A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: SamAmy

Steam at last!!!

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.

Posted by SamAmy 02:48 Archived in India Comments (0)

I didn't know that dogs could get stuck like that!

Shila cooked us some breakfast of weird German bread with onion and carrot for breakfast – not very tasty but edible when combined with some boiled egg. It was agreed by Shila that we should take a taxi to Kurseong, buy train tickets, come back for lunch then take a taxi with our bags to catch the train. We searched for a taxi at the ‘taxi-stand’ where Shila had sent us but there were none in sight so we walked to Cochrane palace to get one from there. We walked past lots of school children on the way, all going the same way as us but a lot slower and resting in the shade. They all said ‘Hi’ or ‘Bye’ as we walked past and we returned the same. It was a much clearer day today and we could see mountains behind mountains which is the clearest we’ve seen it so our walk was interrupted by several photo stops. We caught a taxi to Kurseong and found the train station closed. We bought an English newspaper and some eye drops for Sam as he woke up with itchy eyes from all of the tea dust yesterday and sat to wait at the station.

We approached an empty window at the station and the guy there told us to go to the other window which had a large queue so we waited patiently as people pushed in front of us and when we got to the front, guess what, go back to the other counter which obviously now had quite a large queue. When we finally got to the front we were told that we had to come back an hour before the train. I was annoyed to say the least. We got a taxi back to Makaibari and said our goodbyes, gave Shila a card from the paper factory that we had visited and in return she gave us both a cream peace scarf for a safe journey. Shila went off to work and Dipika made us noodles and soup for lunch before we headed back to Kurseong. It was 50 minutes before the 1.35pm train when the ticket man said ‘sorry come back at 2.30 as this train will be late and will arrive at 3pm’, handily exactly the time that the later train should have been. We hung around at the station reading and eating biscuits. 2.30 came and went with no sign of tickets but we did get our first glimpse of a moving train at 1.30 as a diesel came powering down the street from Darjeeling. Sam ran off to take photos of it in the street whilst I watched our bags. The train went past the station then the points were reversed and it backed into the station. The second train of the day arrived at 2.40 but we were told that this was not our train, ours will now arrive at 4pm. I was fuming but got distracted by two dogs that Sam had pointed out. They had been enjoying themselves a bit too much and the male dog had fallen off and they were stuck together!! We watched them shuffle around with the female dog trying to walk off and the male being dragged along wincing in pain. After about 10 minutes the female took a running jump onto the tracks and after a little wriggling they were freed and sat to nurse themselves.

By 4.30 we decided that a train was not coming today so we phoned to book a room in the Hotel Tranquillity in Darjeeling and took a shared jeep which was pretty uncomfortable as Sam’s head was touching the roof! We got out in Darjeeling and it was really quiet with no evidence of anything having been open today so we walked through the shuttered shops and after a wander through the backstreets near the TV tower (due to the bad LP map, definitely not my map reading skills) we found the hotel. It is nice enough- clean and hot water so we dumped our bags and went to find food. We tried a hotel across the road, it’s in LP and it’s not good. Only black tea or beer to drink and a full menu but a paper menu on the bar with the 5 dishes that were available. It took a long while to cook and the chowmein was dry and yucky. Back to our room and after laying out two blankets on our rock-hard creaky bed we clambered on and went to sleep.

Posted by SamAmy 15:03 Archived in India Comments (0)

Working in the Tea Factory

It had been raining all night. We woke at 7am and put on clothes that could get dirty as today we’re going to work! Shila had made us porridge with sugar and peanuts for breakfast which was much tastier than it sounds and followed by a cold boiled egg with salt. The factory opens at 8am so we arrived at 7.50 to find the man that had shown us around 2 days ago as we knew he speaks English. He said that it was OK for us to help out and pulled out two very unflattering white caps for us to wear before leading us inside. We were given different tasks, Sam cleaning out a furnace with the men and Amy hand sorting leaves with the women. The ladies were all very friendly and they spoke mostly Nepali with a little Hindi and very little English. They introduced themselves and sat chatting until 7.59 when a mad rush began to get to their places to start work. At 8am the machines were turned on and the factory came to life with grating noises, shaking machines and plumes of dust swirling around the dimly lit room. I was given a tiny wooden stool to sit on and a wicker tray with leaves on to sort through. A lady pulled out some pieces and demonstrated that I should pick out the stalks and green leaves from the long black rolled leaves and throw them into a barrel and that is what I did for 4 hours, sifting through tray after tray of leaves. My back was hurting after the first hour so when a lady beckoned for me to sit with her against the wall I rushed over and settled back down.

