We arrived at New Jalpaiguri train station and our driver greeted us with a traditional scarf (excuse how tired we look, we had been on a 15 hour sleeper train, where we didn’t sleep!).
We climbed aboard and made our way into northern India. Decidedly colder and a heavy Tibetan/Chinese influence could be seen in the faces and the cuisine on offer as well as many more people being Buddhists here alongside the traditional Indian Hindu.
We first needed to find breakfast which became difficult as the locals don’t start early like they do in Kolkata. We visited several places to find them shut. We noticed several displaying the sign ‘restaurant cum bar’. Being children we all took pictures and laughed and Binu described that the spelling wasn’t ideal but it meant ‘slash’, which made some sense.
When we did find a spot for breakfast, it was, quite local and most of us opted for fried eggs or omelettes with Chi tea. No windows meant it was quite chilly. A local cow greeted us outside hoping to be fed.
We drove on to our hotel in Kalimpong, not the best place but a bed at least. Noticeably colder and no heating in the rooms meant blankets were a must and the cold tiled floors chilly. We hiked up the hill to a cactus nursery which housed some truly bizarre cacti and more importantly had a nice view of Kalimpong and the valley.
In the afternoon we visited the town centre, I say town, when it has the population of a U.K. city something like 500,000. All the ‘towns’ have huge populations here. We ate at a traditional restaurant and tried some Momos. A local delicacy. The boiled chicken ones where nice but the fries pork were delicious.
We visited another view point and then explored the town but ended up having more beers than exploring. We in fact ended up back at the same restaurant cum bar, but they had run out of momos so we settled for the less local delicacy of chips. The town shut down quite early and we were asked to leave around 9pm. We took a taxi back in complete darkness as there are no street lights all for the expensive sum of 100 rupee (£1.25).
After a cold nights sleep and a cold shower we jumped in the bus and headed further north to Sikkim. A separate country from until 1971 (I think) it joined as a special administrative region of India but still has its own local parliament but receives funding from the Indian government and is one of the wealthiest parts of the country. We had to provide passport size photos for entry but Binu sorted that all out for us while we had breakfast. More eggs. This time I opted for poached, 20 minutes after ordering we were asked “if we wanted our poached eggs cooked both sides,” we guessed they were coming fried then. Mine didn’t turn up with everyone else’s (probably in the confusion of them running out of bread) and when it did (after asking) it was quite under cooked (I should of gone for both sides). I would later blame this egg for a ‘Delhi belly.’
On the narrow mountain roads with sheer drops one side and hooting cars trying to get past of the other, we entertained ourselves with the unusual road signs. Clearly someone had had fun designing them. Some of what we saw included:
- Bro The road is risky after whiskey
- Bro life is short don’t make it shorter
- Bro this ain’t a rally enjoy the valley
- Bro the road is hilly don’t be silly
- Bro anytime is safety time
- Bro a cat has nine lives but no one does who drives
- Bro that is deep don’t go to sleep
Can we introduce these in the UK please?
We continued into Sikkim and went to a Buddhist Monastery. Once we climbed the hill our guide told us of its history and we discovered that a special event was taking place which only happened every seven years. A festival that lasted seven days and absolved the worlds sins. The monks were dressed is special costumes and danced to chanting. However as this was going on it meant we could watch but not enter the temple- which was a shame.
We continued to Gangtok the main town (700,000 people) where we would be staying for 2 nights. A much nicer hotel than the last but again cold. Blankets a must. We enjoyed some onion Pakora and opted to spend a leisurely afternoon/evening blogging and napping.
The following day we first visited another view point but cloud obscured most of the tall Himalayan mountains.
A Hindu temple was our next stop and our guide told us several stories about Ganesh and how he got his elephant head and about Hindu temples in general. To cut a long story short Ganesh had his original normal head cut off by his father Shiva who then replaced with an elephant head. I entered the temple and gave a donation and was blessed by the priest who gave me a traditional red and yellow dot on my head.
This part of India is certainly different to the rest and I look forward to seeing our next stop…Darjeeling. Tea anyone?