Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Leaving Darjeeling

Good start to the day with a nice cold shower. It’s pouring with rain outside, and I wonder why I decided to share jeep it to the airport instead of just booking a cab. Direct is 1,100r, i.e about 14 pounds, for a three hour journey! Oh no, I have to take a shared jeep and tuk tuk, putting me through lots of pain to save a couple of pounds!

Down to the Shared Jeep Stand, where we take the whole second row, for 80r each seat, 4 seats. This proves to be an embarrassment on the ride, as people are cramming in everywhere else, but we sit with space and luxury in the middle, backpack on seat etc.

The jeep is going to Siliguri, but they’re going to drop us at Darjeeling More. I have no idea where that is, but apparently it’s a junction beforehand where we’ll be able to negotiate something to the airport.

Soon into the ride I need the loo – could be related to the gallon of tea I drank before leaving. Rain trickles down the windscreen, we pass waterfalls, torrential rain on and off, running water everywhere. My bladder aches. I start to worry about the medical implications of rupture down there. Not good by all accounts.

Eventually we stop. Thank the Lord! The road is pretty bad all the way down. On reaching the plain, we pass through an enormous army base, then arrive at Darjeeling More, where we are bundled into a tuk tuk for 170r. I try to haggle but it’s hopeless, and raining, so I give in. I’m sure it’s a rip off.

The road turns out to be a bit shocking, with the tuk tuk taking some really nasty bumps, so I feel less bad about the price. He gets us to the airport in good time, and after getting a paper print out of my e-ticket for the army morons at the front to let me in to the airport, we check in and relax in the over-staffed airport restaurant.

When we head through the gate, the girl on security wants to see all of my electronics in my hand luggage, know what they are and see them switched on! Laptop, Canon SLR, Panasonic, Portable HD, portable speakers, mp3 player and goodness knows what else all comes out. She doesn’t understand what a portable hard drive is.

Dalai Lama doesn’t get frisked

When we get airborne, I notice that the airplane seems to be flying in the wrong direction! Consulting the schedules, I twig. We’re going to Guwahati in Assam first! No wonder the flight takes 3 ½ hours. We circle over the Brahmaputra River before making a brief stop.

Checking their schedule, it would seem Air Deccan alternate between the two on days. So yesterday or tomorrow would be direct to Delhi, having stopped in Assam first. That’s why they were more expensive for those days. Overall I’m impressed with them so far, except that online booking doesn’t accept international credit cards. I’ve found a way round this though – book through makemytrip.com, an Indian travel portal, and you can get the same price. Nice!

Coffee onboard comes not exactly as their menu picture implies, a beautifully-made cappuccino with cocoa sprinkled on top and froth patterned, instead as a 3-in-1 sachet, even with sugar included already! They give us extra sugar, just in case.

Down early, a quick bus to the domestic terminal, luggage, and out. We’ve bought a pre-pay taxi for 205 rupees. Problem is, no one wants the fare. Might be because we’re going to the train station, which is not far, and no chance of scamming us on rooms.

Eventually someone agrees to take us, and it’s about 30 minutes to New Delhi Train Station, through heavy but not jammed up traffic.

I’m impressed with the greenery. Skirt President’s Palace, guards go by on horseback.

New Delhi, jumped on by the usual touts, not very pleasant, but we battle our way in and find on the first floor a foreigners travel bureau place, airconditioned with wifi. Wifi doesn’t work, but at least they are trying!

What the foreigner office avoids

Confirm that we’re not sitting together (!), then go round the corner for a meal. Thuzar orders various things off the menu, but is ignored – we get two “dinners”, metal trays with various curries, and rice.

Next platforms. Somehow we enter not knowing which platform we need, so we walk across the bridge, but this doesn’t go to all platforms. Down, along a crowded 6 and 7, then back up the next footbridge. Can’t see our train, so start to head back to the concourse when it’s announced – arriving at platform 9, from Mumbai, the Golden Temple Express bound for Amritsar.

It’s a mail train, and it’s interesting to see how international post is handled – there are lots of boxes with US Postal Service stamped on the side being slung out on to the platform.

It’s hot and I’m stressed, but a kind chap agrees to swap with me so we’re sitting together for this overnight train.


Similar format to last time, upper and lower bunks, and sheets are handed out by someone who later demands tips for doing his job.

We both sleep very well!

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