Tara and I spent Christmas and New Years Eve in India. It was a great trip but overall we both came to the conclusion that India is far away from being as charming and spiritual as advertised. For a bit more than two weeks we explored the northern part of India. From Calcutta up to Darjeeling into the Sikkim Himalaya region…
The new route with Air Asia brought us to Calcutta and after a two hour flight we felt a bit weird being in this different part of Asia. We both experienced nearly every country in South East Asia and Calcutta made a very odd impression. Between rickshaws and colonial style buildings you can feel an intellectual vibe but also some kind of creepy darkness.
The old trams and taxis in Calcutta give you the feeling that you are stuck in the 70ties.
Poverty is definitely an issue but it is pretty similar to South East Asian countries like Thailand or Cambodia. The only difference is that much more people are begging in a very aggressive way. Sometimes it was very annoying if someone is following you a long time or offending you by saying “you dont want to help me? shame on you”. Never experienced that in other countries before.
The streetlife is very chaotic but you also see people relaxing and having a tea (chai) in one of the street vendor cafes.
We spent the Christmas eve at the Fairlawn Hotel which is a quite famous as meeting place for various filmmakers, journalists and writers. The Indian beer was unexpected strong but not very great in taste.
We also went to the ‘Floathotel’ which is a riverside ship with a nice restaurant/bar on the top deck. A little bit overpriced but good to enjoy a nice river view. In the evening we went to Calcuttas trainstation.
After several hours waiting at the Shelda trainstation we finally departed to NJP/Siliguri. Our first class cabin had AC but at night we had the first troubles of staying warm. We arrived in the early morning (just one hour delay) in NJP and tried to find a shared jeep to Darjeeling.
I personally experienced rip-off’s all over the world but I never had such a hard time than in India. On every f***ing corner EVERYONE tries to rip you off… and not even in a friendly smiling way – just brutal and aggressive. No respect, just pure greed. We spent two hours (!) until we found a guy which took us to Darjeeling for a fair price.
The ride was relaxing and took us through colorful landscapes, tea plantage areas and european-looking forests up into the mountains around Darjeeling.
We spent a few days in Darjeeling and it was just great! In December it can get very cold (minus degrees) and we had some problems adjusting to the temperatures by buying some cheap clothes at the daily night market. The city itself is very beautiful with cozy cafes, little markets and great views on the mountains.
We found a spacious room at the Bellevue which is an old tibetian style Hotel located in the heart of Darjeeling. The staff was very friendly and brought us hot water bottles for the night.
At the first night we brought hats, shawls and thick sweatshirts that kept us warm… After coming from Bangkok with average temperatures of 30 degree we really had a hard time to get used to the weather. Local brandy called ‘Old Monk’ helped us out a few nights
We also became fans of the Indian Chai (traditional spicy tea with milk). You can get this delicious drink on every corner all over India.
Its fun to explore the city by walking through the little alleys. Most houses have a British style and you can even find old constructions to move resources (coal I guess).
Staggering above the clouds, the majestic Kanchenjunga mountain (8586m) and its entourage of lesser peaks are clearly visible from Tiger Hill (3000m), the highest vantage point in Darjeeling. If the sky is clear you can also see the Mount Everest. On our last day in Darjeeling we woke up at 4am in the morning to get there in a jeep. It was actually a quite touristy spot but seeing the sun rising at the horizon was just fascinating.
While we had no problems in Calcutta – Darjeeling was the starting point of our hygienic depression about Indias toilet problems…
Some of you maybe remember an old blog post about Indias “Toilet Crisis” - It is exactly like in this documentary. Most public toilets are just completely filled with shit. It is absolutely disgusting, a huge lack of privacy, comfort and it can be very dangerous if it comes to health issues.
Anyway… we moved on to the Sikkim area which right between Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. To enter the region you need a special permit which can be obtained in Darjeeling and other bigger towns near the border.
A daytrip took us to Gangtok which is the capital of the small province Sikkim. Gangtok offers not much and we had some awful experience with unfriendly Indians judging us (oh we are not married?) and declining us overpriced rooms. The first night we just took a random totally overpriced room but on the second day we luckily met some great guys at the New Modern Lodge and decided to stay there.
We done a little bit of trekking to some of the Buddhist monasteries which all offer a great atmosphere! The surrounding nature is stunning and you get the feeling that the time is standing still.
We also had some great Tibetian food in Gangtok. The so called “Momo’s” are dumplings filled with meat or vegetables which come with different spicy dips.
Before we left Gangtok we had the honor to paint something in the art-room at our guest house. The owner is young artist and we had a great time hanging out with him.
Another jeep took us to Pelling (little mountain village) which is about 6 hours north of Gangtok. The Kabur Hotel was a great place to stay and offered stunning mountain views.
We met a friend from Gangtok, an Estonian and Indian girl and done some treks around the ruins and a beautiful monastery.
We spent a few days in Pelling and had a great new years eve with lots of cool people at our little guesthouse. The food was great and it was a relaxing time. Sadly my Iphone just stopped working. It turned off and I was not able to turn it on again… It was maybe the cold humid weather or the altitude that destroyed the logic board. Bad luck for us because we had all our travel information on the phone. We decided to go to Varanassi before we had to leave India and we joined the two girls we met before on a long journey back to central India.
The jeep rides through Sikkim are very beautiful but also exhausting because you are squeezed on a bench with four people while the seats are only made for two.
It took about a day to get out of Sikkim and we spent one night in Siliguri. The train from there to Varanassi (Delhi direction) had 6 hours delay and we spent quite a while at the unattractive train station.
On the way we had even more delay with hundreds of stops – so we arrived in Varanassi 10 hours late on the next day in the morning.
Varanassi is located at the river Ganges which is famous for the spiritual bath and body burning ceremonies. The winding city is essential for many rites and also a place for many pilgrims. For many people it is the religious center of Asia and one of places you have to visit once in your life.
The streets of Varanassi are very busy and another thing that is quite funny is the fact that people worship the free roaming cows and goats. You basically share the city with lots of animals and they are all treated very nicely.
Indian sweets are extremely sugared and we mostly chose the great food in one of the German bakeries. Food varieties were amazing and we enjoyed Indian and international cuisine all day (too bad human stomachs are limited in space!).
At night we roamed around the river and looked at the ceremonies. The light and the singing in the background was pretty mesmerizing.
Scientists say water is safe for bathing if there are around 500 bacteria forms… The Ganges contains 1.5 million different bacterias but no one really seems to care. Locals taking a bath daily (even with low temperatures) and some people even drink the water.
We left the river city by train to Culcatta to catch our flight back to Bangkok.
Overall our trip was great – delicious food, awesome landscapes and a relaxing time in the Himalayas – but we also had to cope with a lot of unfriendly people, the bad hygienic situation and a lot of struggle to get transportation for a fair price