Our final full day in Darjeeling. As Ringo had been booked out for tonight, we had to move our stuff to a neighbouring hostel, reccommended to us by the friendly and gentle Vikash, who runs Revolver. We lugged our stuff across a garden to a tall concrete building, where we paid 1000 rupees for a night. The place was scruffy but cosy, and we later realised that it was some kind of Christian Hostel. There was a bizarre poster of Mary and Joseph standing over Jesus in the manger, but somehow Jesus had grown hair and apparently had make-up applied, despite being only a few hours old. Although a bit grotty in comparison to Ringo’s comfortable interior, this place actually had a functioning shower, which was more than could be said for our previous quarters.
The plan was to spend a fairly relaxed day around Darjeeling as we’d done the majority of our sightseeing in the previous two days. We went into town and breakfasted at Hasty Tasty before sampling some more varieties of tea and buying some trinkets from the various craft shops scattered around the town. Each of these shops sells a lot of the same stuff, but they’re intriguing all the same. All sorts of statues of Hindu Gods, Gorkha knives and prayer bowls are on offer for reasonable and haggle-able prices. It seems that most of these shops are lacking in electricity, so each shopkeeper stands outside with the pull chord to a generator in his hand. If you go in the shop he cranks up the generator to switch on the lights, and you can look upon his treasures, albeit with a slight sense of guilt that you’ve put him to so much trouble without buying anything.
We went down to a Government taxi garage to book the next day’s travel down the hill. Our plan was to get a taxi to New Jalpaiguri Station, before taking the night train from NJP to a station called Mughal Sarai. Here we would get off and catch a taxi the 20km or so to Varanasi – India’s holiest city. Booking trains in India is more or less impossible for foreigners on tourist visas, so we had to book this through a travel agent who stuck a few hundred rupees on top of the ticket price – still cheap by our standards though. The elderly gent who ran things at the garage spoke impeccable English and seemed fascinated by us. We booked a taxi to NJP for 2000 rupees, then he quizzed us about British life, how we were adapting to India, and how we would vote in the upcoming “Brexit election”. We couldn’t get rid of him, and as we tried to walk back up the hill he insisted on taking us to his favourite bakery, just to show us where it was. There was an awkward moment when we walked in to the shop and we both had to say “We’re not hungry, we’ve just had breakfast”, but the taxi man just laughed and said that he was trying to drum up business for them. We promised to go back in for a crossaint at some point – this was a lie.
We ate at a Tibetan place for lunch, and it was absolutely superb. Momos are dumplings containing chicken or vegetables. They can be steamed or fried, with both options offering a superb flavour. I’d say they’re a bit like gnocchi in texture but with more overall flavour. Luke had a biryani with chapatis and I had a noodle soup with tibetan bread. A little old lady in the corner saw me eating this dry and said “It’s better with butter”, so I smeared a dollop on, and she was right. Tibetan bread is really thick and stodgy, a bit like a cross between a breakfast muffin and a flatbread. Along with the soup and momos we were absolutely stuffed, but I can see how the sherpas would need every last bit of energy in their bellies in order to carry the loads that they do up the steep hills of Darjeeling.
On the way back to the hostel we called in at the Museum of Tibetan Culture – a really interesting museum funded by the sizeable Tibetan community who live here, presumably having migrated when China took control of the area. Maybe it’s because it’s such a remote and inhospitable place, but there’s a real air of mystery about Tibet and its people. I’d have to put it at the top of my list of places I’d like to go to in the future, if I’m ever lucky enough.
We bought a couple of Kingfishers to drink back at the hostel. Idly flicking through the TV channels, more in hope than expectation, we discovered coverage of THE RAMS game on Indian telly! A 1-1 draw was the least we deserved, but it was amazing to think that we would probably never watch our local side play from a more remote place. After the game was done we went to bed, in preparation for the arduous 24 hours of travelling that would begin at 8am the next morning.