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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Darjeeling to Kathmandu

INDIA | Tuesday, 18 December 2007 | Views [8733] | Comments [2]

Mon 10th Dec - Checked my bank account last night and noticed that when I was in Varanasi, a void ATM transaction had actually been charged to my account. So, armed with a print-out I headed off to the State Bank of India to sort it out. Straight to the manager, a really nice man by the name of Gautam. 'This happens all the time' he told me. 'We have a process in place to sort it out'. Made me a cup of tea and we chatted about the british involvement in Darjeeling and he was such a gracious character, he couldn't have been nicer. Problem was that, as the transaction had been done in Varanasi (aka Banares), they had to be the ones to sort it out, but he would sort it for me. Kept popping back throughout the day without much progress.

Off to kill some time, so went to the railway station to look at the steam train. This leaves every morning on a 2hr round trip to Ghoom. I came through there on the diesel version. Opposite the station almost, there is the 'Dirdham Mandir' hindu temple. This is apparently a replica of the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. Will find out soon.

Now that I have decided to go overland to Kathmandu from here, leaving tomorrow morning, off to get a guide book. The only real bookshop in town is the Oxford book & stationery company on Chowrasta. My backpack is too heavy so I need to shed some weight from it. It is getting to the point where I asked the shop to weigh the book before I bought it!

Lunch at the Keventers café, which sits in a great position opposite the Planters club, with super views over the town and distant mountains. Black & white photographs from when the place opened in 1910 showed how nice Darjeeling must have been back then. It is still ok now, but unfortunately overrun by jeeps, cars, hawkers and street shacks. A constant background noise from the traffic. I can also imagine the pristine buildings glistening in the sunshine with coloured roofs and the stunning mountains in the distance. Nowadays, even though it's a beautiful sunny day, it's all a bit jaded as nothing much gets maintained. Looks as though the place hasn't seen any fresh paint since being built.

Had a quick look in the Statesman newspaper to see what is going on in India and the little bit of the world it reports on....I came to Darjeeling via New Jalpaiguri from Varanasi aboard the 4056 Brahmaputra mail train....It was front page news that this train had de-railed yesterday close to New Jalpaiguri injuring many people, which is where I got off.... That was close wasn't it!

Mr nicey the bank manager looks as though he managed to get my money back from Varanasi, but will not know til tomoro.

Off to the Inox cinema to see the latest release Aaja Nachle with the incredibly beautiful Madhuri Dixit. India has some stunners I have to say, and she is a heart melter. This movie is one of those that is in 'Hindlish'. That is, sentences are regularly a mixture of english phrases and hindi. Makes for easier understanding of the plot. It seems to be more common in the south of the country from what I hear. Madhuri plays the lead character Dia, who learns that the guru who coached her early life has died. She left india for New York when she ran off with an american photographer amidst shame to her family, who told her it would never work. They were right and they got divorced. So she returns to her home town of Shamli after 10yrs absence. The guru's institute Ajanta has been threated with demolition. To save it Dia embarks on a mission to stage a theatrical production using locally recruited town's people. Unfortunately, there are people who do not want to see her return due to the shame she caused. There is also the developer who wants to demolish the place, so everything is stacked against her attempts. The song and dance routines were awesome, and there were many right from the start - The best movie I have seen to date. The most stunning sets (and incredibly gorgeous women). As with all good Bollywood movies, the finale was action packed, glitzy, full of bold and bright costumes and superb dance routines.

Met up with a lovely couple from Italy who are staying at the same hotel for dinner at Glenary's restaurant. A highly recommended place, good café downstairs for coffee and cakes during the day, and the really nice restaurant upstairs for the night, complete with open log fire to keep warm by. They also have a music section called 'The Buzz' that I didn't get chance to go into that regularly has live bands.

As i'm off to Nepal early in the morning, had to go and pack and settle up my bill with the manager. Photos on his office wall show his meetings with the Dalai Lama, and a cool picture showing an artists impression of a new golden Buddha statue that will be built in northern india, that is planned to be 500m high - the tallest statue in the world! It looks awesome. Apparently it has been temporarily halted due to a number of reasons. When it does get built, it will be worth coming back to india to see.

Tue 11th Dec - Early start today but it did't help that the road outside my hotel was filling with the sound of jeeps at 4am, so my sleep was disturbed earlier than I wanted. Decided to make tracks as I awas awake anyway. Sorted a shared jeep to get to Siliguri that left at 7am for 80 rupees. Shared with a bunch going back to Bhutan. The route is similar to that used by the toy train, but does head off into some other areas which are really nice. Mainly tea plantations but an area around Rohini has a high military presence with training grounds and old tanks and the like on demonstration in attractive settings along the road.

