We woke up in the town of New Jalpaiguri (NJP – where the train dropped us the night before) to blue sky, cows, horns, rubbish, and I to a sore throat and a snotty nose.
Our journey onwards from here to Darjeeling took 30mins in an auto rickshaw, 3 hrs in a jeep (with 8 others and a roof piled high with luggage), one flat tyre, 75km and £3.60 each.
Naturally Micha had to play a role in the tyre change.
As we neared the hilltop city, the roads became narrower as we wound our way through the mountains, and the faces and eyes of the people became wider and more nepalese looking.
We disembarked in the centre of the town, a hub for jeeps beeping loudly at each other, and we opened the door to crowds of (mostly indian) tourists, noise and still more pollution, which was really irritating my sore nose. We were surprised to find so much infrastructure tottering on the edge of the cliffside in an area which was geographically so formidable.
Trudging up the steep streets we found a sign for our hotel reception plastered above KFC…not quite the romantic getaway we’d envisaged. Luckily it turned out this was just an office building and the hotel itself was still further up the hill, where instead our manager greeted us with the news of an upgrade! And so we found ourselves in a beautiful old colonial style chalet room, with a fire place and a long wooden veranda like balcony wrapping around the outside of the building displaying a magnificent backdrop of the Himalayas, including the snow topped Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest peak.
Here we spent a blissful few days drinking in the fresh mountain air along with plenty of tea, gazing over the valleys below us and some tourist sights, stopping for warm palm toddy in tiny mountain huts hidden away amongst the vegetation.
The Mahakal Temple, a special place where both Buddhists and Hindus pray together was my favourite attraction, mostly because of the religious jingle jangle disco music blaring our from 4foot high speakers.
We saluted the new year in these mountains, and on NYE itself we found ourselves discussing Putin’s leadership over dinner with a group of young Russians, ending the evening on the dance floor with a very merry crowd of indians at a private party in the fanciest hotel in town!
Finally it was time to leave in a similar fashion to the way we had arrived; packed in the back of a jeep, this time with 9 others inside and 2 hanging off the back. We waved goodbye to the crowded streets with coloured flags flying from roofs, people carrying huge sacks from straps running over their foreheads and a conga line of jeeps heading in and out of the city.
Next stop Mane Bhanjang, from where we can reach Sandakphu, the highest peak in West Bengal at 3636m, a recommendation from a new friend made whilst playing with sparklers on NYE.