We headed for Darjeeling, leaving from Delhi airport. The airport was much nicer this time around. We were getting a flight to Bagdogra, however Dara neglected to mention that there was a stop on the way :( On arrival we got a taxi to Siliguri, where we had planned to get a shared jeep up the mountain. I was just commenting that everything had gone very smoothly, but 'this is india' and something had to go wrong. It turns out that we were smack bang in the middle of a political crisis. The locals were on strike and all the drivers told us that Darjeeling was closed, and so noone would take us.
After a stressfull half a hour we eventually found someone who would take us, we had to pay him double fare, but that was only really 20 quid. So we headed off up the mountain. The drive was quite an experience, at first i was quite impressed by the scenic views, but as we got higher my nerves got the better of me. We were climbing up to heights of 7,500 ft, there was only a tiny little winding road, and there were no barriers. As if this wasn't bad enough, each town we went through had a road block in place, which stopped every car. We also passed a protest march with lots of bottles on fire like molitov cocktails. This was quite a hard journey but we were lucky as this was the first time the passage had been opened for 8 days.
(Explanation of political crisis skip if easily bored)
The hill people are not happy because they are part of the State of West Bengal. They think the wealth is not distributed fairly etc. They want independence and there own state called GORKALAND. There has been a bill presented to parliament which they feel has sold them out even more. In particular they want to remove the leader of the GHMC. (The organisation in charge of the hills, who is a bit like a mayor.) This is who they were looking for at the road blocks. As a result of the strike everthing was closed, banks, restaurants, atms, tourist attractions, taxis etc. There was also two protest marches a day see pics and video.
The strike resulted in a very relaxed first two days, lots of walking about and seeing views. On the second day our hotel organised a clandestine trip to Tiger Hill, to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas. We had to leave at 4am, and we couldn't get a jeep back as they were not allowed on the roads. We were told it was an hour an a half walk back IT WASN"T. It took us two and a half hours and was really hard work. Our legs are still hurting. On tiger hill the 'Delux Lounge' was closed, fortunatly they had left the window open and the Germans from our hotel found a way in. It was still bloody cold, even Dara thought so.
Day three - Strike over - more walking! We went to a tea plantation, and then to the Zoo where we saw snow leopards, Bears and Yaks. We also went to dinner at the five star Elgin hotel, the oldest in Darjeeling. Dara was happy to finally get a drink, even thought it was only Kingfisher. The hotel is a relic of the British occupation and still has servants in old fashioned uniforms. It's like a scene from carry on up the Khyber. The food was lovely though, I even ate some fish.
Today is our last day here, and it is safe to say that it has been a welcome break from the madness that is india. Darjeeling is really quaint and very clean, it's quite like England both architecture and weather, for that reason all photos show us wearing the only jumpers we possess. The hotel even gives hot water bottles out at night. We set off on another epic journey tomorrow, and there will be lots of trains . . .