The North was Spectacular! Darjeeling is a former British hill station renown for its tea. It definitely has a British feel about it but once you've ventured into the centre through narrow alleyways smelling of fresh cooking and colourful material everywhere it is still clear we are in India. On the other hand there is a strange absence of cows this however is made up by the amount of dogs and puppies everywhere.
Darjeeling is high up in the mountains and to reach it one can get a jeep which takes a couple hours or opt for a 7 hour ride in the Toy train which is a UNESCO world heritage sight. We chose the latter. It was an incredibly picturesque (and long) journey up the mountain (see Judy trains can go up hill:-). We passed through impressive forests and idyllic tree plantations. We were chased by butterflys and waved at by children. Because of it's size the tracks are just built into the pavement so we were chugging past houses and shops where you could reach the produce through the window. The train is a bit of a local celebrity so we saw smiling faces wherever we went. As we climbed the temperature decreased and the amount of layers I was wearing increased. Darjeeling is 2250m above sea level so it's very cold at this time of year. The hotels don't have central heating so In the mornings and evenings I was wrapped up in a big jumper and 2 wooly blankets. I felt a wee bit like a walking carpet (probably looked like one too) It was very cozy though and I suddenly started feeling in a Christmassy mood:-)
We stayed 3 day's in which time we went for some nice walks looking for Buddhist Monastery's and in the evenings read books in the cozy library with cups of hot tea. After that we got a share jeep to Sikkim.
The Journey to Sikkim was again incredible. We drove up and down the mountain side, across rivers, past gorges and through tiny villages holding on to the ridges. We arrived at the Border where we had to get a Permit and a stamp in our Passport before we could proceed. We were slightly over excited about the stamp. Sean and I are now having a race to see who can fill up there passport first. I'm winning at the moment as I have my Chinese Visa too:-)
We then got another jeep to Gangtok where we met Paul. It's strange how the world works. We met Paul initially in Dharamsala as he was Couchsurfing with Elise and Raja. We bumped into him again in Amritsar and he's now living in a Buddhist Monastery for 2 months and teaching the Monks English. When we decided to go to Sikkim I contacted him and he said we could come and stay in the Monastery for a couple of nights. We were very lucky as other than Paul and one other person no other foreigners have stayed there. It's incredibly beautiful set on a quite hillside over looking Gangtok and the surrounding mountains.
In the morning we arose early and climbed the hill behind the Monastery to get a view of Kanchenjunga, the world's 3rd highest mountain, in the morning light. I puffed and panted up the steep incline (while the other two ambled up chatting) and by the time we reached the top I was feeling slightly sick but the view was incredible!!! We had to sneak past a wood cutters hut and then we climbed over the wall and just soaked in the magnificence of the Himalayas. There is something so incredibly powerful about the snow capped peaks rising so silently from the clouds. It was a special dawn.
Paul's a great guy and we had some really good conversations about almost everything. As Paul and I are both very talkative Sean didn't get a chance to say much but I think he had fun anyway:-)
In the afternoon we sat in on Paul's English lesson. Watching Monks do Head shoulders knees and toes knees and toes… is incredibly amusing. We were supposed to be supporting Paul with the singing but it was very hard as we were laughing so much. We also played Paul says or Karma says this also led to a lot of hilarity. It was a good lesson with a fun atmosphere and it was a privilege to watch. After taking our leave from this colourful peaceful paradise (actually I think they call it Nirvana) We headed for Rumtek another Monastery a few hours away. It again was very beautiful and we stayed in a guest house in the Monastery grounds. Although this Monastery had more to see due to the heavy tourism it wasn't quite as exciting. It was nice to see all the young Monks running around and enjoying themselves. Monasterys seem to be quite severe but they're really not. They take their studies very seriously but it's a very happy laid back atmosphere.
The nest day we were going to head to Namchi to see 2 huge religious statues before heading to Siliguri in West Bengal to catch our Train to Varanasi. That didn't really go according to plan… We got a 1 hour jeep to Gangtok where we got a connection to Namchi unfortunately they were all booked full so we had to wait 2 hours. When we finally left we had 16 people crammed into one jeep on a 4 hour journey - intense and not particularly comfortable. By the time we arrived we were quite sore, late and it was getting dark. We asked when the next jeep to Siliguri was and were told there weren't any till 6:30am the next day. Our train left at 10:30pm that day! We were then directed to another town were we were told we might still get a connection so off we went in our 3rd jeep. By the time we arrived it was 6pm and dark. There were no more jeeps and we were starting to wonder what would happen. None of us panicked which was quite good. I've learnt that things happen for a reason and I had confidence that it would work put. Sean was just looking forward to spending another night in Sikkim. He loved it. I wasn't too keen as missing the train meant missing Varanasi and I really didn't want to do that. Fortunately we found a guy who was willing to take us but we'd have to hire the whole jeep there and back as there was no one else wanting to go. That meant paying for an 8 hour journey for 10 people!!! Crazy amounts of money but in English terms quite reasonable. We don't usually calculate in pounds but this was an exception. We arrived at 9pm after another 4 hours driving rather fast along crazy winding mountain paths in the dark and got our train no problem. In the end it worked out fine but only because people helped us along the way. It's amazing how in the end it usually comes down to people. I've learnt to put a lot of faith in humanity. Although we didn't see the statues we did see a lot of Sikkim thorugh a car window. It's a beautiful state and maybe sometime I'll have the chance to go back and give it justice rather than just winding through it.
We're now in Varanasi but that's another story.
A lot of people have asked me how Cait's getting on. I spoke to her yesterday and she's now back in Dharamsala. Unfortunately we didn't manage to meet up in the end as she decided to go back earlier in order to volunteer for a more substantial amount of time. She's staying with Mona for Christmas and is quite contented at the moment. If you want to know any more you can contact her directly through this amazing thing called Facebook:-)
Well got to go now. We've got a train to Delhi in a few hours. Our time's coming to an end which I'm both delighted about as I'm very much looking forward to Christmas and New year but at the same time am sad as I really need another 6 months here.
Well I'm sure I'll be back.
Another entry will be following in the net few days and then that'll be the end of this adventure. I wonder what the next one will be?