Darjeeling

The chic way of going to Darjeeling, is by the "Toy train" up from the plains. But it's slow and not that dependable and you will get really dirty and ti will take hours and hours. It's for the train enthusiasts. The rest of us go for the trip Ghoom - Darjeeling.

That leaves buses and share taxis. I came on a day when there was a strike, and I was the only one at Bagdora going for Darjeeling, so I had to get a jeep all by myself.

Tea plantation on the other side of the valley at Bothia Busti

There are plenty of hotels in Darjeeling. The fancy one is the Windamere, once a bachelors club when the tea business was new and Darjeeling just a little hamlet. It is very British, and today a place where people from India and Nepal go on a honeymoon - the wealthy ones, that is.

I went for the Dekeling; it is nice and clean and quite reasonable prices. It is run by a very friendly Tibetan family, and there is no mistake: The boss is the lady of the house. If you can take it, you get a lot of practising - two ladies living on the top counted 99 steps. I got a room just under them, a spacious room with a great view. If only the sky had cleared up, there would have been a superb view of the Kanchenjunga.

Downstairs is the hotel restaurant Dekevas. It is nothing special, but a good place to meet fellow western travellers and students of Buddhism and the Tibetan language - and the odd Calcuttan family too.

If you stay at the Dekeling, you go just a little down and to the left to find the General Post Office, and the Bank of India or ANZ Grindlays if you are in a hurry and don't mind to get a little less rupees for your money. The Bank of India is a lot of waiting in line; first get the form, then fill in the form and all this. Those knowing the system can get the form by bypassing the line, though. In this road there also is some antiques stores, and near the top you will find the Nathmulls Tea Shop, a great place to order your tea to be sent home. I get all my tea from this place, ordering by e-mail. Mr. Sarda will remember what your choice in teas are when you happen to visit Darjeeling!

If you choose to go to the right when you go out of the restaurant Dekevas, you will enter The Mall, a lively street of shops selling almost everything, and at the top is the Chowrasta and the Windamere.

A very sleepy Calcuttan boy at Dekevas late at night.

(Click on picture for more Snow Leopards.)

Going more or less straight down from the Hotel Dekeling, and a little to the right, will lead to the market area and eventually the bus and share taxis. Going past the taxies down Hill Cart Road, you will find the Deputy Commissioners Office, where you apply for the Sikkim Permit. Or rather: You first go to get the form, then fill it in, go to the Foreign Registration Office in Laden La Road (just below the ANZ Barclay office) to get a stamp and be written into some book, then back down to the Deputy Commissioners Office to get the final approval (and being entered into still more books). It is all just a formality, but the process comes with a IBW (Indian Bureaucrazy Warning) be there fifteen minutes before opening, be prepared to wait for half an hour even if you are the first in the line, and don't loose your temper or show any sign of irritation. If you do that, it is possible to get the permit in one day!

Further down the Hill Cart Road you can cross over to the Jahawar Road West. If you go up, you will reach the Windamere and Chowrasta, if you go down you will find the Snow Leopard Breeding Centre, a kind of zoo that is well kept away from the busy Indian life, in a small "jungle". There are pandas there too. Even further down is the ropeway to Singtam, a must for those seeking those kinds of thrills - if it works that day. Singtam used to be a great place to get robbed, but I think it is a little safer now.

So the Chowrasta is also a good place to start this walk, just keep left to the Windamere. At the Chowrasta there is a very good bookstore, and a couple of restaurants have terraces with a great view to the southeast, high over the valley. If you take the road going down on the right side of the Windamere, you will find the Buthia Busti Gompa, or you can follow the signs to the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre. If you ask, there then is a short-cut to the Bothia Busti monastery.

The Bothia Busti monastery used to be on the top of the hill, where the Windamere is today. It is the Dorje Ling (The place of the thunderbolt - or the monastery of the Dorje Lama), and is used by the mainly Bothia and Tibetans living down at Bothia Busti. There is a lot of racist hate regarding this - the Nepalese Ghurkhas feel that this area is their property, as it was given to them by the British Raj, and so they want everybody else thrown out.

"Darjeeling for Ghorkas only"-teacher.

Boys near Botihia Busti, on their way to school

This symbol was often accompanied by racist slogans, but will also be seen in the Buddhist monasteries in quite another connection.

One of the ordianry citicens of Darjeeling.

From the Chowrasta it is also a very nice walk to the Aloobari Gompa, another old monastery where the dark hall is very good for meditation. There is a burial site there, and lots and lots of small chortens. Just start by the stables at Chowrasta, and keep left at any junction where the road does not lead down in the valley. If you then go on, you will reach Jorebangla (or Jorebungalow - or possibly some other way of writing it). It is a great walk along the hillside, with just the occasional house here and there. Just past Jorebangla is Ghoom. If you walk a little in the direction of Tiger Hill, there is the Phin Sotholing Gompa; new and nothing special, but a very friendly place. Then you just follow the railroad track to the Ghoom Railway station, to catch a train or a share jeep or a bus.

If you got the time, there are more monasteries here. Follow the maroon-robed monks to a large monastery-school, or take left by the Ghoom Post Office, to find the original old Ghoom Gompa, with some very interesting statues - the main one is the Maitreya, blue-eyed, sitting on a chair.

This monastery can also be reached walking to the left of the Dekeling, AJC Bose Road. You will pass a hideous amusement park, and maybe be helped to find the short-cut at the school just past this establishment.

Actually I am not a very good guide for Darjeeling. I was not still well after food-poisoning in Dehli, so I just had some soup or something like that at the Dekevas. The one day I tried something else, I went to the Park, down the Laden La Road. It is a nice place to get Indian food in the Indian manner.

My "Kiwi" friend Dave, who I met in Gangtok, recommenced to take the Singalila trek. It was included in my plans, but I just wasn't up to it. Be very careful what you eat at that track though. He got a very bad stomach illness, in spite of the correct vaccinations.

Though there are beggars, they are not anytning like in the big cities.

These kids lived in a small house along the road from Aloobari to Ghoom.