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Tea for Two

Jalpaiguri, India


After rejoicing over our success on purchasing our first train ticket, we were brought back down to Earth with a crash when we realised we had booked it for the wrong day - curses. We blame the lengthy and arduous journey we had undertaken...surprisingly enough this epiphany had come to us after only 2 hours sleep (the total taken over the course of our first 3 days here - thank you Larium). Perhaps we function better when most are at their worst...or perhaps this is the best we get...? We'll leave it to you to decide. Luckily we were able to rectify this mistake and swapped the days, but this time we were heading for cattle class.

Despite our initial confusion of the train set up (we suspect that confusion may be a common aspect of this trip), the journey to New Jalpaiguri (the closest mainline to Darjeeling) is uneventful. This is until we begin to walk across the bridge towards the awaiting hoard of taxis baying for our tourist blood...we mean cash...and are stopped by a stranger who's recognised us from one of the flight over. It turns out he also spotted us in one of the bars at the hotel and offers us a lift up to the town. We are even more pleasantly surprised when we find out that the jeep belongs to the police commissioner of Darjeeling as we kind of expected our first ride in an Indian police car to be less comfortable, or optional.

After an easy journey up (made easier as all of the other cars immediately clear a path for us) we arrive in Darjeeling; set in beautiful, tree covered hillsides which brings to mind an alpine toy town. Our new friend offers to help us book some accomodation and insists that we meet with his good friend Commissioner Gordon (names may have been altered to protect the innocent). After a brief chat over authentic Darjeeling tea, served by men in military-style uniforms in tiny china cups (the tea, not the men in uniform) CG kindly arranges for us to stay at the very exclusive Planters Club (a members only club, the oldest in India if the Lonely Planet is to be believed...though you'll hear more on this later) - and we thought backpacking meant slumming it?

After a further police escort to the hotel, which is much appreciated since our bags are back cripplingly heavy despite us only bringing the most essential items (5 pairs of shoes are the bare minimum for some), we scrub up and head into town...surprisingly enough, the first stop happens to be a pub...actually, so is the next. However, before familial concern over alcohol consumption arises, this is after eating a hearty dinner in pub 1, and upon the suggestion of our new friend - we were all reeady to go for an early night...honest. We eventually retire after just a few quiet warming beers inside us (it's baltic up north) with yet another police escort - we hope that our smiling faces convey to any lookers-on that this is by choice rather than demand.

Just to prove that we're not hungover, we're up at 4am the next day to visit Tiger Hill - a popular sunrise viewing station from which you can see Everest, as well as 5 other Himilayan peaks. No police escort this time as our friend has decided to stay in bed, which is odd as he doesn't drink. On arrival we see why, as our view consists entirely of
the backs of the thronging crowd's heads...that and a great deal of cloud. However, we enjoy a nice hot thimble of chai and an impromptu singalong whilst we wait for our driver to return (hits include Ice Ice Baby, Wild Wild West, and our own version of We Built This City - soundtrack to be available shortly). On returning to the main town we realise that for some reason nothing is open - lazy types these Darjeelans - it's almost 630am - where are they?! We entertain ourselves by watching the pack of dogs which have congregated in the main square...for an hour. We are easily amused, especially when hungry and overtired.

At 7:30 we excitedly set off to find the 'best breakfast in Darjeeling' as recommended by our trusty backpackers bible, the Lonely Planet. At 11:04 we stumble into a completely different and completely empty cafe having been awake for 7 hours, hungry for 3 hours and furious for 2 hours. Captain Scott died trekking through the Arctic wilderness trying to find sustenance; I bet he had a Lonely Planet guidebook too.

We plan another early night after checking out the rest of the sights in Darjeeling but luckily we are having more success finding friends than finding food and bump into a lovely Irish couple who helped us find our feet (and seat) on the train up and after a few drinks and a few more songs we retire to the comfort of the Planters' open fire and hot water bottles.

Time to get the hell out of Darje...

permalink written by  BecnWill on October 26, 2007 from Jalpaiguri, India
from the travel blog: The World By Knight
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