Factory Life
It is really dusty
The machines are really loud
The stools are really uncomfortable with no backs
Power cuts are frequent
Everyone has a bad cough
But everyone is really happy and I think they have a really nice community to keep them happy! (Except for the boss lady who seems to just shout and people don’t seem to be as friendly to her).

At 10.30 the lady next to me gesticulated for me to follow her and we lifted several tea-filled metal containers up onto the scales for the boss lady to weigh. We then carried them out to larger containers and emptied them into the respective containers for the different grades. Sam came to join me in the sorting room as the guys that he was helping to clean out a big coal fire had gone home already and he was bored so the ladies made him welcome and we shared a tray, picking out the stalks and green leaves. We were sat sorting and chatting when the boss lady come over and said ‘dinner’ and made eating gestures so we put down our tray, got our coat and shoes and went back up the road to our room. The first thing we both did was blow our noses as the tea dust is the cause of the mass coughing! Shila made us lunch of rice, dal, spinach, aloo and popadoms! It was sooo tasty- again. In the afternoon we put on our waterproofs and walked up the main road to kurseong to see if the train ticket office was open to buy tickets for tomorrow. It took 45 minutes to walk there and the strike was due to finish at 2pm and things should have opened again- but in true Indian style they didn’t. 2pm came and went as we wandered along the streets of Kurseong hunting for a shop selling chai or an English newspaper or just a sign that things might open any time soon. No such luck on that front. The little door in the loco shed was open through and a man in there said that a train will arrive at 2pm tomorrow from Darjeeling. I was dubious at first but as we walked back past the train station there were 2 men with crowbars, spades and little shovels just the right size to fit between the rails at a junction cleaning out between the tracks. Maybe we will be in luck! We wandered back down the main road, stopping briefly to watch some kiddies playing football on a waterlogged patch of mud in bare-feet before resting for tea at Cochrane Palace. Sam had a pot of green Darjeeling tea and I had a green berry Darjeeling teas which tasted like a lot of lemon but was much better with a spoonful of honey. Sam had enough tea for 5 or 6 cups so I helped him out- it was light and crispy  lovely. We pondered over how strange it is to be here without Sam’s mum and dad and decided that maybe we shouldn’t have come back here. When we asked for the bill we asked the waiter if he knew how we could get from Makaibari to Kurseong with our big bags tomorrow as he is from here and somehow everyone here knows that we are staying in a home stay. The owner came over to warn us about the trouble in Kurseong but when we assured him that we already knew about the strike he told us to ask Shila for a taxi but if all else fails then call him and he’ll arrange one for us- how nice! We played cards by candle-light in our room when the electricity died intermittently and drank 2 cups of tea before a lovely dinner of momos- the best we’ve ever had as they weren’t soggy! More cards and a bit of diary writing before bed- in our mosquito nets tonight.

Posted by SamAmy 15:01 Archived in India Comments (0)

Wandering in Darjeeling Tea Fields.


We said goodbye to Sam's parents at the Tea Estate in the morning before they drove off to the airport and the mood was of mutual sadness, it doens't feel like they've been here for very long. We sat and sulked for a little while in our room before the daughter of the family, Dipika came to ask if we'd like some tea. We sat in the dining room and enjoyed sugary Darjeeling tea and a chat about what we do. Dipika is studying history at colege in Darjeeling before she goes to Kolkata to do an MA.

The morning was spent sat on the step outside our room writing our diaries and watching Dipikas 2 younger cousins play fighting and the boy drwaing on his biceps saying "superman" and the girl playing with an empty foundation container, patting the remnants of white powder onto her cheeks and looking at herself in the mirror. As soon as we got the camera out they came running over, they wanted their photo taking and, that done, they wanted to take some photos of their own. We gave the girl the camera and she took over 150 photos of Sam, Me and the boy cousin (and also some of her own face). We had a delicious lunch then threw on our walking shoes and headed off into the tea fields to hopefully see some tea-pickers at work. Sadly we had no such luck as it is Sunday but we came across a lane leading down through the tea bushes so followed it for a while. We saw a tunnel spider in a tea plant and I tried to take a photo of a yelow and black caterpillar on macro but when I got close the first time he attacked the camera lea dn the second time it lanched itself at my leg! The views of the valley down below us were lovely as it had turned into a clear afternoon. We walked down for several hours, traversed the hillside a little then after pondering over a Hindu grave (as we thought Hindus were cremated) we headed back up to the road. Although the road was not busy we decided that it was much nicer walking in the fields so we took a path down back in the direction of our homestay. We fought our way through the overgrown tea bushes and reached the path which led through the forest back- I looked down and what did I see, a leech! One of the 'searching' leeches with a really long body and one end streches out and searches for something to stick to! I saw one on my shoe so we stopped to get it off and then I saw 2 on my other shoe trying to get through the mesh. I took one shoe off and Sam de-leeched it and I did the other one then we headed straight back to the road. When we arrived at the house, Shila (the mother) made us tea and it started to rain so we sat in our room and wrote our diaries and planned the next potential section of our trip to the NE states. There was a powercut so we wrote by candlelight for a little while before giving up and getting into bed.

