Tea, politics and a step back in time...
Trip Start May 31, 2007
107Trip End May 20, 2008
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
Came back into the city after my village stay and settled into a nice mid-range hotel with the potential spectacular view of the local mountain range. I say potential because I had yet to spend a day in Darjeeling that wasn't primarily overcast and rainy. I keep thinking 'clear, sunny, views' most of the day and was rewarded the following morning with warm rays of sun pouring into the side windows of my guest room. Against my body's will, I forced myself to get out of my warm bed, peeled back the deep red velvet curtains and finally saw the mountains I had been waiting so long to see! Had tea, spoke to some other business tourists from the good ole US of A and headed down to Glenarys for a western/British type breakfast and another view of the the town and hills.
The night before, I had walked over to Glenary's to do some Internet and have a bite to eat. After the remote server crashed (a usual occurrence) I got to talking with a woman from France and ended up joining her and her boyfriend downstairs to listen to what turned out to be a fantastic blues cover band. Had a tasty glass of sweet white wine, garlic naan and a savory corn flake chili dusted snack mix (only in India!) and danced and drank the night away.
So anyway, after breakfast I wandered back to the hotel and then with one of the guys from the hotel, went off to see the zoo and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. At the zoo, finally saw a tiger, snow leopard, various types of wolves and a red panda
We headed off to Siliguri then NJP train station where I was due to pick up my overnight train to Kolkata at 20:00. Arrived with minimal complication, and even though the weather had been slowly heating up as we headed down from Darjeeling, the humidity and heat began to hit me as I wandered around the station waiting for the train.
As we drove out of Darjeeling, we saw a couple of crowds of people, mostly young men, standing by the side of the road with sticks or pieces of wood...they would stop our jeep and then wave us by. It was a bit unnerving to be passing through what seemed to be the beginnings of a political protest relating to the locals desire to secede from the state of West Bengal and create their own state of Gorkhaland. Luckily we passed through without much delay.
I enjoyed a freshly prepared masala dosa (thin savory pancake with spicy potato filling) from a local stall and boarded the train around 19:00 and ended up sitting with a group of locals who worked together and were returning from their holiday together
In the morning, we all went on our way, I had a terse negotiation with an industrious if a bit dishonest taxi driver...and arrived at the Fairlawn Hotel right in the midst of the main Sudder Street tourist area. The taxi driver had walked into the station and picked me out of the crowd and followed me saying 'pre-paid taxi miss' over and over again, and then proceeded to bypass the official pre-paid taxi booth where you are supposed to pay a fixed rate and get into a cue and steer me over to his dilapidated taxi. I answered 100 rupees to his initial offer of 150 knowing that even 100 was about twice what the price should be. Each time he refused, I put my backpack on and got out of the taxi shaking my head and saying 100...then he'd nod his head, I'd get back in, then he'd say 120 and the whole process would start again. Finally, he theoretically agreed to the 100 and away we went. As usual, he said he knew where the hotel was, then just happened to mention another hotel as the destination (probably one where he would receive a commission) and then the discussion continued between us because of course he didn't actually know where the Fairlawn hotel was but had said he did just to get the fare..
After the usual taxi drama, I wandered a block through road construction, human-powered rickshaws, dogs, cows, street vendors, mud, broken bricks, water puddles and 'other' puddles into what was certainly the most serene, green, and tranquil throwback to another era that I had experienced in a while. Sat in the reception of the former British Raj Mansion that had been converted to the Fairlawn Hotel, had breakfast, checked-in, cleaned up...I could see the dirt from the train and city pouring down the drain in the bathtub as I shaved my legs...and set off to the US Embassy to add more pages to my poor suffering passport!
Had a strict by the books shakedown by a serious minded Indian woman at the entrance of the embassy...she even wanted to take my book until the guy working with her nudged her and and suggested that I could keep my book even though the 'regulations' said otherwise, filled out a quick application, had a brief interrogation by embassy staff who witnessed the signature of my 'good' name and after about 30 minutes had about 24 more blank pages!!! I say 'good' name because in India, it is quite common to be asked what your 'good' name is...which roughly translates into the formal name you use in public as opposed to your nickname given to you by your family
Then set off to send yet another package home via the Indian Postal Service. After my initial consultation with the man running a postal package consulting service (term used loosely) in the front lobby of the Post Office, I set off to find a box to put my stuff in, because the guy couldn't sew up my stuff in fabric without it. After my first few inquiries at local businesses, I ended up next to the local trash dump and recycling center (term again used very...loosely) basically a huge pile of refuse piled on the city street where one very thin wirey man was shoveling refuse into the back of an intricately decorated 'goods carrier' truck...black crows and thin dogs all around having their daily bread. The guys collecting paper and cardboard from the locals went back into his warehouse and came out with a relatively clean, thin cardboard box which was just the right size...and at 5 rupees (40 rupees = 1 USD) just the right price!
Brought the box and my stuff back to my 'consultant' and he put it all together, the guy assisting him wrapped it in white cotton fabric and sewed it up and after the rest of the stuff was taking care of...the package was sent back to hopefully arrive in the US via land and air combination in about 45 days!
Planning to have high tea at 16:00 back at the Fairlawn then head off to the Sri Aurobindo Center to take a class in beginner's meditation...frankly, a required skill in India!