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Blood letting is so yesterday

INDIA | Tuesday, 30 June 2009 | Views [774]

After a wonderful week in Vishisht we reluctantly returned to Delhi on the 16 hour bus that I got really sick on the way into the mountains. It was of course still really hot in Delhi and crazy busy but we were only staying one night and catching a flight to northeastern India en route to Darjeeling. Darjeeling, made famous by tea and the movie Darjeeling Limited from a few years ago. Darjeeling is also in the mountains so many Indians go there to escape the heat of the summer. Darjeeling also has a famed train that takes about 9 hours between two cities and has wonderful scenery the entire way. However, as discovered before leaving Delhi, Darjeeling also gets the monsoon rains that cover all of India at some point during the summer months, beginning in the south. We got to the airport on Saturday morning for our 2.5 flight and when boarding met two Indian guys who were touring India for a few weeks. They were born in the USA from Indian parents and would both visit India periodically to visit family. Ankit and Anand were both from New Jersey, and were childhood friends. Ankit was just finishing his work as a business consultant before beginning an MBA at U of Michigan in Ann Arbor (small world) in September and Anand lives in DC and works for a quasi-government agency involved with Job Corp. Ananad's family was from southern India and Ankit's was from around the Mumbai area. We struck up many conversations during the flight to Bagadogra (the closest airport to Darjeeling) and they were also going to spend a week there so we decided to share a taxi from the airport to the shared jeep stand after landing. Once we arrived at Darjeeling (which took over 3 hours up a bad mountain road in a cramped jeep) we found a hotel up in the hills of the city (actually the entire city is built in the mountains) and the  rain. Apparently the place is gorgeous when there are not clouds everywhere, literally you are in the clouds when it is not raining.

After getting our rooms we took some dinner and the boys began talking about organzing a treking outting. They had originally wanted to trek for 5 days or so but with the rain that seemed like a bit much. So the next day we just sort of hung around the city and took in the local sights. The boys got some info about trekking and found a guy named "Rambo" at least his name sounded something like that to us. He would do a 2 day/1 night trek leaving the next day. After discussing the trek with us they were going to return to Rambo's house to watch the Brazil vs. USA soccer game later that evening and firm up the details. You might remember I mentioned there are many, many stray dogs hanging around cities we have visited, India is no exception. When Anand and Ankit were returning to the hotel after the game it was very late in the night and the normal mild, even a bit playful strays that are walking around the city develop pack mentality late at night. Anand and Ankit were not aware of this change in personality and were harassed by a huge dog pack all the way back to the hotel. The only thing that saved them was two crappy Chinese made umbrellas (Anand's was fully deployed) and two friendly dogs that had escorted them from Rambo's house. Luckily the only violence occured when one bite Ankit's pants but did not draw blood. Word to the wise, when traveling at night in India bring a big stick and perhaps some sausages!

The next morning we met Rambo and four French guys who were trekking with us for the 1.5 hour jeep ride into the mountains. It was a camped ride (should have been an indication of how the whole thing would be) but we made it to a village close to the Nepalese border and began the steep climb further into the mountains. It rained off and on during the first few hours then we stopped for lunch at some random house for ramon noodles and cheese wine. No, not cheese and wine but cheese in the homemade wine. The French guys loved it, of course, two things so French in one glass, and Ankit and Anand downed their glasses. Jessica and I stuck with hot tea and noodles. We then set off climbing again and about 15 minutes in as I was talking to one of the French guys I noticed my toe was bleeding. Thinking I had cut it unknowingly I just rinsed it off and kept walking. A few minutes later I noticed my other foot was bleeding and upon futher inspection noticed these little black blobs stuck to my feet. I was wearing my trademark Chaco sandals so it was easy to see the leeches that were sucking my blood. About that time other folks started to check their shoes and socks and noticed leeches as well. One of the French guys said they were not poisonous and to wait until the end of the day to pull them off. The four of us decided against that and started pulling them off. I had five in total  with one big one hiding under a strap who left a rather large hole that bleed off and on for the next three hours. When we caught up to Rambo he acknowledged the presence of leeches but did not think it was a big deal to tell us so he didn't! We had also crossed into Nepal during this time but it all looked the same to me-green and wet!

We finally arrived at a tiny village of about 5 structures at 2900 m which was our "lodge" for the night. It had been raining pretty good by then so we were all wet and cold so they started a fire and we changed for tea then dinner. I was beginning to believe that our "guide" Rambo was less of a guide and more of an organizer as he just liked to laugh, drink wine and eat. Nice guy and all but not really the experience some of us were hoping for. The family that ran the lodge were very nice and cooked a wonderful Nepalize/Indian dinner of rice, chiapti, dahl and potatoes after which we told jokes and took pictures. Rambo fancied himself quite the joke teller but unfortunately for us his jokes took 20 minutes to tell and the punchlines were often lost on all of us. We turned in quite early to dogs barking at cows and drifted off to sleep. Jessica and I had our own room since we were the only couple.

The next morning Rambo woke us at 5:00am as promised to catch what clearing there was over the Himalayas. It was much more clear then the previous day but most things were still draped in clouds. It was not raining thankfully so after pictures, tea and poridged we set off down or actually up then down the trail to the next village. One thingsRambo was not good at as I described earlier was giving us information. Turns out he had a funeral to attend at 12:00 that day which he told us about that morning. This meant he was hauling ass down the mountain to our last stop and the awaiting jeep that would take us on a severly cramped ride down the mountain to the original village we started at the day before. The trek was over that quickly and as we made our way back to Darjeeling we listend to a mixture of American rap and traditional Hindu music on the jeep stereo while trying to avoid leg and back cramps. It was not raining when we returned to Darjeeling so we made our way up the hill to our hotel to shower and nap. I think for me the trek was much like I had done in SE Asia with wet jungles, rain and hapless guides who are nice people but poor guides.

The next few days we were staying in Darjeeling trying to decide on going to Nepal again and then coming back into India or staying in India and heading to Varanassi, Agra and beyond. It is still raining hard in Darjeeling on Wednesday so it makes it a nice day to be on the internet. Ankit and Anand are leaving for Calcutta on Friday to fly to Thailand Cambodia for a week before heading back to the USA. So with cheap Chinese umbrella in hand and wet feet, we face the rain that is the monsoon season of India! Quack, quack...

Tags: darjeeling, himalayas, leeches., tea

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