What a difference! Darjeeling sits right on the border with Nepal and South China and it doesn't look like an Indian city at all, its people are more Asian looking and it's clean on the streets :) People are friendly and helpful, and I think because of that we kept extending our stay by one more night, and one more and one more :) Nobody is taking pictures of us and nobody but Andy knows my name. I think there are too many tourists, and they're used to seeing white faces ... they made us feel like we don't even exist! :((
They're so honest in here. When I was buying candies, I asked if they're 1 rupee each, and he's like "no, they're half a rupee", and when I bought many candies, I miscounted them, and he gave me more. Amazing! That's a magic happening right there! :)
Darjeeling is in the Himalayas, but we've come in the wrong time of the year, and all we see is 50 meters ahead of us, and after that all is completely white with fog. No mountains to be seen, I even had no idea in which direction to look at. Even the jeeps that were doing the morning tours to see the Himalayas in the sunrise only drove half way to the "spot", because there is nothing to be seen anyway.
I got so relaxed in this city that when we went to the zoo and I was waiting in the queue to buy tickets when one man went in front of the line, I exploded in that split second. Strange ... I thought I was already immune to that :)
The zoo was alright, nothing special. It was sad to see the animals walk back and forth, round and round in the cage. I'm against zoos ... but is there another choice? If you let animals back in the wild, someone will shoot them right away, and will the animals be able to survive in the wild after been hand fed since birth?
Clearly most Indians are both blind and illiterate. On every cage there is a sign with a picture "Silence. Do not feed or imitate the animals". By looking from the side at the animal in the cage and at a group of Indians outside of it, you would think twice who should belong in that cage. They were yelling and howling, taking flash pictures, holding the fence and shaking it, throwing snacks in the cages...
The most fun cage was as always the monkeys’ cage. I love watching the monkeys. They're so human like, and if I sinned in this life, and were to reborn into an animal, I would definitely would like to be a monkey :) but not a monkey in the zoo, or the monkey with the red ass! :) There was one cage with a mother and 2 babies. 1 baby was feeding, while the other was being very naughty and a bit crazy jumping around the whole cage. Ok if it jumped around and left everybody else alone, but nope, it had to be the center of attention. It swung off of its brother's tail, just as if it were another rope while his mother would try to reach it and smack it, although that was not possible since the other baby was feeding. The mother didn't look relaxed at all, she was jerking her head from side to side and a hand ready in striking position to punish her evil baby, but the baby was too quick for her :) Although once it got too close, and she took him in and hugged both of her babies near her chest. Everybody was watching this circus Aaaawwwwwwwww'ed in the same time. It's like she was saying "I know you're naughty, but I love you all the same" :)
Back in town, there was some celebration on the main square with traditional, what looked like Tibetan songs and dances. The people performing were so beautiful, with their costumes and make up and Asian features, and I really wanted to take pictures of them badly!! But I resisted the urge knowing what it feels like to have a camera stuck in your face, I kept mine down, and only took a few pictures of people on stage.
Back at the hotel, Andy asked me to check out his usb key that he bought on the street. I was very skeptical when he bought it. First of all, it was on the street. 2nd of all, the price started at 600, and slowly but surely it ended at 60 ($1.20) for 8GB. What kind of price is that?? It started getting weird when he opened the package and looked at instructions. The band on the USB was green, but green band on the instructions was 4GB. He said, let’s hope that it has at least 2GB on it. I plugged it in, but the computer didn't recognize it. Andy, it doesn't seem to be working I said. When I pulled it out, the case slipped off, but it was still plugged in, and inside of the case was a plastic toy thingi. It wasn't even the real thing! It must have been made in China! They went through the whole deal creating it, making a sealed pack, a set of instructions, and a USB key that looks exactly like an original. I was surprised to see that there was even something on the inside! Why go through all the trouble?! But it was definitely worth 60 rps to buy a toy usb, and as always, it makes a great story ... or a gift! :)
You must know about the Darjeeling tea, and yep, that's exactly where it's grown in. We went to the tea estate that makes the best tea for Harrods, orange peako. There are many theories about the name. Orange for the color of the tea, Orange as in Royal British people, Peako = pick one. Only 1 leaf that is less than 2 weeks old is used for this tea. Older leaves produce lower quality of tea. Of course this is here where the premium quality is made, with other companies using last season, or last year, or not the whole leaves or just the powder. We were called into a small house on the way to the factory. The lady who "worked" there, made the impression that she does the factory tours or explains the tea process. None of that was true, and before we knew it, we were handed 2 cups of tea for 100 rps each! It's her "famous" 5 second tea. She shows us, so here, you take a handful of tea leaves, put it into the boiling water, and right away pour it into the cup, and it's done! That looked strange to me, why would you take a handful of leaves, when all you need is a small teaspoon? No wonder it's done in 5 seconds, there is so much flavour that you don't need to steep it at all. What happens of course is that she collects the tea, but she doesn't give it to the factory, and slowly slowly accumulates it in her house. She probably gets less than 200 rps a day from 8 hours of work, or she can lead all the tourists into her home, and make 100 per each tourist with no work at all!
