Darjeeling, the Tea capital of India. Only problem is ‘High Tea’ was bloody expensive if you had it in a posh hotel with tea and cakes! Which we did do… but wont do again! However the tea everywhere else is dirt cheap and really good.
Out of 6 days in Darjeeling it rained for 6 days. Not that we little Aussies cared about that. We LOVE rain as we dont get enough of it back home. Darjeeling’s rainfall for July is around 1600mm. In Benalla (Jarrods home town) the average rainfall for a whole year is around 500mm (although much less in recent years). It was such a relief to step out of the ‘share jeep’ into a cool climate ‘hill station’. Its at the lower range of the Himalaya, and its elevation is at 2134m. The british established Darjeeling in 1828 . They set up camp all the way up in the foothills of the himilayas for two reasons. To escape the heat (good idea) and as it was a important strategic location for the military. The British also introduced the tea plant to the area, so we have them to thank for Indias tea.
We all invested in an umbrella ($1 each) and headed out for some exploring. We visited the zoo and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, which the sherpa Tenzing (first to summit everest with Hillary) is buried.
We then took a day trip down to a place called the ‘rock garden’. A lovely little place to escape and a favorite day trip for the Indians. The following day we set off in a Jeep to a little place called Kalimpong. Our tour stopped at a Cactus farm on the way? A bit strange and not very interesting, but none-the-less a chance to stretch the legs.
We then crossed the Teesta river. In all our time on rivers we have never seen so much water moving so fast. Snow melt combined with monsoon rains in the Himalayas restults in a very powerful force of water. We finally arrived into the township of Kalimpong after a beautiful 3 hour drive through the mountains. We visited some temples and Tibetan monastarys and after a quick bite to eat, we made our way back to Darjeeling. A very worthwhile journey, albeit for the journey itself, not the destination.
Much to our surprise we managed to find a fantastic cinema that was playing Harry Potter in English. Only 4 days beforehand in Varanasi we visited a cinema to watch Harry. We were told by the ticket booth that it was in English, only to find that after sitting through the previews and advertisements in english that Harry was not speaking a magical new language, it was infact Hindi. We left the cinema, could not get our money back, all of a sudden no-one could speak english in the ticket booth and we gave our tickets away to some kids in the street. Luckily they only cost $3.
So needless to say, we were very happy to find an english cinema, way up in a hill station (darjeeling) and have the comfort of watching a western movie.
6 days was enough in Darjeeling and we decided to take the world heritage listed, narrow gauged train down the mountain, affectionately known as the ‘toy train’. An 8 hour, snail-paced crawl down the mountain was quite interesting. The train literally is built on the road. Hence it finds itself stuck in traffic jams, crawling only inches from shop windows and if you need to stretch your legs, you can just hop off and walk beside it for a while.
From the toy train we connected on to an overnight train to Kolkata and arrived early morning. The city has a population of almost 4.5 million, with an extended metropolitan population of over 14 million, making it the fourth largest city in India. The social division here is like no-where else we have seen. In the north of the city we saw some of the worst poverty to date. Incredibly dirty, slum-living. Yet in the south of the city was an incredibly modern, clean area. High-rise buildings, cafes and very little visible sign of poverty. The girls organised a visit to mother-therazes orphanage and helped out for a day. This involved looking after disable children, feeding them and just giving them some hugs and a human touch. Their faces seemed to light-up when they were with Gabe, Dom and Erin.
The following day we took a city tour. On a bus early in the morning and we got the lown-down on the city. Places of worship, museums and many other sites. Worthwhile, but a long day. The evening followed with a river cruise and a live band.
We found Kolkata to be a very friendly city. Not many touts, plenty of places to escape the heat and so much to see. The main part of kolkata was actually pretty clean, the slums were obviously not.
We then boarded one of the worst flights we have been on. A local flight from Kolkata to New Delhi. Horrible turbulance (which could have been avoided) and then very nearly over-running the runway on landing. It was actually quite scary how close it was.
We thought all our troubles were over.
We then paid for a pre-paid taxi in the airport and got into a car. The drive immediately tried to take the voucher from me (Jarrod), but of course I did not give it to him. You NEVER give up the voucher until you reach your destination. This is that standard practice and this put us all on edge immediately. After a bit a hassle we started driving. Then the driver demanded more money from us, he claimed it was extra for baggage and this was complete bullshit, as we had already paid extra for the baggage. I told him to stop the car, he wouldn’t, I then yelled at him to stop and pulled on the handbrake, of course the bloody handbrake did not work, the driver kept going and we still had not left the airport compound and this guy was very dodgy. 3 girls in the car, in a country with men that think western women all want sex what else could I do? I grabbed the steering wheel and turned the vehicle towards parked cars and concrete poles, of course he had to put on the brakes and when he did we all got out and told him to go away (ok, it was not that polite). We got another taxi and had no further problems! What a day!
Back in Delhi. Jarrod sick. (Serves me right for eating a chicken wrap in a developing worlds airport!) 24hours later, well enough for a tour. We saw the sights and enjoyed the amazing architecture.
The next day we were on a 6am train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal! And what a sight it is! The beauty and size of this building it something you cannot compare to anything else in the world. Not much to do but just look at it, and you could do that for hours! (Will put up photos of it soon!)
The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned it as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Construction began in 1632 and was completed in approximately 1648. It is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture. Alll traffic and major industries around the building have been closed down. The only cars allowed nearby are run by electricity. This is to stop the erosion caused by their emmisions.
Back to Delhi, said a sad farewell to the girls (Dom and Erin) and we are now in Thailand for our holiday at the end of our adventure!
India was great. We really enjoyed our time there. Travelling in India is full of ups and downs, but the ups are so great it makes it worthwhile for the hard times!
Love Jarrod and Gabe
PS: We are back in Australia in 3 weeks and will be thirsty for a nice crisp Pale Ale!!!!!
pps: you may have noticed that some of the blogs are missing. Much to our horror the server which looks after the blogs crashed and lost most of them. In total over 47,000 blogs were lost. Thankfully we managed to recover some and the others have been printed out by family and we will re-type them when we get home. Keep backing up your data!