Landed at Sealdah just 15 minutes late. Those of us in the “Gentlesman’s Club” (i.e. the old farts) made a beeline for the ferry across the Hoogli and to Howrah station, from where we had to catch the Coromandal Express at 2pm. To my utter astonishment, everyone else, including two of the ladies who had been suffering from flu with quite acute fevers, all set off into the mayhem that is Calcutta, carrying their rucksacks, on a sight seeing tour.
The ferry was eerily pleasant. It’s empty, certainly at 8 in the morning. The view of the magnificent bridge cant be bettered. I am writing this from the dingy room at the Hotel Howrah that we’ve hired for a few hours for washing. We’ve just eaten at the splendiferous Food Plaza in Howrah station, which we can all heartily recommend.After the 200 yard journey to and from there through the maelstrom outside and inside Howrah station, in baking heat, I am wondering how the unwashed members of the sight seeing party are coping.
Here’s a view of the bridge from our dingy hotel (The Hotel Howrah looks a lot better outside than in), which along with what now seems like a bizarre experience on an empty ferry was the sum total of our sight seeing exploits for the day.
The Howrah Bridge by The Captain
And we are now on the train, there are seconds to go and the sight see-ers are nowhwre to be seen…… And here they come, pretty flustered. Tip: it’s always a good idea to get to the platform a good half an hour in advance in a country which treats chaos as equilibrium.
Next stop Chennai and the biggest paper dosa I can find.
The day started with a spectacular view of the entire Kanchenjunga massive as the clouds had obligingly cleared for us that morning, and Shangri-la Regency enables you to sit with your muesli and coffee and just soak it all up.
We took the toy train up to Ghum, which you have to pay a whopping Rs240 for even if you are just going the one way. But it was worth every penny of the £3.50 as we were able to reach the highest point on Indian Railways by train, indeed on one of the world’s most famous steam trains. The rest of the journey down has to be done by road at the moment anyway as they havent fixed the road up yet, It was a lot easier than the drive up, even at the back of the van.
On impact at New Jalpaiguri we were again subjected to quite a gang of beggars, mostly children, and I’m hoping the charitable nature of the expedition was not lost on some of the others in the group, though I’m losing confidence daily on that front.
A quick shower in the upper class waiting room, and there then followed an uncomfortable overnighter on the Darjeeling Mail to Sealdah station in Calcutta. Few of us managed a decent night’s kip as we were all booked into the side berths, the lower of which is virtual torture.
DHR by The Captain
Those of us booked into the Shangri-La Regency arrived to find a small but genuinely boutique hotel, with beautiful rooms, and a spectacular top floor bar and breakfast area. But the really outstanding thing about this place are the staff. They really were delightful from start to finish, and at Rs2,000 a room it’s frankly a snip. Those of the group not as fortunate as ourselves generally left with severe misgivings. Indeed, we watched the sensational India v England tied match at the other Shangri-La, and I’m afraid the staff there are an entirely different proposition, You need the Regency if you want Windamere service but at a fifth of the price.
We spent the day wandering about the back streets of lower Darjeeling with the aid of Rumba who is the proprietor of Hot and Stimulating Cafe, which is a tiny place you can find on the way to the Himalayan Mountaineering Club. They serve delicious momos, which are a Tibetan, vegetarian form of Chinese dumplings.
The evening was spent with a few beers watching the cricket, and a fun time was had by all in the bar with honours even.
Here’s another of Andy’s Kanchenjunga pics to be going on with
Got up at the disgusting hour of 5am in order to be moved down the train from the rather cramped environment of 3AC to the luxurious expanses of 2AC. A few hours later we left Assam and the internet flickered back into life in time to make the previous two posts and notify next of kin of our existence. Pulled into New Jalpaiguri at noon. Which was earlier than someone who had been staring at the itinerary for 12 months should perhaps have expected.
We then went via the hotel Cinderella in Siliguri for a swifty with Dave Watson of the DHRS gang, before the ride up the hill. Captain Shakti found himself in the back of the suspension-less 4×4 we could only find and was very low on batteries when we finally reached the heavenly Shanri-La Regency. More gushing praise for those lovely people later (note, get your wheels sorted at NJP station even if you are stopping off in Siliguri, and never ask a hotel to sort it for you, Cindy quoted 3,800!!!, asking price is 1,500).
You’ll be getting a blog blitz later on, stay tooned.
Gentlemen’s Club, By our mate Dave Watson