29.11.2018 - 29.11.2018
The Darjeeling Himalayan railway (DHR) has been on my bucket list for 30 years. It's very popular but I managed to book a ticket, but this meant staying 2 days in the railway junction town of new Jalpaiguri. This joins on to Siliguri to make a huge polluted, not very pleasant, hot and smelly metropolis. Many cafes don't have toilets - they show you outside to the gutter by the side of the building! God knows what ladies do?
There were so many desperately poor people living in tiny shacks by the railway line or by the busy roads. It was fascinating to observe but obvious very sad. Fruit and veg markets set out on the floor of the dusty polluted train station carpark, with cows and shit on the floor.
So it was a relief to board the narrow guage DHR train to Darjeeling. It left only an hour late. It travels through the populated hot plains to the hills. Darjeeling lies about 7000 feet high on the hills. The train winds up incredibly steep gradients and tight turns as it travels through the rhododendron and bamboo forests. It's absolute beautiful. It only averages about 7mph, so there is plenty of time to admire the views. The track largely followed the road, frequently crossing it, with loud hoots from the train, all traffic stops as the train crosses the road again and again. Some sections are so steep the track has been made into a Z Shape - the train drives in forwards, reverses the middle part of the Z, then of forwards, gaining 40 or 50 feet in an ingenious feat of engineering.
Being India, there was a 3 hour delay as the down train had derailed and a steam train had to come and "rescue" it. It took 12 hours to go 50 miles, but what a train ride. I believe it has the highest station in the world.
I am staying in a homestay (like Airbnb). The host knew I hadn't eaten when i arrived so cooked me dinner at 10pm - so kind. Darjeeling is wonderfully set on a steep hillside, with views across to kachenjunga (3rd highest mountain in the world) and across many amazing hills to Sikkim and Bhutan. Many of the high traversing terraces are largely traffic free and clean. It's a lovely town, of course with many tea plantations around. I've drunk some delicious tea. My favourite place has an amazing view out of the window.
I've just eaten porridge for breakfast in a very British flavored restaurant again with stunning views of the Himalayas in the distance.
I will be returning to Darjeeling, but tomorrow will try and get a shared Jeep to Sikkim to investigate the possibility of going for a trek.
I've been reading "the snow leopard" with lots of talk of enjoying the present - I feel a very lucky person for having this opportunity to explore a small piece of the world... And myself.