Steam at last!!
Up before the alarm due to the creaking and general uncomfortable-ness of the ‘bed’. We gave our washing to the owner for the laundry service then stumbled, half asleep, down the hill to the train station. There was no sign of life in the ticket offices but a diesel engine was busy running around and outside one of the steam engines was being filled with water and some men were tinkering with the tops of 2 of the engines. We watched for a little while but decided that it wasn’t going to go anywhere for a while so went to see if DAS studio was open to pick up our photos. It wasn’t so we walked to observatory hill and looked at the Hindu shrines and billions of prayer flags strung around the area before dashing past a gathering of monkeys and admiring a state building and St Andrews church from the outside as they were both closed. We grabbed some tea and toast in a little café then went back to DAS. It still wasn’t open when we got back so we waited outside until 9.30 when we figured that it should open by if it is going to today. At 9.31 a man who has been sat opposite us for over half an hour stood up, walked over and opened the shutters and once inside we were given a DVD with our photos on, but only 401, not all of the ones that I had accidentally deleted. With our memory card back we went to see if the trains were running. Just as we arrived we saw the last steam engine being shunted out of the ‘shed’ by a diesel engine- the other two steam engines had also been pulled out a little before being decoupled. The one that was now full of water and out of the shed was not the same one that we saw smoking yesterday. Strange. As we watched they started a fire in the engine which fell into a tray under the engine where Sam said it shouldn’t be but nobody seemed bothered and thick grey smoke was now seeping out of the chimney and the fire bos. It was really exciting to see the train come to life like that and the men set about with hammers and spanners on the third train in the shed. They took off the metal rail from the front of the train that pushes debris off the track, carried it around to the engine that they’d got working and it took 6 men and a lot of time to put it back on again because they didn’t listen to each other! In the station whilst trying to buy tickets for the train I met a girl called Anita from Holland who was also hoping to ride on the steam train. The man in the office made us wait a while by saying that he didn’t know if it would run or not but 15 minutes later he said to try again tomorrow. We chatted to Anita who has taken trains all the way from Holland through Russia, Mongolia, China, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan before arriving in India and she was looking forward to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. We said goodbye until tomorrow and went to see the engines again, they hadn’t moved so we went to find lunch . We went to the little café on Gandhi Road that Simon had recommended and got chatting to a lady (Sonam) form the USA who was studying Tibetean here for a few months. We ate our fried momos (dumplings) and curry whilst answering some questions from Sonam and her two french friends from the school about our travels. It was back to the station again for us but nothing much was happening so we decided to go to an internet café. It started to rain and got heavier and heavier until we were forced to shelter in a shop window with 2 ladies and a man with a huge basket of vegetables. The rain got heavier still and started to hail, raindrops bouncing a few centimetres back up from the river now running down the road. Our feet got soaked every time a tidal wave created by a car washed over them. Then, as quickly as the rain had started, it died down and we found a nice café for a pot of tea. Glenary’s was recommended in LP but we chose it because it looked like it would be warm and we were too wet to write the blog. Sam tackled the ordering process which involved choosing cake, paying for cake, collecting cake, ordering tea, tea brought to table and paid for at till later. It was good Darjeeling tea though and I read some of our diaries from earlier in India and we reminisced. We spent 2 hours writing our blog in an internet café whilst a boy next to us whined to his girlfriend on Skype and intermittently being cut off by the shops crap internet connection. We ventured to the station one last time but the sun had gone down so it was not good light but it made us look across to the mountains and there were the Himalayas! All of them except Khangchendzonga were perfectly clear with a cloud sitting on the big peak like a blanket. We had dinner in a bright pink restaurant with good thali before walking back, waiting for hot water, shower then bed ☺