We then went to the proper tea tasting place. I ordered the most expensive cup of tea for $5. My tea was yellow color, and it was served in a wine glass. Andy's tea was orange-brown color, so it was served in a brandy glass. The tea tasted nothing like the tea I'm used to. It was alright, but nothing special. I don’t think there is a tea fanatic hibernating in me at all :)
There wasn't anything really to do in Darjeeling. We went to "Avengers" the movie in a small movie theater, where the screen was jumping half of the movie, and they turned on the lights before the movie finished; We ate a bunch of yummy litchis from which Andy could’ve gotten sick as well, because in a few there were worm inside; We went for a walk where we couldn't actually find what we were looking for, but at least we got some exercise; We ate at a very nice restaurant with great food/service/speed and where locals were drinking alcoholic drinks, so strange to see that!
On the way to the "walk to nowhere", we had to pass through the town first. And I constantly heard from the back beep, beep, beep. I know there is traffic, and it's not moving anywhere, but stop beeping. We already got into the habit of walking along the streets with our ears closed. I turned around and just put my finger on my lips as in "be quiet please" and continued to walk. I didn't walk a meter when there was a constant beep behind me, I didn't think of it much, but when it continued to beep, I turned around and it was this guy in the car with his head out of the window shouting at me. I said that his beeping gives me a headache!! Thank god he had to turn, but he turned, and stopped at the road above us to keep on yelling and beeping! What a creep!!!
Took a jeep to the next place Pelling where you're so close to the mountains, you could almost touch them. It wasn't misty in Pelling, but there was a big cloud just over the mountain. In 3 days that we stayed there, a very small section of the mountain could be seen for about 10 minutes, and that was exciting enough! :) Pelling is located in the state of Sikkim, and for some reason, it's almost considered to be a different country. We had to get a special permit to go there, and we got an entry and exit stamp in the passport. It took the "border" control like 10 minutes to copy all the info by hand from our passport into their books, and I was happy there were only 4 of us. Pelling is very cute and small, with a cozy guest house where they practice child slavery. Well, not really. A lot of children work in India, and these kids are no different. They're up serving breakfast, washing windows, cleaning rooms, helping with all guests needs, and close the place at 11 at night!
Next day was very misty, but we still went for a walk around the area. We found a baby goat on the way which we fed, and tiny baby frogs, they're so small, and black that many of them were squished on the ground. You just can't see it unless it jumps away from you. We went to a monastery, where all the walls were painted with usual Buddhist scenes, of Buddha’s life, his commands and believes, but then there were cloths hung on the walls. We peaked underneath them, and what do you know???!!! There is Buddha .... having sex !!!!! Absolutely unbelievable!!! I think the whole religion should be changed because of that, why are they keeping the poor monks high and dry, where here you go, your leader is enjoying his life to the fullest?? Or is there something that I don't get?
We went to an ex capital of Sikkim (the state), with guaranteed excellent views, but when we got to the top of the ruins, all we saw was white mist :( Even the ruins weren't that impressive :(
Back at the guesthouse, we found out that the electricity is out, and nobody knows when it will be on again. We had a nice candle light dinner, with the dining hall being completely full, and everybody sharing their travelling stories. Sometimes it's nice to get out of civilized comforts and find yourself back in a civilized world, full of strangers who are only 5 seconds away from being your friends. Among the stories we've heard were:
- The great Australian reef is on the verge of losing its World Heritage Site status.
- In lake Tahoe, they have this saying "Black attack, brown down" ... talking about bears of course. One guy saw a bear coming with 2 cubs. It was a brown bear, so he lay down and played dead. The bear came over, started smelling him, and then stared chewing on his butt! Pretty much eating him alive! The guy couldn't move because otherwise the bear would kill him, so he lay there is silence! The bear didn't like the human flesh though, and left him after only a few bites
- Mosquito repellent (with DEET!) melted the plastic on the camera case
- Bear locked itself in a jeep
I should've written the stories down, cause there were some good ones, but now I can't remember them all :(
With our new found friends we rented a jeep and drove around Pelling's sites. The day turned out to be beautiful, and in the morning I got that rare glimpse of the nearby mountain! :)
The sites weren't that impressive, and I got motion sick in the jeep. We've seen a waterfall, sacred lake, a garden (it's so rare to see a nice garden in India, that it actually is considered to be an attraction!), and Asia’s highest suspension bridge. But it was a sunny day, and it was great to be out. What else was great is that the prices for tourists and locals were the same! It was the first time in India where that was the case. Usually it's locals 10 rps, foreigners 250! Taj Mahal: locals 25 rps, foreigners 750!!!
