A bit of management thinking was called for. India is very in your face. Buses and trains are a bit like mobile streets. Dirty, smelly and overcrowded. We are travel weary and we needed an antidote from the outside world. We had a management meeting and decided to 'flash pack'. Up the budget to better hotels and fly the long journeys.
We flew into Chennai (Madras) and had the usual white knuckle taxi ride to our hotel. The street outside was pretty grim but the hotel was nice. We could walk the streets then go inside and lock reality out. A big comfy bed, hot showers and a kettle in the room made a big difference. Chennai itself is not great. Even the most poetic, dreamy eyed traveller would struggle to find much nice to say. We came, we saw, we left.
The taxi back to the airport was not great. The traffic was horrendous. What took 45 minutes arriving took nearly two hours leaving. Next stop was Calcutta.
We were not looking forward to Calcutta. Another big city (India's second largest) with a population around 15 million. For most of us it's 'The black hole of Calcutta' that makes it famous. This name came from an incident in 1756 when dozens of the colonial aristocracy were imprisoned in a room beneath Fort William after a Nawab re-captured the city. By morning around 40 of them had suffocated to death. The British press jumped on it and exaggerated the numbers and the legend was born.
In reality it is one of the nicer Indian cities we have visited. It has parks and some footpaths. We booked a nice hotel and they upgraded our room. The taxi ride from the airport was one of the worst. It was like being in a James Bond chase. Flat out, weaving in and out of traffic. We stayed in the tourist area which felt very ordinary with big stores and nice restaurants.
We visited the Victoria memorial. A large British built building which looks like a cross between the White House and St Pauls. It is surprising that it is still standing as anti British sentiment was high after independence. Today it is the most popular tourist attraction in the city. From the outside it is an impressive piece of architecture. Inside it is the usual mess of random paintings hanging on white plaster board. Some of the paintings are several hundred years old and depict historical scenes. They are hung with bright sunlight hitting them. Not the best way to preserve them. As you drive around Calcutta there are signs saying 'Keep Calcutta clean'. Doesn't it have to be clean to be kept clean?
At the hotel we had another example of Indians speaking English and dealing with each other...oh and others. I was talking to the young lad on reception trying to book another two nights. A lady walked up, basically shoved me aside and started talking to the same lad. 'We have no water in our room' she said. 'This is not good enough, we are having great adversity. Send a boy up now to fix it' then she walked off. I continued my conversation.
Another lady walked up to two glass double doors. One was wide open. She fought with the other one to get out of reception. It was comical.
We have to return to Calcutta. We think we have booked two more nights in the same hotel but we are not entirely sure. Next we are heading to the hills to Darjeeling. High up, with the Himalayas within view
Here we are I Darjeeling. World famous for its tea. A hillside town with views of the Himalayas. That of course would be at any other time of the year. When you travel for a year it's inevitable that you will be in the wrong place at the wrong time occasionally. This was one of those times. As we flew into Dogbagra airport there were great views of the mountain ranges. The drive to Darjeeling takes over two hours and it's a steady climb the whole way. By the time we arrived it was 3C and misty. We could hardly see the other side of the road let alone the mountains. And that's pretty much how it's been for three days.
Darjeeling seems to be having a power struggle. Many of the residents here are originally Gurkhas from Nepal. It used to belong to Sikkim until the Gurkhas invaded in 1780.They've settled in what is now a part of West Bengal. It seems they now want to create an independent state separate from West Bengal. This occasionally means strikes and protests. I wonder if Aldershot will want to annexe itself from the rest of Rushmoor.
It's been an interesting few days. It's a bit like being in a different country. We went to the Himalayan mountain museum and the zoo. I don't like zoos but it was one ticket for both so we took a look around. The museum was rather lame and the zoo much the same. They did however have a beautiful snow leopard and a fabulous Bengal tiger.
Tomorrow we head down the hill then back to Calcutta.