Home > Buddhism, Himalayas, India, National Parks, Nepal, Travel, Trekking > Good View Karma in Darjeeling

Good View Karma in Darjeeling

There comes a point for every traveller in India when you’ve just had enough of the dirt, the beggars, the crowds and the tuk tuks. With the knowledge that this feeling wont last for long most travellers either head South to the beaches, or North to the mountains. This point came for us after our sickness in Bodhgaya and we decided to escape into the North-East region of West Bengal; our destination the former British hill station of Darjeeling. If I’m being honest here, all we really needed was a good cup of tea.

As the landscape changed from flat rice paddies to snow capped Himalayas we both breathed a sigh of relief. The air became crisp and as the sun set we watched from the train door the magical colours being painted in the sky.

We’d decided to treat ourselves to a £10 luxury room with a hot water bathroom in Darjeeling. We were greeted by the friendly Tibetan landlady who ran the Dekeling Hotel and promptly given steaming cups of Darjeeling tea and treated to some momos (Tibetan dumplings) in the communal sitting room around a hot fire with a fluffy dog at our feet. The wooden decor, green leather sofas and general Tibetan / British colonial style of the place delighted Carl who consequently sought after a pipe to puff.

We woke to clear blue skies surrounding the towering Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain that towers over the small town of Darjeeling. Walking around the clean, green streets wrapped up in our jackets and Nepali hats admiring the tremendous views from different angles and frequenting various tea outlets, felt a million miles from India and it was evident that the resident Nepali-Indian-Tibetan inhabitants felt likewise. Violence is prevalent in the region as locals are fighting for the separate state of Gorkhaland. Currently the area is part of West Bengal and the same government administers both Calcutta and Darjeeling, two places locals claim that couldn’t be more different in their climate and concerns.

We decided to do the Singalila Ridge trek, which takes you up along the border of Nepal for spectacular views of the Kangchenjunga and Everest Himalaya regions, and set off on our own getting a taxi to the start point of the trek. Here we hired a local guide, paid our National Park fees and met up with two other trekkers. Our partners for the three days were Amanda a lovely American girl from California who had been working in Korea and travelling for the last year, and Linus from Finland who over a warm fire that night revealed that he used to be a pyromaniac. They also had a guide who, like ours, spoke little English so it was nice for all of us to do the trek together.

The first day trek was up a pretty steep incline before the land flattened out and we were walking along the top of the green mountains. Our guide Sanghe, who spoke a little English, took pleasure in telling us when we laid foot in Nepal and when we were back in India. We stayed that night in a lovely little guesthouse in the village of Tumling, which in fact was the entire village. We were joined by a woman in her forties and a couple in their sixties (all English). Upon talking about the trek they all said it was quite easy to which Linus commented that by right the sixty year olds should have died on that steep incline. His lack of sunlight hours in Finland was starting to show. To our surprise our hosts at Tumling treated us all to a three course dinner, a cosy indoor fire and a hot water bottle to take to bed. We had a nice time chatting around the fire, carefully watching Linus who took pride in getting the flames going again when it weakened. We were about 2,000 metres above sea level and it was bloody freezing. We retired to bed fully clothed layered in blankets and clutching at our hot water bottles.

We left the next day after a breakfast of Tibetan bread and porridge (I hate porridge) and were warned by our laughing guides that our next lodgings would not be so luxurious. We would walk 22k that day and were comforted by the fact that our fellow guests were only doing half that. A nice walk though the green terrain and complementing rocky mountains was supplemented by a crisp blue sky that only appears at altitude. Carl would trail behind stuffing his mouth with biscuits and raisins. Then, feeling the food effects, he would burst into life and over take all of us, leading up the hill. Again he’d wane and slow down before eating again and the process was repeated. We passed small villages and stopped for some hot chocolate to warm us up – we could tell we were approaching 3,000 metres. The trek is a popular one and the Nepali-Tibetan villagers are used to seeing foreigners and cater well for trekkers like us. After our hot chocolate and some noodles our guides were again laughing as they pointed upwards. We were to ascend to Sanakpur at 3,636 metres. It was an extremely steep incline and what looked like a one hour walk actually took three. We all started fully clothed but soon the hats, gloves, coats and jumpers came off. Even our guides disrobed and appreciated the mandatory stops.

