So dear readers we made it to Darjeeling!
The flight from Kathmandu was a piece of cake and Yeti airlines does actually exist and so does its aeroplanes. We landed in Bhadrapur and caught a taxi to Kakarbhitta, unfortunately, as frequently happens in Nepal, there was a bandh. This is where something or other has occurred and people decide to block the road with burning tyres. Luckily for us our taxi driver knew a way around so we managed to get through that. At Kakarbhitta we got our and went through 2 sents of immigration posts and walked over the border back into India. The difference of 200m is astonishing. From the Nepali side which is clean and tidy and pretty much free of hawkers to the absolute mayhem of India (smells, noise etc).
We wandered into the centre of Raniganj (or something like that) and that goodness there was a bus just going to Siliguri, so we hopped on and while Paul had a nice little sleep on his rucksack, sat next to a very quiet lady, I was stuck in front of a woman who was determined to cough a lung up before the next stop, the guy in front of me was so tired that his head kept lolling back everytime we hit a bump in the road (and there were lots of bumps, I am surprised he didn't have whiplash after the trip). And the guy next to me was somthing to do with ambulances although I am not quite sure what, but he took great pride in showing me the letter headed paper from the Welfare Society that he was representing.
Eventually we got to Siliguri, after Michael Schumacher (our bus driver) and Mika Hakinen (the other bus driver) stopped trying to kill pedestrians and concentrated on their passengers.
However, Siliguri was in the grip of a strike. The people of this part of West Bengal want an independent state (Gorkhaland) and are currently protesting to get their views heard in parliament. So there were lots of demonatrations on the street, a hunger strike, and an awful lot of police people with riot shields (well large flat baskets actually) and batons (well pieces of bamboo actually). And because of this there were no buses up to Darjeeling. So after a piece of master bargaining from Paul we managed to secure a cab all the way up for 700 Rs. At the time we thought this was rather steep, however what we didn't know was that the road up was also rather steep.
Four and a half hours later (after passing multiple vans for the Gorkhaland Liberation Front or whatever its called) we arrived in Darjeeling.
DARJEELING IS FANTASTIC!
The temperature is about 15 degrees and we had to get our jumpers out from the bottom of our rucksacks. And after a nice cup of tea (of course) we headed into town for dinner. Only to be confronted with another fight between some New Zealanders and some locals. When they eventually simmered down and left we enjoyed some excellent food and some very strong beer. Which sort of explains the previous fight.
We slept like babies wrapped up in blankets just like at home :-)
Today we walked to the Zoological gardens and saw snow leopard, red panda, clouded leopard, jackals and finally a tiger. Its a really nice place with huge enclosures and the animals are realluy well cared for. It is the highest altitude zoo in the world and has an excellent captive breeding programme, especially for the red panda which it releases back into the wild.
After that we went to the Everest museum. Tenzing Norgay's ashes are here and he was a director for years. It was quite interesting if you really like mountains and had artefacts from the 1953 Everest expedition.
After a leisurely walk back down the hill we went to the Windamere for high tea. Tomato & cucumber sandwiches, cake, biscuits and a pot of lovely Darjeeling tea. Which apparently was the first pluck of the season. As we were non guests we had to sit in a separate sitting room from the guests, I guess they didn't want us polluting them with our 'cheap' hotels :-) It is a fantastic place but at 600 Rs for high tea it was a one-off experience. The Windamere has been here since the early 1900's when it was set up as a boarding house for bachelor tea planters and was turned into a hotel at the start of WW2. one can only imagine the sort of stuff that went on up there in the old days. Its very authentic and there was a coal fire burning in the hearth while we had tea.
Hopefully tomorrow we will go to a plantation and see the whole process from pick to pack and then maybe get a ride on the Toy Train. We will let you know in the next blog.
Until then, greetings from Darjeeling x x x x