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Saturday 20th November - Siliguri
By Claire
Monday, 22nd November 2004 05:49

At about 8am, a nice man came along to tell us that we'd arrive in Siliguri in about three hours' time. I sat on the bottom bunk with Mikey, reading, and the French girls went back to bed. Another man came in and looked around. Then he took off his shoes and climbed into the top bunk, my bed, and slept. It was so surprising that neither of us said anything, and an hour later, when the French girls woke up and saw him we just had to shrug. It was quite funny.

Then came the non-stop call of chai-coffee-coffee-chai, the men popping their heads through the curtains offering video games, cameras and mobile phones, and the endless stream of children begging. We ignored them all. Between the carriages, the train door was open, which must have been how the beggars and sellers climbed in. There were children sitting near it, pushing a pile of rubbish out of the train.

We arrived in Siliguri at about 10.30 and went straight to a hotel to sleep. I was feeling a bit better than yesterday but still dizzy and sick, and my back hurt. Mikey went out to get tickets for the 'toy train' a narrow guage (so Mikey says, 610mm, to be exact. I just thought it was a cute little train) railway that goes up through the Himalayan foothills to Darjeeling. The hotel looked clean from the outside, but on further inspection, the duvets had big yellow stains on them, the pillows were grey and the beds had no sheets. I slept in my mummy bag.

Later in the afternoon when I woke up, we went into the town itself to get some crisps and chocolate, the only things I felt like eating. I've been getting fed up with gritty rice and hair in my curry! Siliguri itself seems to be a giant landfill site, with a sewer added to it for good measure. In fact, at the station (near where the sign outside the restaurant tells us not to eat or drink anything bought from food vendors on the platforms or on the trains as it's probably drugged) there was an area called a urinal which was just a large pit of grey sludge over which a bunch of men were standing. Most people in the town, though, didn't limit themselves to clearly marked areas. There were cowpats all over the station too, and old beggar men sitting in swarms of flies. I'm really beginning to dislike India, and I'm seriously considering taking my Wise Old Uncle Bob's advice and getting out of here!

The best thing about the walk into town was the large billboard in the middle of a rubbish dump that declared the whole of the Darjeeling region to be a Plastic Bag-Free area and that the selling, using, carrying or discarding of carrier bags was an offence and punishable by a hefty fine. Made me laugh, anyway.

We wanted to try and find some tissues or loo paper too, because Mikey's been sneezing and sniffing due to the dust and the pollution, but it was hard to find because no-one uses either of them here. In fact, the last time we bought tissues, the man had to climb a ladder to a box at the very back of his shop, and bash about six years of dust off it. But we managed that, and the least dusty bags of crisps and some more water. There were some little bridges over the village stream near a children's cricket match that could have been rather pretty had there been water and not sewage in the river, and had the village green not been a rubbish dump.

I have a radical idea that might help India quite a lot. Firstly, the ultimate aim in life shouldn't really be to renounce all posessions and resort to a life of begging. I think that if you really want to do that, you should at least be helping or working for your food. And then, which might not go down too well, round up all the cows, have a great big barbecue, and feed all the hungry people.

Still feeling lousy and really not wanting to do anything at all, I read and dozed and Mikey watched a couple of films on telly. All the programmes are sponsored by about nine different companies at a time, so at each break they have to announce them all. Oh, and there was a lovely little ticker on BBC World: The world's oldest man, who gave up driving at 108 because slow drivers annoyed him died at the age of 113.

People keep bashing on our door and standing there looking agressive. It's possible they just want to know if we want some supper. I've eaten my crisps, which is actually against the hotel's rules, and I just want to go to sleep now.

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