I woke when it got light and got up to look out of the window, it seemed quite clear and I looked to the left- Himalayas!! I threw on my clothes and took the camera to see if ‘Hotel Tranquility’ had a tranquil rooftop- It did but the photo was spoiled by India’s top photo offender- Power lines (and a giant TV mast). I took some photos then went to tell Sam to get up. Both dressed we had a look from the rooftop then practically ran across Darjeeling to Bhanu Bhakta Sarani, a road past observatory hill which had a mention in LP for having some good viewpoints. It was a spectacular view, snow covered mountains, much like those from Binsar but with Khangchendzonga looming over the range in the centre- the 3rd highest peak in the world. We stopped for a couple of different views before wandering down to the train station to look for evidence of steam- we were shocked to find 4 steam engines, 2 puffing out steam, not just smoke! The last engine was the “Queen of the Hills” that we saw in kurseong a couple of days ago! There was a little queue starting to form at the ticket office so I stood and waited and Sam took some snaps of the trains. We got seats 22 and 23 on the 10.40 return train to Ghum and with tickets in hand we said hello to Anita who has decided to get a diesel staight to New Jalpaiguri, then went in search of breakfast. We found a ‘lodging and fooding’ place so risked it. I ordered food whilst Sam went to the toilet. He came back with a giant grin on his face and said he’d tell me later, but quickly changed his mind and told me there and then. He had done his business then, realising that there was no bucket of water for the flush he had leant out of the door to ask a man if there was some water, he pointed to a jug and barrel outside the door and when Sam reached to get it the man peered in and jumped back exclaiming “shit”. I thought that it was hillarious if a little embarassing for Sam but he didn’t mind so we had a good chuckle. After emptying and filling back up again we went back to the station and waited with Anita until her train at 10.15 whilst fending off shawl sellers. We waved goodbye as Anita left then stayed to watch the “Queen of the Hills” getting ready for our trip. We found our seats on the left side of the train, the side that Sam wanted, and a couple of minutes later a big jolt and we were off. We chugged out and whistled up the narrow street, barely missing shop fronts on the left and cars on the right. Bits of coal and steam were swept back and lodged in our hair (and on the camera) but no amount of soot would dampen our spirits- we were on the steam train that we’d waited and been watching for the past 48 hours, It was much smoother than I was expecting and the smell of burning coal was as nice as I expected, we listened to the four beat engine noise as we approached the water stop. After breaking the padlock off the water barrel as they’d obviously forgotten the key, they got out a long thin piece of pipe and laid it on the trains tank, hot water was gushing out from an overflow as cold water was put in. Once we had enough water, eveyone got back onto the train and we carried on up the hill. Batasia loop was our next scheduled stop but it was very foggy when we passed under the bridges and up onto the round loop next to the Gorka war memorial. The train stopped for 10 minutes and we rushed around taking photos, sadly there was no view of the Himalayas behind the train, some moments we couldn’t even see the train from 50m away! Everyone piled back onto the train, the whislte blew and we were on our way to Ghum. The museum in Ghum was indeed a train museum and I took some photos whilst Sam looked in more detail at the exhibits. There was just time for a cup of chai before back onto the train. Most of the people from our carriage, which was full on the way up, had decided to stay in Ghum so we sat on the other side of the carriage on the way down for different views. There wasn’t as much puffing on the way down but a lot more whistle blowing and the man on the brakes in our carriage kept applying a little pressure to stop us rolling out of control. We stopped for water again on the way down then rolled into Darjeeling Station. We walked back up the main road and found a good phot spot for the 13.20 toy train that was due 15 minutes later and waited. Sam got some good phots before we wandered back to the same café as yesterday’s lunch for more momos. I spent the afternoon putting photos onto DVD and writing the blog whilst Sam took more photos of trains. I had stomach ache in the evening so just time for a banana and some coco pops before bed (it would help if the bed wasn’t a plank of wood!)
I woke up before 6 and did some cross stitch until 8.30 when Sam woke up. He dozed for an hour and had some cereal then we ventured to buy a map for the area where Simon and Saartje are in Rimbik. The shop wasn’t open at 10.30 despite saying it was open at 10 so instead we went to do some shopping. We bought 4 different types of tea and a strainer from Nathmuls tea shop before putting it into our bag to post home. At the post office we had our bag sewn in white cloth whilst chatting to a guy from NZ who was sending a 12kg drum home! The process was quick and painless this time as we know how the system works and soon we were free to go for lunch in the Lemongrass Restaurant that the kiwi guy had recommended. It was a nice surprise to find Sonam already there so I had the cashew vegetables that she recommended and they were delicious. We spent the afternoon again Sam taking photos of trains and me writing the blog then I went to meet Sam to watch the train coming back from Ghum with the engine the right way around. We bought some toilet roll for Saartje from the big bazar shop then had chowmein for dinner before packing our bags for an early start tomorrow. I got just enough warm water to wash my hair before jumping into bed to warm up.
