We have spent the last week or so in the hill station city of Darjeeling. The city is set 7000ft in the foothills of the himalayers and is reported to have fantastic views of the worlds highest mountains, although visibility was so bad the whole week or so that all we really saw was cloud.
Darjeerling has a very different feel to the other parts of India, firstly because of the temprature, coming from the 30+ degree heat of Varanasi it was quite a shock when it got down to near freezing on the first night. We had to spend some time going round buying warm clothes! Secondly the majority of the people in Darjeeling tend to be a lot more friendly and helpful that those in the tourist places we've been; it makes a nice change not to have everyone trying to get their hands on your money.
The hotel we were staying at was run by a really friendly Neplai family. We had a nice spacious room with a hot shower (between 4.30 and 6pm) although some plumbing related problems meant that we had a blocked toilet for two days. The worst thing was the bed was about as soft as a slab of granite and sleeping was difficult in freezing tempratures.
Our plan to go for a short trek up into the mountains was cancelled by a conbination of us not having any warm clothes, the fact that there were no views and that i had a nasty stomache upset for the first few days.
We visited the first tea plantation in Darjeeling, still going strong, and gained an intereting insit into how they make the famous Darjeeling tea which i spent a lot of time drinking.
We also visited the zoo in Darjeeling which was considered to be one of Indias better zoos which had a large array of animals from monkeys to red pandas, yaks to tigers but it was spoiled slightly by the Indian tourists being unable to keep from making a huge racket and taunting the animals constantly - something that only makes the animals less inclined to pose for photos!
We were planning to come back down on the famous Himalayan mountain railway, affectionatly dubbed the toy train, but after 2 hours queueing in the customary efficient Indian way found out there were no spaces left, we were however able to take a 'joy ride' on the train, an hour trip to the village of Ghoom (or Ghum) half and hour stop then back. The ride was enjoyable with the little train following the road and getting stuck in the typical traffic jams. It stopped briefly at the Gurkha war memorial and then slowely chugged on to Ghoom. At Ghoom there was a small museum about the history of the mountain railway and lots of old bits of trains. While we were there a stereotypically ditzy american girl ran up to us asking if we were Tibetan?!?! because she was trying to find out who the Dali Lama was. We explained that we were not tibetan (surprisingly) but told her the answer to her query, she was shocked anyone out of tibet could know this!!! She then tried to tell her friends that he was the leader of the British, before we corrected her. Made the train ride trip all that more exciting.
Other that this we spent some time wandering around the city and mooching about in the markets, we saw the various buddhist and hindu monestrys, temples and shrines. We spend a lot of time in Glennerys; a fantastic tea room and cake shop with a decent resturant above. We ran into with a nice American/Scottish couple that we first met in Khajuraho and enjoyed a nice Thai meal with them (made even better by the fact that the Chelsea - Man City game was on in the background).
We left the mountains by taking a share jeep down from Darjeeling to Siliguri, and as we've grown to expect there is no work in India for 'full', if someone wants a ride they can find a space, at one point we had 15 people in our jeep (the size of a land rover), the ticket collection guy decidided to have a snooze on frans shoulder for the best part of the 3 hour journey. We however survived the trip and spend a night in a nice (although unfriendly) hotel in the not very exciting town of Siliguri, made even more not exciting by the fact that the rebelious government of west bengal decided to call a strike across the whole region so we had nothing to do but watch jurassic park 2 (the worst one) on the tv in our room.
We have now flown to Calcutta where we are staying for a few days before going to the Sundabans at the weekend.
That, i think will do for now;
Until next time; Jon