Travel Journal

India- UK to Darjeeling

(Tuesday 21 February 2012) by Andy and Babs
Our fascinating trip through India by train. February 2012.

The story so far.

Hello family, friends, neighbours and anyone else interested in reading the further adventures of the Andrewartha duo. I wasn't going to do a "blog" this time - but sat on a train for 10+ hours at a time, thought it was time to drag out the old netbook and do something constructive.

Well where to begin?

Most of you reading this will think we were both mad for heading off to India to travel around by train, but then we have never really conformed to the normal "holiday" travel. No sitting on the beaches for us!!!

It all started with my wanting to see the Taj Mahal and sort of grew from there. Andy of course just goes along with whatever I suggest and does all the donkey work making these trips come alive.

Visas and jabs duly got, it was time to pack the suitcases and head off to Heathrow once more. Did wonder at one point if we would actually make it with all the snow, frost and very unpredictable weather. Our chauffeur driven limousine courtesy of Emirates Airlines arrived dead on time and whisked us off.

Great flight out and with mounting excitement we touched down in Kolkata formerly Calcutta. Stepping out of the airport it was a case of take a deep breath and go for it.

First impressions were like "oh my god!" Noisy, dusty, dirty, teeming with humanity but soooo exciting. Hotel we stayed at was very quaint to say the least. Probably one step up from a backpacker, but comfortable room, friendly staff and for the next 2 days we had lots of fun out and about. Hardest part was avoiding the mangy dogs, holes, well more like craters in the pavements, and getting run over by all the rickshaws, cars etc. Enjoyed visiting Mother Teresa's quarters and seeing her tomb enclosed within. The flower market was interesting to say the least. Special care had to be taken not to get knocked to the ground by men carrying huge bundles of flowers on their heads.

A trip down the Hooghly by boat was an experience not to be missed. This is a tributary of the river Ganges so is also very special to the Hindus. Spotted some dolphins swimming around. Managed to get on and off the boat with a bit of difficulty as nothing to hold on to and no seats most probably saw the photo on Facebook so know what I mean.

Another fascinating sight whilest out strolling was a Japanese lady sat along the streetside playing "you are my sunshine" on a saw, surrounded by loads of locals. Very strange!!

It was uncomfortable seeing all the families living on the streets, such poverty, such filth, men peeing everywhere, dogs by the hundreds roaming around. Kept us awake most nights barking. If it wasn't the dogs it was the local Mosque howling every 20 mins or so. Oh well.. like they say...that's India.

Whilst out and about on Valentines night, we stumbled across this restaurant with a huge railway engine in the window and carriages inside, as you do!!! We had a lovely curry and enjoyed the romantic ambience of the heart shaped balloons festooning the place.

The 2 days were quickly over and it was time to pack up and move on. How to sum up Kolkata....for all the squallor, poverty and noise, we loved every minute of it.

Next stop was Darjeeling, a 12 hour train ride away.

Suitcases packed we were collected from our hotel and taken to one of the massive railway stations in Kolkata. Absolutely heaving with people, we fought our way through the throngs and managed to board our air conditioned, first class sleeper for the night journey to our first destination, New Jalpaiguri.

I was excited at the prospect of us having a carriage to ourselves, but no such luck. In comes one young Indian gentleman closely followed by another. Oh well, not knowing what the routine was for sleeping we were quickly instructed as to what to do. Poor old Andy had to sleep on the top bunk above me and I was left to look across at this other young man. It felt very weird initially but once I made up my bed with crisp white sheets, pristine pillow and the heaviest blanket I've ever laid under, it seemed to be the signal for everyone to settle down for the night. Strangely enough I slept soundly and before we knew it we were arriving at the station.

Following the herd we finally arrived at what we thought was the exit and where we were told our guide and driver would pick us up, but us being the Andrewarthas, something had to go wrong!!!! No sign of anyone, and at 7 30 in the morning still not functioning too well, it was a case of me staying with the luggage while Andy went off to scout around. Hooray!!!! back he comes with our guide and driver...lovely little Nepalese man speaking impeccable English.

Cases loaded into our large 4 x 4 off we head to pick up the Toy Train. Approximate journey time - 3 hours. Well...what can we say about the journey.....scary or what!!! Climbing up through the hills/mountains on narrow, twisting roads with a sheer drop to one side and oncoming traffic hurtling towards us with endless tooting of horns, it was definitely an experience of a lifetime. We also had to go a different route to normal as they had had a landslide and the road was impassable. Oh well... the 3 hours passed by and we finally arrived at our toy train. Tiny little thing that crept along at a snail's pace, but comfortable seating and there we sat for another 3 hours as it twisted and turned it's way up the hillsides, through all the little towns and villages.

Our driver and guide followed behind with our luggage and with about an hour more to go it was decided that we would leave the train and continue our journey by car with them....Andy and I had both fallen asleep, not surprised as we had now been travelling for over 16 hours.

Arrival at our new home for the next couple of nights was interesting. Charming old Colonial Hotel, very elegant, bit shabby but with a roaring fire and wonderful quaint furniture and rooms. It was bloody freezing though and no central heating. Our room was cosy with an electric fan heater and the hardest bed I swear I've ever slept in....I'm sure the floor would have been softer. Oh well, case of get used to it!!!

Everything about this hotel had an air of "Britishness" to it. From the staff who spoke excellent English, to all the English ways. Had to laugh when the knock on the door brought 2 hot water bottles which were duly placed in our beds.

Laura if/when you read this, plenty of lovely porridge in the morning. Wonderful staff, sooo attentive and friendly and so pro English.

Darjeeling we both found fascinating....surprised how different the people looked. Many Nepalese, Tibetans and people from Bhutan. No beggars or being hassled to buy anything. Lovely walks around and plenty to look at shop wise. Mornings were very cold but once the sun rose it was lovely and pleasant.

Highlight of our stay in Darjeeling was to see the sun rise atop Tiger Hill. With the Himalayas in the background and Bhutan and Nepal to the front of us, it was a beautiful start to the day. We had our photo taken so many times we were thinking of charging. All the people we met around us were delightful. So pleased to have us included in their photos. Most were domestic tourists, very few Westerners.

Before we knew it our time was up and we were packing once more. Difficult to believe that the route to Darjeeling is so bad considering it is the only way up and down. We had to retrace our steps and endure another scary journey back to the railway station for train journey number 3. Varanasi next stop.

To be continued.

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