Up at 5.15, ate coco pops before walking through a really quiet Darjeeling to the jeep stand in the ‘old super market’ which had never been a supermarket as we know it but is a big market area. We asked a man at the minibus stand and he pointed us straight to the right jeep- there is a different kind of people out at this time- those that don’t appear to want anything from you! We fastened our bags onto the roof of the jeep and the ‘bag boy’ tucked a tarpaulin over them after I said that I didn’t want them to get wet. We were told to get into the back row of the jeep even though there were no other people there except an old lady in the back corner. I clambered into the middle but the man said that we had to be in the back, trapped by the folding down seat so in case of a crash we’ll have to catapult ourselves through the window. Anyway at 6.17 we were off, only 2 minutes late. We stopped at numerous places on the way to pick up and let down people. There were 4 people crammed into each 3 person row for most of the journey with the original fat lady in the corner who refused to move up so there were 3 people in 2/3rds of the seat! We started to gather people on the back of the jeep, then on the roof. We crossed a very old decrepid looking bridge (escpecially as we had 12 people inside and 12 people outside the jeep). Just as we reached the safety of the far bank we heard a hissing noise over the sound of the horrendous loud music and we ground to a halt. Stones were placed behind the wheels and the jeep jacked up (with all of the people still in it refusing to get out). I nugged the seat of the man in front of us and he got out so that I could fold the seat up and get out. It only took about 5 minutes for them to change the wheel and just as I was about to get back in someone inside said “wait a minute”so I stopped and just as I stepped back the jeep lurched towards me as the driver revved the engine and it bounced down off the jack. It was only 15 minutes to Rimbik where we found Saartje and Haley (a girl form the USA) walking down the road, we had walked right past the hotel where we were supposed to meet Simon. We sat around and had a chat, ordered some pancakes then went to buy some groceries whilst it cooked. Rimbik is like a village from a wild-western, single storey wooden open-fronted shops, they did the job though as we managed to but everyhing from pillowcases to tomatoes to water pipe. Once the shopping was complete we ate our pan cake- a cake made in a pan before setting off on the long walk to their village. Simon had bought 15kg of soap for the school and 15kg of water pipe to install running water in the school which had to be carried the whole 2.5 hours back. He borrowed a basket from the hotel (it goes around the top of your head). We set off walking when an open-topped van approached us from behind, it stopped and Haley conversed in Nepali and got us a lift a little bit of the way home (it knocked about half and hour off the journey). We said Dandyavar and cariied on walking through the rainforest, stopping every now and then to change backpacks. I tried the headstrap basket but it was so uncomfortable to carry, it felt like you head was being pressurised and your neck compressed! We arrived at Daragon just as it started to rain, left our bags in Simon and Saartje’s blue house (shed) and went to sit in the lounge for tea. It was lovely sugary black tea with bread-biscuits (similar to those in Mongolia which were not tasty but I ate one as I was hungry). We sat and chatted and eat had a bucket bath before dinner of rice, potatoes, onions and dal then set up our mosquito nets in the main house where we have been given a room before sleep.
Woke up at 7 (which is very late for here) I heard the puja (prayer) bells at 6am but must have fallen asleep again. We had tea delivered by Silma, the youngest daughter, then I did some cross stitch until Simon and Saartje arrived at 8am. We sat in Arjun’s new house that is partially constructed and at 9am had breakfast of rice, dal and pakoras. WE sat and chatted for a while before Sam and I re-twisted and whipped the ends of ropes on Simon’s headbasket for him as they were all frayed whilst Simon, Saartje and Haley faffed. We were eventually all ready at 11.30 and set off with one basket each to find firewood. It was a long climb up the mountain before we started to see evidence of wood chopping, although it is illegal to chop live wood here as it is a nature reserve, it is obvious that some stumps are from trees having been chopped. A group of 3 ladies and a girl climbed up past us as we were having a rest and when we came across them foraging nest to the path further up we knew that this was a good area. We put our baskets down a little further up and looked around. Sam and I used the axe to chop 2 little stumps even closer to the ground then the khukries to chop smaller branches down to size and put them into our baskets. It took us almost 2 hours to fill the 4 baskets and when we were satisfied that they were all heavy enough we started our descent. A lot of the path was narrow, steep and slippery so we carefully plodded down trying not to slip and to keep the basket under control so that it didn’t sway from side to side and put you off balance. We walked a little way along a wide, flat trekking route before going down some steps by which point my legs were shaking and my head felt like it was at 30,000ft. Not far left now Saartje said and it wasn’t, we could see the house below us. Just one last little path, I slipped and my basket fell to the ground but I remained standing- not able to pick up the basket again though, Arjun came and helped me put it on my back and I took it down and put it ontp the bench outside the kitchen. It was almost 3pm and we were all hungry so were happy for tea and a sweet (savoury coconut semolina (cracked wheat)) snack! We went up to Simon and Saartje’s house and tried to light a fire in their stove for some people they knew to come around for tea. The lady and girl arrived before we had got the fire started and enjoyed laughing at Sam, Saartje and Simon trying to light the fire with paper and a teepee of wood. Eventually it wirked and the water boiled and Simon made tea coffee with sugar- tasty but a little weak. Sam was trying to remember A-Level trigonometry for one of the family’s daughter’s maths homework on a scrap of paper by torch light! Once tea was over the lady and girl bid us farewell and headed out into the darkening night. We went down for dinner at 7pm to eat potato parantas and watch the lightening fork in the distance which was flashing at least once a second for over an hour- it really was impressive, as if there was a firework display in the clouds. We went to brish our teeth in the toilet then got into netted beds and went to sleep with the alarm set for 6am tomorrow.