(Note to self- always put moquito net up if in doubt as I was pestered by the little critters buzzing past my ears all night!)

Posted by SamAmy 20:55 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Darjeeling zoo and Makaibari Tea Estate


I woke up early and toyed with the idea of going to see if DAS photography was open to get our memory card back before breakfastbut in the end decided that dozing was a much better plan! I finally got up at 8am when Kate knocked on our door to say that breakfast was ready.

After some slightly less mouldy tasting porridge than yesterday we got into the car with all of our bags and drove through the centre of Darjeeling (which is still bunkered down) to the zoo. We learnt today that the reason for everything still being closed today was that during the strike yesterday, the leader of one of the main Gorkhaland political parties was stabbed to death right in te centre of Darjeeling!

We paid and insted of getting the little tickets that the locals get, we got A4 sheets detailing the current animal breeding programmes and a list of animals in the zoo (I guess we paid enough more for it!) The first mammal that we saw was a cloudy leopard, pacing backwards and forwards at the back of it's cage. It had a beautiful pattern, the same as a normal leopard but instead of black spots it had random shaped patches. We found a snow leopard peacefuly sleeping in his enclosure, he didn't seem too bothered by the screaming children and the adults busy trying to wake it up to see it move. There were lots of pretty multi-coloured birds and 2 tigers, both sleeping just in view if you stood on your tip-toes on the wall.

On the path through the zoo was the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute museum which housed crampons, rucsacks and ropes amongst other artifacts from Everest expeditions. There were numerous letters, photos and information boards describing the Himalayas and various expeditions which I read a few of before we went back to the zoo to see the final animals.

We located some Himalayan wolves and I atched them for a little while, one was peacfully asleep and the the other obviously bothered by the noisy Indians shouting at them. I looked down the path and saw Kate waving furiously so Sam and I ran (quietly) down and saw the Himalayan black bear, right there at the front of his enclosure! He slowly retreated up the hillside and we thought that that was it for the day but then, as we walked around the corner, we found two bears sat down, licking their lips and posing! Gee came rushing across to us and said that there is another Dharba (strike) starting at 2pm and it was quite obvious from the emptying of the zoo that something big was going to happen so we snached a quick look at the red pandas before trundling doen the hill to the car and driving towards Kurseong which is only 26km away. We stopped at a monastery in Sonada which is Gee's local monastery and is the yellow hat sect. We drove to Cochrane Place, our hotel for tonight which is awesome! We had a late lunch and then investigated our rooms- two single four-poster beds and a brown bear on Sam's pillow saying have a nice stay.

In the afternoon Gee drove us down to the Maraibari Tea Estate where we had a little tour of the factory (after putting on silly little hats that didn't fit onto any of our heads) We looked at the processes that the tea goes through; withering, rolling, fermenting, drying and sorting. The sorting was the part that I found most interesting, there were large machines with several sieves of different sizez one above another, with the largest at the top. Tea leaves were poured onto the top and the whole thing vibrated so that the leaves fell through and out into separate containers! We had seen a poster advertising homestays in the factory so on the way out we asked the guide about it. He phoned a man who came down to show us around the different houses offering homestays. We felt bad looking around them all to ony choose one, so we chose the first place out of the two which was nice enough and the lady seemed friendly. We agreed to come at 9.30am tomorrow as Sam's parents go to Bagdogra to fly to Delhi tomorrow :(

Gee drove us to the train station and the Billmore family went to work identifying whether the steam engines were in good nick, how long they'd ben sat there for and the quality of the coal used. I took some photos of them analysing the trains and when the light started to fade we stocked up on water and biscuits for our homestay and wandered back past the tea plantations to our hotel. The four poster beds were as comfy as they looked!

Posted by SamAmy 02:55 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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