Darjeeling and Lucknow

After breakfast at the Villa Everest my main priority today was to buy some clothing suitable for the near freezing temperatures of Darjeeling. I found my way down though the streets to where there were lots of market stalls selling mostly warm winter clothes with brands such as North Face, Marmot, Patagonia, Jack Wolfskin etc all obviously ” Legit ” items, no counterfeit stuff here !, I bought myself a Marmot puffy jacket, Jack Wolfskin trousers, hat, gloves and 2 pairs of socks all for under £ 20 and didn’t even bother haggling. So I was pleased with my purchases even if they only last while I’m here and continued to explore the back streets of Darjeeling.

First impressions, I love what I’ve seen already, there is so much to see and I’ve hardly been anywhere yet, your never far away from fantastic views of the Himalayas ( Kangchenjunga the 3td highest mountain in the world ).

Whilst trying to get as high as I could in Darjeeling for better views I came across an army base preventing me reaching the top of the hill, The sign clearly said no photographs or foreigners allowed so I paused long enough to see that it was a mountain division of the Indian army and as I turned around and started walking back down the hill the guard that was in the hut came out and called me back and as he had a rifle I did as I was asked, he asked where I was from and what I was doing and I told him I was from the UK and was just out walking and having a look around adding that I had spent 20 years in the Air Force hoping he might let me in but no such luck. The solders in this Army mountain division were obviously all Nepalese decent from what I could see, they were like an Indian version of the British Gurkha’s

As I came back down to the town I must of been getting hungry as I had a craving for momo’s and went looking for a Tibetan restaurant I’d seen on Trip Advisor but when I found it it was closed but there was another one next door so I tried that, they looked like they were just cleaning up after lunch but said they could do steamed momo’s if I was prepared to wait 25 minutes which fortunately was exactly what I was after, it came with soup and was so good I think I’ll be back later.

In the evening a went for a walk around Darjeeling in the dark, unlike a lot of Indian cities it is well lit and feels safe, one difference though is where as other in other cities the restaurants don’t tend to start getting people in till after 7 here they were starting to close up at 7.30 here.

I went in search of Genuine Nepalese cuisine in the evening thinking it shouldn’t be hard to find, my memories of it came from the Gurkhas that I had met in Belize and been lucky to know them well enough to be allowed into their mess to eat as they had separate meal times to the rest of us, they made amazing curries, always quite hot, both veg and usually once a week goat that they raised themselves at the side of there Nissan hut, I’ve always missed there food and have never found anything to replicate it even when I found a Nepalese restaurant in Banbury in the UK it was similar but not the same as the Gurkhas meals.

The restaurant this evening although advertised as Nepalese it wasn’t really but I’ll keep looking. I may have to wait till I visit Nepal which I did thought about doing on this trip but haven’t got the kit to do the treks i want to do with me so plan to do that in the not too distant future before I get to old to get over some of the high passes.

My observation for today was on the way the locals carry loads differently to other parts of India here, in all of the places I’ve visited so far it has been walking upright with the load on top of the head perhaps with a piece of cloth to act as a cushion if carrying bricks or cement or something heavy. Here they use the Sherpa method sometimes with a thick band across the forehead and bent forward with the load spread across their back, it might seem strange but I find the differences interesting and would definitely prefer the Sherpa method myself, I could never carry any heavy weight on top of my head like a lot of Indian men and women do.

This morning before breakfast I was trying to work out the best way to move on after Darjeeling, I had wanted to go to Varanasi from here by train as I had read about the smog there causing most flights to be cancelled, but the train to Varanasi from New Jalpaiguri involves numerous changes and became quite complicated so I looked into going to Lucknow by train which was a little easier but meant getting the Delhi train which only runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays. In the end the easiest route was to fly to Lucknow changing at Calcutta, so I checked with reception that I could stay here an extra two nights as the time here has gone so quick and I didn’t want to be leaving on Tuesday, Reception said that was ok so I booked my flight for Thursday and 3 nights in Lucknow while waiting for breakfast. I can work out the Varanasi trip from there as there are direct trains from Lucknow.

After breakfast I wanted to visit the Manaki temple which is one of very few combined Buddhist and Hindu temples, I used maps to walk there and it told me I had arrived but I obviously hadn’t ( I knew it was about 100 metres above me but couldn’t see a way up ) and it took me about half an hour to find a set of stairs that led to it hidden behind some market stalls.