Sam rolled and woke e at 5.55, better than being startled by the alarm. We woke slowly, shed our nets and got dressed. Tea arrived 20 minutes later, this time brought by an older girl and when we were drinking it, grandma shuffled in clutching a parcel of newspaper with some monkey nuts, some sugary biscuit twists and 2 mints inside. We pressed our hands together and said thankyou before she shuffled out leaving me to crack open and eat the monkey nuts. We had breakfast again in the open air dining room then headed across to the school for 9.15. We didn’t have a plan of what to do so Haley organised with Arjun for him to take LKG and UKG (kindergarten) as they don’t speak any english and for us to take class 2, in the only tent building left (every other classroom has been built) for English. They got out their books and one girl gave hers to us and we read the story of Sonam and the Yeti together, each reading a sentence. They read in such a strange way, spelling under their breath ‘t-r-e-e tree’ then pronouncing each word as a separate entity and shouting it. “The. Man. Went. Into. The. Forest.” At the end of the story were questions but it was clear that in reading the story they hadn’t understood any of it. When asked a question like “why did Sonam start a fire?” we got answers like “tree”, “yeti” and “sonam”. We re-read the story togther and stopped just after the answer to the question but still no luck. They enjoyed drawing on the blackboard, one boy drew the yeti and we tried to explain the word ‘strange’ by asking them to draw strange things, we got a normal man, house and flower. We tried the filling in the blanks exercise which was the best of the three but still not good. We had just put away the English books and got out the grammar textbooks as the children chose to study grammar when the bell went for ‘tiffin’ (lunch). The kids played cricket or went home after saying “bye miss, bye sir”. We walked to Swastikendra for tea and a rest. At 1pm we returned to the school and were told to help classes 4 and 5 (which are combinded in one room) with their maths as they have a test tomorrow. Haley told us that they have to practice word problems such as “If I bake a cake in 1hr30min20sec, how long will it take me to bake 3 cakes?” We tried with a simple one to start with but no-one knew how to do it, they just guessed, when we said “what do you do first?” we got “multiply” ok, by what “2”, “no”, “6”, “no”, “60”, “yes ok, what next?” “divide”, “no”, “subtract”, “no”, multiply”, “yes, by what?” it went on like this for some time. We ran over our 50 minute session again (this morning we did the whole 3 periods as English!) and when we asked what they wanted to do they said sing and dance, we asked if they would teach us a Nepali song and dance and they said yes if we show them and English one first. Sam and I taught them a basic Ceilieh but still they refused to show us their one. Instead they now wanted to play football so I went to look for it whilst they danced and sang for Sam. The ball was nowhere to be seen so they settled for running races instead. I drew 2 lines in the mud and they chose boys vs girls. They had a go at a relay race firt but either the boys or the girls would cheat or, in the first race, all the girls went together. When they returned to the classroom we tried one final maths problem which they got more quickly but still not by themselves before some of them drew pictures outside and others came with me to the office to look at a pile of old National Geographic magazines. At 3pm the bell was rung and school was out. We walked back to the family as the health workers that are paid to cook for the nalnourished children (and us) decided that they couldn’t cook today as noone has brought them any wood. We had lunch then I sat and cross stitched whilst Sam tried to locate Rojan, one of the class 5 that had said he’d like to play chess at 3.30. Sam couldn’t find him so came back and Simon said that it is OK for us to stay here for another 1-2 weeks ☺ We decided on one week because we still have to get to Mumbai for our flight and it is only a couple of weeks away now. We had dinner of rice, dal, potato curry and popadoms before sitting with Simon and Saartje in our room giving them tops for where to stay and visit in the places that we’ve already been to. There were no matches left for the candle so straight into bed in the dark.