Today, we headed out of Sikkim and west to Darjeeling, which is 3000 feet higher. In part, our itinerary was designed to prepare us for the uphill hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery, at 10,000 feet. Martam is 4500 feet, Darjeeling is 7000 feet and our next stops are 7600 to 9000 feet. We are being given opportunities to walk around, especially uphill. The first part of the drive was back down through Rangpo where we entered Sikkim. This time I was not worried about motion sickness because we were going so slowly and actually got to enjoy the scenery.
At one point, the road circled up several times around a hill like a corkscrew. One of the ways people try to make driving more safe is to sound a horn on the blind curves (or where people are in the road). In this case, the horn sounded solidly for several minutes.
|The lead bus below us -- there were lots of switchbacks, which|
I actually got to enjoy because we drove so slowly.
|We spotted several waterfalls.|
|Interesting looking house, no idea which village.|
|Macaques along the highway|
|There is a folktale about these two rivers as lovers, meeting|
here and joining finally.
|The overlook is a very popular stopping point. We talked to|
to these Indian nuns (from an Indian only sect) at the point.
|We stopped later at a lovely manicured park.|
|The steps at the park were decorated.|
|Looking across the park near the top. There are dozens of|
prayer flags here.
Once we got to the outskirts of Darjeeling, the ride became challenging because of the traffic and geography here. We entered from the east side, but our hotel was near the northwest edge of the city, which is is long and narrow and shaped like an L with the long top part pointed east and the short bottom part pointed south. It is built on steep hills with narrow roads that have too many cars for the space allotted. There are no sidewalks, so the people compete with the cars. Near the end of our trip, our van needed to make a multi-point U-turn and swung to the left to begin it, next to a tall fence. Someone decided to start walking between the car and the fence. He was about even with me as the space he was in kept getting smaller and I was afraid he would get squished.
|One end of the 'Toy Train' which we will ride later.|
|A passenger section of the narrow gauge train."DHR" stands|
for Darjeeling Himalayan Railroad.
|Former city hall where we did a u-turn to get|
into the street the hotel is on.
Our drivers are amazing. They weave in and out of the horrible traffic with only inches or less to spare. The narrow driveway into our hotel has two switchbacks that take multi-point turns to negotiate. Amazingly the van is totally devoid of the scratches that you would assume they would have acquired just in the few days we have been with them.
Our hotel, the Windemere, is set on a hill top with what we are told is a wonderful view of the Himalayas, if only the clouds weren't so thick. It was kind of a club in the old days and has been maintained to keep its original character (and apparently the furniture) with modern upgrades like electricity and running water for the bathrooms. They say it has been restored but not renovated. That is clear from the bathtubs (clawfoot) and electrical connections (exposed or conduited wires along the ceilings and walls). One wonderful old feature is the working coal fireplaces which are lit for us each night. There is no central heat and the small portable radiator is inadequate to the task of keeping the room warm by itself. In addition, the nightly turndown service includes placing a hot water bottle under the bed covers at the foot level.
After we had a chance to settle in, we took a walk around the neighborhood. On the north side of the hill (backside of the hotel) are a bunch of touristy kiosks. Nearby there is a large public square with markets going off in two directions. While we were walking around, we saw a large elaborate stage being constructed for a film that starts production tomorrow. Dinner is in a candlelit dining room that is not a public restaurant. Cellphones are prohibited to foster conversation with the people present.
|St. Andrews Church, established in the 1800s|
|Nearby public square with a backwards aphitheater dwarfed|
by a jumbotron.
|Map of Darjeeling. We are at the top of the left leg, on the|
right edge of the little upside down L at the top. Gorkhaland
is what this section of West Bengal would like to be called
if they ever can break away into their own state.