It was worth the search as it was quite a large temple and very colourful with lots of prayer flags and prayer wheels.

I had decided to try a run or two while here even though it is all up and down so headed back to the hotel and got changed, I thought the easiest route would be turn right up the hill from the hotel then turn round and come back down as that road has very little traffic, it was tough as it is steep and no flat parts but I paced myself and managed it ok.

It was about time for lunch after that and I returned to the same place as yesterday and ordered Gyathug which is like a Tibetan version of Pho and a pot of Darjeeling tea as I’m here and both were very good.

On the way back to the hotel I stopped at the Tibetan museum here and spent probably an hour and a half in there and it was better than expected, it gives to good history of Tibet, Buddhism and the Dali Lama.

In the afternoon I wandered over to the other side of Darjeeling to take a few pictures as the sun set, you get better views of the Himalayas from there and it’s not that far as Darjeeling isn’t really all that big a place. There are various view points around the town and although you get a few people looking for good places for pictures there’s no crowds.

I returned to the hotel for dinner and the guests that were here over the weekend seem to of left but 3 more arrived as I was eating possibly off the toy train as they looked cold ! .

I’m not a tea connoisseur and more of a coffee person myself but had to have a few pots of Darjeeling whilst here and it’s not what I expected, although it’s called Darjeeling black tea it’s an amber colour and very mellow compared to the black tea I’m used to and I was surprised I liked it so much, I bought 100 grams of the best one and it’s very good, it won’t turn me from a coffee to a tea drinker though. The first one I had when I ordered one was disappointing as it came with a tea bag which I thought would be sacrilege here, but the second pot was proper tea leaves and much better.

This morning after breakfast I walked over to the other side of Darjeeling to visit the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park which also contains the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. It took up most of the day and was worth the visit, the zoo had most animals native to India including a Snow Leopard and Bengal Tiger which I was surprised to see both of them out laying in the sun as well as a panther and another Leopard both next to each other and pacing up and down.

The Mountaineering Institute I found even more interesting and it concentrated a lot on Hillary and Tensing’s summiting of Everest in 1953 . I’m learning a lot just traveling around and didn’t realise that Tensing Norgay was a resident of Darjeeling and was cremated at the mountaineering Institute where there is a memorial to him, I also watched a short film on an Indian teams summit of Mount Makalu ( worlds 5th highest mountain ) at the small cinema there.

I’m surprised at how few tourists I’ve seen since coming to West Bengal, even in Calcutta I only saw 2 other Westerners, a few Chinese and a couple of Japanese tourists, here there was a German man with his son at the hotel and I’ve seen a few Chinese tourists in town but there are quite a few Indian tourists here in Darjeeling. I know at times tourists have been warned about traveling here because of protests and disputes with Bangladesh but I don’t believe there’s been problems recently.

Went out for a meal in Darjeeling in the evening, I had already been to the cafe at Glenary’s a few times and it was pretty good, the restaurant upstairs was supposed to be one of the best here but I was disappointed in the service and the food, I ordered Hot and Sour soup as a starter which was actually quite good, The 1/2 Tandoori Chicken I expected to be exactly that or even 1/4 breast and 1/4 leg would be acceptable but what I got with 2 legs which I suppose is technically half a chicken ( the bottom half ) but the legs were obviously off different chickens as one had a decent amount of meat on it and the other hardly any, and the rice I ordered with it came 10 min before the chicken. Inside the restaurant was nice and they looked like they wanted to portray a fine dining experience but people were coming in of the street to take pictures and use the washroom and then leaving, one guy came in took some selfie’s then proceeded to walk amongst the diners talking on his phone before leaving. So not really impressed with the restaurant part of it anyway.

After breakfast this morning I walked the opposite way to my usual out of Darjeeling towards Ghoom, about 2 miles in that direction is a war memorial to Indian army Gurkhas. The route takes you along the main road to Siliguri which also follows the Toy train tracks and most of the way it’s easier to walk along the tracks. There are some good vantage points on the way there with views looking back towards Darjeeling and the Himalayas.