We were rewarded for our efforts with views that got better with every step. Kangchenjunga appeared so close and as we crossed the last hurdle our guides pointed out Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, Three Sisters and other Himalayan peaks. A hazy mist hung over the greenery below us but the amazing peaks above it appeared crisp and clear in the thrashing blue sky. We stayed outside watching the sunlight dance over the mountains turning them silver and blue in the orange sky. Even Linus showed some enthusiasm for the moment. As the sun dipped our teeth began chattering and numbness took over our feet and hands. The wind was bitter and chipped away at our cheeks until one by one we couldn’t take it any more and we retired to our host’s kitchen to regain feeling in our joints around the kitchen stove.

We had been told that this hostel would be less luxurious that the last. We were allocated a bleak dorm room which reminded us of an orphanage. Amanda wondered whether we’d be adopted in the morning. The beds were basically benches and the wooden walls struggled against the aggressive wind. There was no electricity here. There were about eight beds in our dorm so we took blankets from the spare beds to wrap around ourselves. I felt a lot of admiration for the couple who lived and ran the lodge. The woman had skin made of leather and the old man wore just a shirt and jacket as he plodded around collecting fire wood for us. The old man and our guides attempted to light a fire in an old metallic stove, the smoke from which nearly killed us but the warmth was more important.

Carl and I stepped outside to get some fresh air. Looking up into the darkness we were greeted by a plethora of stars which created an almost chemical light glowing over our surroundings. We could clearly make out the Milky-Way and longed for another hot chocolate. Once again the icy winds got the better of us and we retired into the smoke filled room. We were soon scoffing down curry and rice around a flimsy table. We decided to call it a day and went back to our orphanage stealing whatever blankets we could from other unoccupied dorms on the way.

We awoke at 5:45 the next morning just in time for sunrise. The wind hadn’t let up and again we hugged ourselves and each other as we watched the mountains emerge around us. Clouds had dropped into the valley below but blue sky swathed the peaks. We were above the clouds staring once again in awe when we were interrupted by Amanda and Linus’s guide telling them they had to leave. They had to get back today while we were spending another night at another mountain lodge further on. We swapped details and said our goodbyes. Down they went and we were invited into the kitchen for some porridge (yuk!). I forced some down my throat to warm myself up before feeding some to the cat and some to Carl.

We could take our time today as we were only going 15k downhill. As the rocky peaks faded from view we made our way through pine trees, bamboo, palm trees and beautiful yellow flowers. We stopped for lunch in another ‘village’ comprised of a few houses and soaked up the silence and surrounding greenery. The village was sheltered from the wind and the sun was strong. We sat outside with the young Tibetan children and got a bit of sunbathing in. After our three hour lunch break we continued down, (with a little up thrown in for luck), through a small forest to the riverside village of Sri Kola where we would spend the night. It was warm enough to sit outside next to the river but the warmth soon faded and we were looking forward to being back at our ‘expensive’ hotel in Darjeeling where there was hot water. That night we had dinner by candle light. Carl commented what an amazing thing electricity is and how we take it for granted. For us electricity is usually a given, but for those living in harsh mountain conditions it was something foreign, a bonus rather than a necessity. Even in Darjeeling central heating was practically unheard of. Carl and I often comment that we’d like to live in the Himalayas… but I’m pretty sure an electric heater and a few lights would have to be in order first.

The next day was an easy 10k trek to Rimbik where we’d get a shared jeep back to Darjeeling. We dropped Sangay off at his home Manebhanjan and gave him a tip as he’d been very lovely to us. Back in Darjeeling we spent another few days sipping tea, enjoying the mountains, hot showers and various fire places that warmed the town. Upon leaving, the Dekeling landlady presented us with white Tibetan scarves for good luck. We got a shared jeep down to NJP train station and arrived early so decided to check our bags into the cloakroom and go for some dinner. I’d like to end with the conversation between the cloakroom attendant and Carl.

Carl: Hello can we leave our bags here please?

Cloakroom attendant (CA): Got any food in there?

Carl: No.

CA: Any dirty socks?

Carl: Er, no.

CA: You better not be lying. Do you have any dirty socks in those bags?

Carl: Er no, no food, no dirty socks.

CA: Because if there are dirty socks then the rats here will nor through your bag easily. They’ll smell those dirty socks.

Carl: I haven’t got any dirty socks!

CA: Ok, put them in. But be careful of the rats. They’ll get those socks.

We’d arrived back in India.

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  1. Linus
    May 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Hey guys. Greetings from Cambodia I enjoyed reading this.

    All the best

    -Linus

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