< Previous | Next >
Monday 22nd November - Darjeeling
By Claire
Saturday, 27th November 2004 09:32

Our tea arrived at 9am and Mikey was even awake for it! The nice man took our laundry away too. From one of the attic windows we could see a whole snowy range of huge Himalayan mountains, and it was freezing outside. From the other window we could see several men laying out freshly-washed sheets on the roofs to dry. They even swept and wiped the roof first, and there was no poo in sight, which made a change! We had breakfast in the lounge, and I had porrige which was excellent and made me feel all warm and cosy. Then we went to find the internet and to change out train ticket to Agra for a bit earlier so that we don't have to wait for 20 hours in the station. The internet was at the back of a chemist's stall and we spent a bit of time there. On the way out, I asked the chemist if he had any echinacea tablets as we've both been feeling a bit run down and don't want to get ill(er) before Christmas. Unlike most of the other chemists we've asked the same question, this man had actually heard of it and didn't give us acne cream or cough sweets, but he didn't have any because it's a homeopathic remedy. As we left the shop an American lady asked us if we were alright as her husband was a doctor and sometimes the chemists here don't give good advice, which we thought was quite sweet!

We went for a gentle stroll through the town and our first impressions, from last night, were all founded: there were no cows in the town at all; no-one was pooing in the street; there were no flies and the only smells were of coal smoke, steam train and fresh air. The people, almost entirely Tibetan, were quiet, friendly and polite, and we were only asked, half-heartedly and half a dozen times throughout the whole day, if we wanted a taxi to anywhere. It was a wonderful, blissful oasis and I really didn't want to leave!

At the station we joined a very long queue to wait for our turn at the ticket counter. At ten minutes to two we realised that we wouldn't get seen before they closed the office at 2pm so we went to a travel agent that had been recommended who could send someone down to the station at Siliguri for a fee, and collect the tickets on our behalf. When we found the man, he refused to go because he said it was a waste of time: there was no need for us to book that train as it was never full. So we decided to ignore train tickets after all and go for a walk instead.

We were told that there was a nice walk and a temple at the top of town, so we went that way. Darjeeling is really a maze of small lanes and passageways all interwoven and leading into one another and up and down steps all over the mountain side. So many of the houses seemed joined at the strangest places, and one hotel's roof is another's balcony. It's a twisty windy place but full of character, and it was a nice walk. We found a large square with a group of people who seemed to be watching an exorcism of some sort, and a very small horse sleeping. We found the temple after a bit of exploring, and there was a tiny sign on a tree that said, "Beware of Monkeys" which I thought was good advice. A similar sign on the next tree said, "Honesty is the best policy," and more proverbs followed, along with "Not far for ponies," indicating tghat the horse rides started only a small distance from here. As we got close to the temple we could hear the visitors ringing bells, some sort of chanting, the squawking of monkeys and the steam train in the distance. The whole of the hill was covered in strings of prayer flags in bright blues, reds and yellows. Against the wintery blue sky they looked like their very own carnival. The temple was just a small, circular building that had a few Buddha statues in it, all painted in the favourite Tibetan colours of pink, turquoise and gold. A couple of Hindu ladies were sweeping it, someone else was praying there, and a few were ringing the bells on the entrance gate for good luck.

We followed a shady path round the base of the temple and walked through the trees, watching the monkeys playing with one another and the tiny babies learning to jump. Some of them were getting beaten up by older siblings but they all seemed happy enough. By the time we had walked as far as we wanted to, it was time for tea, so we stopped at the Windermere hotel, the best in Darjeeling, for high tea. We were shown into a parlour with polished wooden floors, a blazing coal fire and big settees, and we were served local Darjeeling tea, tiny triangualr sandwiches, sponge cake and home-mae biscuits, which was a lovely way to spend the afternoon! It was getting dark by the time we left, and we walked back the way we'd come. I plucked up the courage to go into one of the tiny shops just off the main square, expecting a barrage of salesmen to swoop on me and make me buy things I hadn't had a chance to look at, but instead, the shopkeeper switched the lights on over the shelves I wanted, the prices of everything were fixed so that there was no haggling, and I was left alone to browse as much as I wanted to. All the shops here were wonderful, and possibly the perfect kind for me: loads of nooks and crannies stuffed with carved wooden bowls, boxes and ornaments, antique brass stautes of Buddhist and Hindu gods, ancient silver jewellery, gemstones, local crafts, rugs, woodwork, paintings, prayer wheels, and dragons, elephants and camels in every size and style and all piled on top of one another. I spent ages and ages just mooching with no-one hassling me, and Mikey even bought me a wonderful rainbow moonstone pendant. I could have spent an absolute fortune on the inexpnsive gemstones in Tibetan and Nepali silver settings, but I don't get to carry money in shops like this, which is a good thing!

We looked in every one of the shops on the way down the hill and they were all the same, but with different versions of everything. We finally stopped for supper and Mikey tried some Tibetan food: he had a choice of thugpas - sogthug, thenthug or gyathug. They turned out to be noodle soups, and very tasty indeed. The vegetable momos were very much like deep-fried Cornish pasties, too.

We were supposed to get up at 3.30 to go and see the sun rise over the mountains, so I went to sleep. As I sat on the bed, though, I must have twisted the wrong way, and I felt something in my side tear and rip and burn for about five minutes. After I'd stopped shaking and some of the pain had gone, I actually felt a bit better than I have for a while - maybe whatever has been hurting has pulled back into place! I do have a worrying area of skin that has absolutely no feeling in it at all, in roughly the same place, though, which has been like that for a fortnight or so. There's not a lot I can do about it, though, so I'll just ignore it for now.

< Previous | Next >