I enjoyed the Gurkha Memorial that commemorates nearly 200 of them that have lost their lives fighting for India since their independence in 1947 . There were quite a few visitors from Darjeeling and some from my hotel that had come up on the train.

On the way back I stopped at The Dali Buddhist monastery which is quite large and very peaceful with a fair bit to see , as well as the main temple there are separate rooms with large prayer wheels, libraries, and lots of friendly cats wandering around.

Back in Darjeeling I stopped in for Tea and a snack at Nathmull’s tea rooms which has great views over the hills of Darjeeling before heading back to the hotel.

I had dinner at the hotel and had planned for a late night as it was the day that PCT permits were being issued for 2020.

The start time for issuing permits on the website was 10.30 am in Los Angeles making it midnight here. I arrived on the site a couple of minutes early as they suggested to get a random place in the queue and watched as the count down clock worked its way down.

My place in the queue was 8911 predicting a wait of in excess of one hour and showed a little person walking along. I set a timer for an hour and was still awake when it went off, the little person looked about half way to his destination (4500 applicants still ahead of me ) when the timer went off next it woke me and it was my turn, I got onto the site and was pleased to find that I could pick the starting point of Tuolumne meadows in Yosemite National Park which is where Jake and Myself left the trail in 2018 after 950 miles.

Providing my application is approved I will start on 18 June 2020 and have given myself 3 months to finish the roughly 1700 miles averaging just over 20 miles a day which should be achievable if I learn from my mistakes of 2018 and consume enough calories on the trail which is very difficult when walking up to 25 miles a day and carrying a pack with everything you need to live on the trail.

That’s enough PCT for now , as I’ve got the application process done I can now forget about it as I’m still only half way around India.

This was my last full day in Darjeeling and there were still a couple of things I wanted to see so after breakfast I headed up the hill to the Japanese Peace Pagoda and Buddhist temple.

The temple was first and you could hear drumming going on as you approached, on going inside it’s the sound of the drum that draws you upstairs and as I stood in the doorway the drummer motioned me in and I sat down behind one of about 8 drums/tambourines on the floor, at this point one other tourist joined us and we picked up the drum and a stick and the drummer indicated the beat for us and pointed out a 7 beat chant, I just about kept the 7 beat rhythm for 5 minutes before deciding I had enough, the drummer put 3 mints in our hands as we left but I’m afraid I don’t know the significance of them.

The Japanese peace pagoda was higher up and I had timed it about right as a crowd was just leaving and I had it to myself until another crowd was just arriving as I left. It was very peaceful and serene with wonderful views over Darjeeling.

I then had decided that I’d walk over to Tensing rock which was over the other side of Darjeeling about 3 km away and it really was just that a rock that had been fenced off and a sign, on the way over I had spotted a sign saying ” British Ropeway ” and could see a Cable car above me but couldn’t see a way up to it, on the way back I had a closer look a spotted a stone staircase leading up, at the top I decided that it looked safe enough but not sure it would pass safely measures were used to back home, it was 5 km’s up and down and took us over the Tea Plantations in about 40 mins, so that was an unexpected surprise trip.

Coming back I stopped for my last pot of Darjeeling here and a piece of cheesecake at Nathmull’s again and it came with a champagne glass to pour it in which I’d never seen before but I thought I’d try it and realised straight away that it just intensifies the aroma.

The hotel had booked me a car and driver to take me to Bagdoga airport for seven in the morning, he arrived on time and we got to the airport in plenty of time for the 12.10 flight to Calcutta, Security checks went ok this time as I had taken a bug bite clicker out of my hold luggage which I think was mistaken for a lighter on my last flight. Check in and then security though to departure lounge went smoothly.

The flight to Calcutta boarded and took off ahead of schedule and landed on time, I just had to hope that my bag would also follow me on to Lucknow, I did have a quick check of the conveyor belt in Calcutta just in case they unloaded it there by mistake but couldn’t see it.

The onward flight to Lucknow was pretty much on time as well and as we came down though thick clouds I could see we were landing in a wet Lucknow.

I found the baggage carousel and waited till there was only a couple of us waiting for bags and suspected that my fears were right and it had gone missing somewhere along the way, one of the airport supervisors had seen me waiting and came up to me, I told him my bag should of followed me from Bagdoga and he checked my baggage ticket and told me to wait there, he went down to the end of the carousel and it looked like someone then put my bag on, it was a bit wet and the baggage tag was missing but at least I got it.