When we got back, the electricity was still off, and we were told not to wait for it, because it could be off for 3 days! That's the reason nobody has electric ovens in India, it all runs on gas, and except lights being off, everything else works just the way it should.
In the morning we went to a bakery which had opening hours from 7am - 5pm. It only opened at 9:30, and when we wanted to order baked goodies, they said that they're only baking them now, and will be ready for sale at 12pm! Who writes hours like that? 7-5, if you can only get food at 12??
Outside the bakery, while we were waiting for it to open, one guy bombarded Andy with questions. Where are you from? How old are you? What's your job? You don't look cool, why don't you wear labels? Your wife's pretty.
It was time for us to move to a different town. We went with a nice couple who we met in Darjeeling, Andrea and Peter. First we took a half an hour jeep to a town from where all the jeeps leave from. The train reservation office was there, and we went to get our onward tickets. We waited for 2 hours!!! I felt so bad for Andrea and Peter! First the system was out of order, then when it came back online, she ordered the ticket with the wrong date! Then the system went out again. GRRR !! By the time we got out, we missed the last jeep to Yuksum :( We had no other choice but to take a taxi which went back through Pelling ... how annoying! 2.5 hour taxi ride, we only paid $24.
Yuksum is very cute and very tiny surrounded by green hills all around. Not many people come there because there are no mountain views, but hey, we didn't see any anyway.
Went for a walk to a monastery, another sacred lake, an ancient king's throne, and a hike into nowhere, we wanted to find a river and walked and walked until we found it. Sikkim is a leech infested area, and we tucked our pants into socks looking completely ridiculous, but there weren't any tourists nearby to laugh at us :) Bloody leeches, you don't feel them, they don't cause any diseases, and they fall off by themselves when they sucked enough of your blood, but they're just disgusting. When Andrea started screaming that she saw a leech on the ground and I run up to her to even see what they looked like, I already had 5 crawling on my shoe!! We all armed ourselves with a leech stick and checked our shoes every minute out of paranoia. It's not enough that they crawl at you from the ground, there are some that live on the trees, and when they feel something warm passing underneath them, they launch themselves downwards like ninja leeches! Peter got one on his belly, and when he pulled it off, the blood didn't stop flowing. At the hotel I was so scared to take off my cloths, thinking they found their way in, but I was clean :) At night, I had nightmares that the leeches from my cloths crawled into my bed or into the suitcase, and I'd wake up covered in them performing an involuntary blood donation.
We had to leave at again some stupid 6 o'clock. Because I got motion sick the day before, I decided to take a motion sickness pill, cause we had 6 hours of jeep rides, and fell asleep right away. I slept through a very bumpy road, then when we reached our midpoint, I was barely keeping my eyes open when Andy was buying a ticket for the next jeep. There was a girl next to him, and I heard someone yelling all the time. I look at the "lineup" and the girl was just screaming at the locals who were constantly pushing their money into the window, and trying to get first to the counter. She growled YOU, MOVE OUT TO THE SIDE! And if they didn't listen, she took them by the shirt collar from the back and threw them from the line. Andy was impressed, "I have to learn that technique" he was laughing. We got into so many lineup "fights" in India that Andy said, how we would've managed to get anywhere, if the Indians were even our size?? I'm a very average height, and I'm considered to be a giant in India, I'm much taller than most men in there, so it's easy to push and shove.
We went to the "Burp out loud" restaurant, I pocked my fork at the plate, pretty much leaving all the food on it and fell asleep all spread out on the restaurant table, the closest table to the entrance. Andy said that I intimidated a few locals who came in :) Then I slept some more in the jeep till 4pm. We reached Jothang the city from which we couldn't find any jeeps into Darjeeling. Noooo ... I hate Jothang, I don't want to go there again! But the cycle rickshaw driver took us through a main street which was very clean and modern, tree shaded ... I love Jothang I declared! The hotel was in the best location right beside the tuk-tuk stand which will leave in the morning for our train station. 8pm I went to sleep, I was exhausted after such a tiring day :)! 4am wake up to make it for the train.
I feel like this blog is kind of blah, but nothing interesting really happened ... I wonder how my Thailand blogs will be like ... but hopefully you still enjoyed it :)