morning. We set off on an afternoon jeep safari and see one rhinoceros and a peacock. This is disappointing but not surprising given that we are accompanied by about 20 noisy Indians complete with a little boy who never stops shouting. But on the way back we stop at the salt lick and see a big bull elephant and a rhino. So the afternoon is not wasted. Later on we tell Das that he is a complete scheister and the worst thing ever to happen to tourism in India and we will give him an additional 1500 rupees

We saw a tiger!
in the morning to get rid of him. The accommodation tonight is marginally better than last night. It is still dodgy but we are in the refurbished modern wing which resembles a block of flats in Easterhouse prior to refurbishment. No offence meant to Glasgow Housing Association. Our room even has satellite TV but by contrast this must be the only hotel in the world which has rum in the bar. Just rum and sorry you drank the last two bottles of coke at lunchtime. Rum and 7Up is just lovely! As for the food, it is hot and spicy with lots of potato and it is served cheerfully by the staff in a room which resembles the old Masonic Lodge in Garrowhill and everyone sits round the room on plastic chairs balancing their plates on their laps. Then they put the dirty dishes in a plastic bowl on the floor. We find an old table and two chairs outside on the corridor which resembles an old railway station. Very quaint, a bit smelly but good natured in a West Bengal sort of a way.

Day 97 - Friday 31 October
We are up bright and early and go

for a walk through the village across the main road from the lodge. Even at 7.30am the place is bustling with activity. We have a photo session with a group of local children who are delighted to have their pictures taken and fascinated to see themselves on the screen. After breakfast we wait for Banu who arrives 90 minutes late. In the meantime we have the constant presence of Das waiting for his money. When the time comes to leave he is at our side and as we get into the van I hand him 500 rupees and remind him that he owes Neelam 1000 rupees for the deposit which I will pass on on his behalf. Then we speed off in the Bolero. The drive to Mirik is long and hot but interesting. We drive back across the plains towards Siliguri and stop in the town for lunch. The place is very congested and it takes ages to get into the centre. However we have a very nice lunch in an air conditioned restaurant with matching crockery and cutlery and a bar which has everything we need. The food is good and we enjoy our little treat. However because we started so late we are now pressed for time and we set off at high speed after clearing the Friday afternoon congestion of Siliguri. The road takes us back up into the mountains and through villages where early evening activity is underway. There are still puja celebrations on the go in some places and we are met with smiles and waves along the way. We eventually arrive in Mirik after dark and the place is very busy. Mirik is a small town with one main street and a lakeside park. In the dark it is not much to look at. We go to the biggest hotel in town, The Dagjeet, to be told that they are full because there is an international Buddhist seminar starting tomorrow at the monastery up the hill. He suggests the Buddha Lodge down the road and a very nice lady there takes pity on us and gives us a bed for the night. She has no guests and is preparing for a group from France who will be arriving on Saturday but she makes an exception for us. The room is very clean and comfortable, newly painted and there are fresh white towels and sheets. There is no toilet paper, which we have to pay extra for and no breakfast in the morning. Instead we get morning tea. All this costs 300 rupees for the night. In addition Banu has a room downstairs for an additional 150 rupees. In the evening we go to the Dagjeet Hotel and have lovely Darjeeling tea, toasted cheese sandwiches and a Cutty Sark with our favourite Indian sweets, the name of which we can never remember. The town is very much alive and a group of local people are playing hills music and the women dance outside the hotel. This is obviously for the benefit if the visitors but it is clear that the locals are having a great time with or without us watching.

Day 98 - Saturday 1 November
This is another milestone on our adventure as we come to the last month to be spent at DGH. After a hearty breakfast at the hotel we stroll round the lake and buy a few odds and ends to take back to Ahava including a potted orchid and some new mugs with lids. The journey back takes us up again into the hills and we pass within sight of Nepal. The weather is bright and sunny and we have spectacular views of the Himalayas on our way home. We turn off the main Darjeeling road at Ghoom and drop down to Teesta via Jorbunglow. Along the way we stop for tea and momos while the van is washed at a roadside water hose. This is the Hills version of a roadside service area with all amenities available together. We actually watch the momos being made, little soft dumpling parcels filled with cabbage and onion and then steamed and served with hot chilli sauce. They are pretty good.

Back at Ahava we are greeted like long lost members of the family and Shoba and Chandrika present us with Diwali offerings, Shoba’s homemade pakoras and little savoury pastry donut sort of things which taste of aniseed.

So all and all it has been a very interesting outing. We saw some great animals, stayed in some awful accommodation and in one really great guesthouse. We ate some awful food and had a lovely lunch and great momos on the way back. We saw the Himalayas like never before. Oh and incidentally (especially for you, Alastair,) we have a photo of a tiger we took on our second day! But if you decide to go on safari we would advise giving West Bengal a body swerve; we prefer Kenya - ooh hark at them! And if you ever decide to go to Jaldapara avoid Bluebird Tours and Travel Agency like the plague.


3rd November 2008

Thanks for the tiger!
Hi, Philip and Eleanor You really are having some exotic experiences. Your comments about accommodation reminded me of some of my "hotels" in Madagascar. Anyway, posh hotels all the time would have been boring. You are seeing the real India. I'm really pleased you got a picture of the tiger! I appreciate being remembered and I'm looking forward to the next instalment. With best wishes Alastair
3rd November 2008

Hi folks You are certainly being exposed to a huge range of cultural and culinary experiences! It all sounds SO exciting and challenging! By the time you are back in Kelso you'll have forgotten how we live here! Enjoy the last part of your sojourn. Best wishes, Kaytex

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