I had checked my Uber app was working whilst waiting for my bag and was pleased to see it was but went to the prepaid taxi anyway and he quoted me 4 times the price of the Uber ( I’d off happily paid 2 x the price but not 4 )

Eventually the Uber driver found me amongst the crowds outside who also seemed to be waiting for Uber’s instead of taking taxis and we made our way though flooded streets to the hotel, after doing a partial unpack I went in search of food and found the hotel did have a restaurant but it was empty and locked up but they opened it for me which surprised me and as it was pouring with rain still thought I’d chance it although I didn’t expect much, I ordered some soup, chicken curry, rice and a parota and it was very good but I got two large dishes of chicken curry instead of one but it was so nice I finished it all, I blame my total lack of Hindu for the confusion, I really should of picked some up by now.

At least it had stopped raining when I got up in Lucknow this morning but it was still very wet and grey outside. I had tracked down a suitable train to Varanasi on an Indian train app and after breakfast at the hotel made my way to the train station about a mile away.

Lucknow train station is very spread out and over 3 different locations, I eventually found the building to reserve a ticket to Varanasi which this time involved another process once you have your ticket of going to another counter where they then record all the details in a book, I’m not sure if this is just for tourists.

I returned to the hotel by a slightly different route and stopped on a pedestrian foot bridge to take a video of the traffic below, as I was doing that I was approached by a guy probably in his twenties who struck up a conversation about usual stuff , where I was from, what was I doing in Lucknow etc, but I became uncomfortable when he asked if I was alone and where I was staying, I pointed in the general direction and said over there somewhere, when he asked if I wanted a massage I made my excuses and left not entirely happy with the way men traveling alone can be perceived in some countries.

In the afternoon I got a Uber over to the Hazratganj area of Lucknow which seems to be the city centre to all intents and purposes, Lucknow is another very busy city when it comes to traffic and I had time to see some of the city by car, I found myself in a mall and went to grab some lunch and have a look around, like other malls here the top floor consists of a food court with fast food outlets which can occasionally be a change from the usual restaurants here, I managed to have a look around the area but it is mainly a shopping district and got a coffee in India’s equivalent of Starbucks ” cafe coffee day and then tried to order an Uber back but the signal wasn’t strong enough for it to work or for the maps app to give me a route back to the hotel, fortunately I remembered some of the way so started walking and eventually picked up enough of a signal to order a Uber. The traffic was that heavy it would of been as quick to walk but i didn’t mind as I got to see some more of the city.

Once back at the hotel I managed to book my accommodation for a couple of nights in Varanasi, I’ll decide when I get there whether to extend my time there or find somewhere else to explore before New Delhi on the 25th.

After being plunged into total darkness by a power cut which thankfully only lasted about 1/2 an hour and the restaurant at the hotel not looking like it was going to open anytime soon, I ventured out into the craziest traffic I’ve seen yet, it seemed like every inch of space on the road was occupied by a car, tuk tuc , motorcycle, scooter or a bike there was hardly room to put your foot anywhere.

I found the first restaurant I could and went in and ordered, it was your typical Indian restaurant here serving simple food and had a fair few customers which I took as a good sign and ordered a dhall, rice and parothas, you can tell they don’t get many foreigners as everyone watches you and can’t help staring but I’m used to it now and it doesn’t bother me, the food was very good and afterwards worked my way back though the traffic which hadn’t eased to the hotel.

Lucknow in a way feels like a smaller version of Calcutta but without the poverty that Calcutta has. It doesn’t seem to be somewhere that gets many tourists, I’ve seen 2 so far and none on the flight here but it’s possible it may get more at a different time of the year. I will try to explore it more tomorrow but things to see here appear to be limited unless your in Cricket season then there’s a large ground and stadium here.

It’s still wet damp and grey in Lucknow this morning and with no heating in most hotels here, clothes can be difficult to dry out and still feel damp in the mornings, I’m hoping it warms up a little bit or at least see the sun again soon, I’m starting to miss the weather in the south.

This is my last day here in Lucknow and will move on to Varanasi on an early train tomorrow all being well arriving early afternoon.

So I will wrap this up here and try to get it and some photos online.

So until next time

Take Care

Regards Chris