Saturday, November 19, 2005

Delhi to Darjeeling

Burdett and Fowler assembled at Heathrow on Sunday night ready for the off . Fowler, ably assisted by Kate was slightly late due to a late deliberation on how many pairs of undercrackers to pack, though even this late undergarment panic was not enough to stop them getting the flight. The plane journey was largely uneventful and Fowler commented that the predicted turbulence on the flight hadn’t materialised – within seconds the plane took a hammering and sent the steward flying down the asle which the pair definitely didn’t find funny. Oh.. and Fowler was slightly embarassed at Burdett laughing out loud all the way through the ‘Wedding Crashers’. Topics of conversation were largely based on how to cope with the taxi/hotel touts in Delhi and finding our way around in Delhi and…. Well how we’ll cope with Delhi full stop. The plane was landing so we were about to find out. Safely through customs they got the expected swarm of people after our hard earned cash. Luckily Des had the foresight to book up a hotel and complimentary taxi pick up in advance through However, in his inifinite wisdom he forgot to let the hotel know which flight they were on. So a swift trip to get change and to get to a pay phone was required.On the eigth attempt Des got through and a taxi was despatched to pick us up, though numerous touts had overheard the conversation and were plotting their next move. While they waited numerous attempts were made to lure the inexperienced Delhites away including a mobile phone thrust in their direction with the man on the line insisting that our hotel had changed plans etc… Before long the man arrived with Mr Derrick on a slip of paper – this was good enough for us. As the taxi departed the pair began to relax a little, just as the car almost smashed into a goat standing in the middle of the dual carriageway. Indeed the traffic in Delhi was quite incredible – mopeds with impossible loads and sometimes four passengers, rickshaws jostling for position, cows acting as roundabouts and traffic islands and the odd pedestrian trying to get run over. Somewhow the taxi made it to the hotel in Karol Bagh – which turned out to be pretty good. All that remained was to have a quiet nap and an excellent curry and kingfisher down at the Crossroads restaurant. Thanking their lucky stars that the curry had passed peacefully so to speak, the pair strode out for a little sight seeing. First was the Jama Masjid – a huge mosque offering excellent views from its towers. Then on to the Lil Quila (Red Fort), which turned out to be very picturesque and peaceful and offered some respite from the blur of Delhi. The fort also had a couple of small museums offering some history of the Murgh empire and of Indias miitary past. Next was New Delhi rail station to get some train tickets to New Jalpaiguri. After receiving a lot of bogus directions and information (and very little help from the guide book) the pair managed to fight their way to the tourist ticket office on the first floor of the station. Getting the tickets was fairly easy and the train was leaving the next day at 2pm, luckily we were on a Rajdhani Express which includes food and drinks – though we were in third class. Our guide book neglected to say that tickets (20 quid each for a 1500km journey) need to be purchased with dollars, pound or euros – luickily we had enough. Another trip was called for to the Crossroads restaurant and Des decided to go for something a little more exotic, like a Jalfrezi but with less chilli, it turned out to be one of the all time culinary experiences, and ever since he has been cursing the fact he forgot what it was called. Des was thinking this is a really top restaurant as he was walking back from the gents just as a mouse ran in front of him in the dining room. New Delhi station turned out to be huge and our train left from platform 12- on a walk about Des realised that the roof of the platfrom building was crawling with monkeys. Soon th train arrived and the 21 hour journey began. The standard of service on the train was exceptional and third class turned out to be comfortable and relaxing. Passengers were constantly plied with tea in personal thermos flasks and some fantastic curries and dahls were served which after a short deliberation the pair couldn’t resist and didn’t regret it. Between conversations with a really nice Nepali bloke opposite Ollie mainly read the guide book and Des tried to make his way through his novel. There were a few stops and a chance to stretch legs for 5 minutes at the station close to Agra. Bunk beds were fine though Des did manage to rip his cords getting into the middle bunk – which Ollie found highly amusing and let all the passengers in the carriage know. After a very fragmented nights sleep 6am brought another pot of tea and a crisp copy of the Times of India which heralded Englands cricket loss. Ollie was still asleep (after several hours of trying) but the tea man kept prodding him till he woke up much to Des’ amusement. Enormous rivers, bridges, mud huts , farms and plains were passing by and before long the train arrived at its destination at Siliguri. We soon managed to agree a price for a cab up to Darjeeling as the Toy Train had already left that morning. Though the distance was only 80km the ride took roughly 4 hours and passed through some stunning terrain in the foothills. The cab driver had a death wish and would not stop tooting his horn all the way whch after the 167th time was starting to get slightly annoying. Soon we’d arrived at Darjeeling at around 2200 metres altitude. Trekking up to the decided hotel of choice the Aliment, through the mist and clouds took a while as our guide book let us down again with a truly awful map – it was decided to get a Lonley Planet ASAP. Hotel was spartan but clean and even had an en-suite hole in the ground. Upstairs is a great cafĂ© offering great views but saddly visibility was too poor. Lots to do in Darjeeling and the lads couldn’t wait to have a good look around(to be continued)

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