Another day in darjeeling
Trip Start Sep 28, 2008
11Trip End Oct 12, 2008
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Where I stayed
The Palace Hotel
Neither of us had been able to sleep and Gabe ended up going out at 4:30 in the morning, managing to see some beautiful sites that he'll have to describe. All I know is that I will be joining him tomorrow morning & hope the sun will be out.
He came back about 9:00 and I went out to buy a shirt as I managed to leave 1 of the 3 shirts I brought with me at the last hotel we stayed at in Siliguri. This was my first time out alone. Gabe has handled the money so now it was my turn to haggle over prices. All went well and I got a shirt. Maybe now I won't be stared at so much. I don't know if the stares are b/c I'm white, female, Western, have curly hair or wearing a shirt with a collar which you do not see any women wearing. Both of our shoes seem to be a source of curiousity as well... let's face it: we basically get stared out pretty much all the time. The stares are friendly and when we smile or speak, people generally smile back. People will stop us to have their pictures taken with us and we are both flattered by this and find it funny and interesting. Gabe, in particularly, is quite the celebrity as his height is such an extreme by comparison to those around us. Many ask us where we are from, usually with some difficulty getting the words out but as I was told, its not how well you speak but how well you are understood. We generally know what they are trying to say.
This area has much more of a Tibetan influence given how close we are to Tibet and Bhutan. Many of the markets have items to sale from those countries. The markets are small little stalls, most with a tarp roof and they set up and take down every day. The items are gathered in huge sacks and then a man will tote them on his back with a strap around his forehead to wherever. I have seen everything from bricks to onions being carried this way. There are a few stores like we might think of but many more open air stalls.
We went to a really good zoo today and saw snow leopards, red pandas, red fox, tigers, barking deer, monkeys of a different sort, pheasants..... the signs that read "silence" are ignored by most. Went to a mountaineering institute as well....the walk was beautiful and on our way I jumped when a bunch of monkeys came out of the trees. What a riot! The don't bother you I'm told unless you have food & then I guess its anyone's game.
Things I notice: everything is in duplicate, sometimes put down 3 times....we'll have numerous forms to sign every time we check in a hotel. Nothing moves quickly. Waiting is just something that you do. for everything like hot water, meals.... things I've taken for granted in the past. Also, there are concrete covers over holes in the street but for the most part, the holes are just there. You have to look b/c if you don't, you could very easily fall into a 2 x 2 ft. square opening. Most of the light bulbs are energy efficient. People have different color 'spots' on their forehead, so far I've seen red and pink, and my guess is it has to do with what temple or god they paid homage to that day... not sure. The pink is raised, the red is flat and is often painted in the hairline as well. The men also will have the 'marks' on their forehead. Dogs everywhere but have yet to see one cat. There are numerous switches to turn on the lights and it makes little sense to me. We have to turn on the water heater to have hot water and wait for it to warm up. We could have gotten a room that only had hot water at certain times but opted for this instead. This morning I'm sitting by our 2nd story window and a man is out on our ledge which is no more than a foot wide at that, watering the flowers.
This place has more tourists, mostly Indian and Tibetan, but we've met people from the Netherlands also... we might see 2 or 3 other white people but that's it. I give Darjeeling credit though, they are making great strides in trying not to be aggressive in getting people into their stores, and they have "dustbins" for the trash. Early in the morning, people are out with 2 foot brooms sweeping. By comparison, this place is extremely clean.
We generally look for places to eat that have a lot of customers and so far, the food has been excellent. I managed to get a veg pizza tonight... large, maybe 6 inches round with green pepper, onion, tomato and cost 50 rupees.... less than $1. Gabe got a veggie burgie and 'finger chips' ( french fries) with tomato sauce ( ketchup). We always drink mineral water and use it to brush our teeth as well... not taking any chances although everytime I eat, I do cross my fingers... so far, its worked.
We got soaked in a downpour on the way back from the zoo so Gabe is drying out in the coffee shop while I'm here in the same Internet cafe that we went to last night. It is not even a block away from our hotel. It's much more damp here and we're finding that our clothes aren't drying so Gabe's wearing thermal socks with soaking wet shoes, thermal pants with shorts and his Velcro shirt... we figure we can get by with wearing about anything since we're already an oddity of sorts.
Tomorrow we plan to go to another hotel, one that looks towards the lower Himalayas and maybe hire a jeep and venture out. You could not pay me to drive here. It will make driving in Raleigh seem like a Sunday stroll. We like it here a lot and its such a change from the heat in Calcutta. Also, there are few beggars although when we were sitting outside eating and a woman comes up wanting money... and continues to stand there watching me eat while I try to ignore her..... its really, really tough. You have to wonder if you're doing the right thing. I don't know if we are or not by not giving money out. Its such small sums to us yet the level of poverty so vast that there's no way we could help everyone. We are, however, a soft touch for the children and generally give them something.
Most of all, being in India unsettles you from your comfort zone and you are forced to see how truly privileged you are, for the most simple of things.I still believe we are more similar than different: family matters regardless, everyone wants a good meal, a place to rest their head.
Until next time, namaste....