Shillong to Darjeeling, February 2016

We arrived in Gawahati hoping to take the overnight train to New Jalpaiguri, or NJP. Instead, we were greeted with cancelled trains due to rails being blocked by Cooch Behar people demanding their own state. It was warmer and humid here, with many mosquitos. It was crowded and busy. Our driver brought us to a parking lot while we looked for a hotel. Maybe it was just the neighborhood where we were, but none of us liked Gawahati. It was hard to cross even the one-way street due to aggressive traffic, and hotel owners surprisingly were turning us away because they did not have a license to accept foreigners. What? We had expected, but never encountered this in Myanmar- you know, the country recently opened to tourism in the past 5 years- but not in India. Tourists go to India all the time, don’t they? I know a bunch of people who have gone, I work with US-born people of Indian descent, they are always going. Taj Mahal, Dehli, Mumbai, isn’t tourism big in India? Why would hotels reject foreigners? When we did find a place, we had to supply our passports and have our photos taken. This became routine as we moved more west into the country, but thankfully we never had the ‘foreigner license’ problem again. The train disappointment and hotel challenge, along with more vehicles on the roads and repeated warnings to keep the kids close and watch our belongings carefully put us on edge a bit but nothing bad happened. We spent the evening dodging traffic and looking into planes, buses, taxis to NJP. At one point it looked as if we would be in the back row (least desirable due to relatively more bumpiness and swaying) on a night bus. Ugh, not another night bus! In the end, we were pleasantly surprised when we went to check on train tickets the next morning and left with 2ac tickets for all of us within an hour. These are desirable tickets because while they don’t cost a lot more, there are only four rather than six beds in a compartment and there is much more space. We had to hustle and do a very quick ATM trip, packing spree, quick goodbye to the French couple who’s company we had enjoyed so much, and literal run to the train station with our luggage, but we made it. This is almost miraculous, as the kids hadn’t been up long and six people can generate a lot of inertia, but there we were. We settled in, accepting linens despite it being a daytime trip, drank tea and enjoyed leaving Gawahati. It was our first time on an India Rail train, and it was great!  

  

 Excellent views of farmers and fields, oxen pulling wooden carts, SUV-sized golden hay stacks with pointed tops, women in multicolored saris farming, kids running around, goats and pigs, wheat fields. There were vendors selling food, snacks, chai. We had about seven hours of this and eventually pulled into NJP. We dodged the tuk tuks crowding the train station entrance and found one a little walk further. He took us to an affordable hotel in Siliguri, an adjacent town and the starting point to Darjeeling. We had a comfortable night there and caught a minivan to Darjeeling after breakfast the next morning.

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