Left Darjeeling in the cold, but arrived at Siliguri being much lower in altitude and warmer in the upper 20degC. Took under 3 hours to do the 85km journey. Onto another shared jeep for 60 rupees to get to the Nepal border. The Indian side is at Panitanki and the Nepal side is Karkabhitta. Took about an hour to get to Panitanki (about 18km), due to bottleneck on the way in and an accident on the way there between two buses. Got dropped off at the exit post, which is a small building no bigger than a shed. No flash system, just a guy with a book who writes in your details and stamps you out of India. A few hundred metre walk then across the river bridge and through an archway which is the Nepal border in Karkabhitta. Shortly after it is the immigration office. Have to supply one photograph and $30 for the entry visa and the usual forms to fill in. The guy asked for another 100 rupees admin fee, whixh surprised me. Sounded fishy! Someone else who was having problems with not having enough money to cover the visa had asked to see the manager. I asked the manager about this 100 rupees and he returned it to me...apparently the visa officers pocket this as not many challenge it and it is definitely not required!

Next have to get some Nepalese rupees. Just after the immigration post is the state bank of Nepal building...a dingy poorly marked building. Unfortunately, they don't take indian rupees in 500 or 1000 denominations for some reason, so there are loads of money changers waiting to grab you. You get the same rate if you know what that is. Fortunately, I did. Should be 1.6 Nepalese rupees for every indian rupee. Sorted that out so next had to work out how to get to Kathmandu. There is only one bus stand but that is chaotic and nothing signed in english. Ended up sorting a seat on the 3pm semi-deluxe bus for 757NRs (could also have paid 497 Indian Rs). Journey is 610km and should take around 14 hours. There is no way this bus is semi-deluxe...I could see the road through holes in the floor. My seat was shoehorned in next to a guy built like a sumo wrestler with a really bad sweat problem. Had to squeeze in sideways to fit in the seat! There was no way I was spending 14 hours like this. He was also a bit of a pig and kept leaning across me to spit out of the window...yuk! First opportunity I was off to another seat. Unfortunately it was someone elses, causing a bit of a heated discussion as I refused to move back. Some weedy little guy agreed to sit next to mr sumo and all calmed down.

Off into Nepal and first impressions were good...tea plantations followed by bananas, coconuts, rice paddies and other green agricultural areas. Very flat and many narrow dryish river beds with the tarmaced roads crossing over wide bridges along the route. Very pretty wooden shacks on stilts amidst the plantations, a really attractive area.

Along the way, every time the bus stopped begging kids would jump on board and got really annoying, and they were so dirty it made me itch. One kid annoyed me so much with his attitude I physically got hold of him and threw him off the bus. Also along the way, occasional stops for armed police/soldiers to search the bus. A remant of the troubles that have recently occurred here. Dinner stop was at a little shack in the middle of nowhere. I was given a plated of food (dahl, soup looking wet thing and some chapatis and some curd) but they wouldn't take any money from me although everyone else had to pay. Good job as it was crap and didn't want to pay anyway.

Hardly slept all night as there was enough legroom for a stick insect and no way of getting comfortable. Arrived in Kathmandu at 5am shattered and immediately mobbed by taxi drivers. Sorted out one to get me to the Kathmandu Guest house in Thamel for 300 rupees. Checked in and straight to bed to sleep.

Wed 12th Dec - This guest house is renowned as an institutuon in Kathmandu. This is justified as the place is superb. Not the cheapest I must admit, but well worth it. Security guarded entrance and every facility you could ask for on site. I wasn't happy with the room I had been quickly put into on arrival so moved. Got a really nice room facing the Buddha gardens. The KGH was originally a palace and was the first hotel to open in Kathmandu. The beatles stayed here when it was a hippie travellers hangout!

Thamel is ideally placed to explore Kathmandu's vast array of activities and sights. Despite what people will say about Kathmandu, I personally think it's great place. Yes it isn't the cleanest of places, but having spent a long time in india, this is no worse. Shortly after setting off from the KGH, got mobbed by touts offering tours. As usual I ignore them but they follow anyway and start chatting. A couple of lads, Bhim and Ram...sounds like a cartoon duo!...were really nice so carried on with them. Not going to describe everything as there is so much to see in this city, it would take a book to detail them. What I will say is that this place has some stunning architecture and incredible history.

First stop, Banghmuda. This is a quirky sight. Known as the 'God of teeth', it is a piece of twisted wood on the corner of one of the Chowks where people with toothache come and nail a coin onto it and make a prayer for the pain to go away. They also do this when their wisdom teeth are growing. It has been here for 300 years so has many thousands of coins.

The White Machendranath temple, god of rain (both hindu and buddhist shared). Built in the 17th century and of tiered design. Covered in hundreds of pidgeons and really fancy. It is currently being cleaned for a forthcoming festival so the 108 prayer wheels (as with all buddhist temples, being their lucky number), were being cleaned and the ground pressure washed to get rid of the pidgeon droppings. Many other temples and buildings to wow over, but the main centre of the city is the awesome 'Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square', which was listed as a World Heritage site in 1979. This is dominated by the awesome tiered 'Telaju' temple. This is only opened for one day every year to hindus only during the Dasain festival on 24th october. 108 animals are sacrificed during that festival to Khali, 54 goats and 54 buffalos. There are so many temples and buildings in Durbar square that it takes a good half a day to look around. A photographic wonder, the buildings go back to the 15th century during the time of King Ratna Malla (1484-1520) through to King PrithibBir Bikran Shah (1881-1911), although there is evidence that history began here inn the 7th century as borne out by an inscription in the area.

One temple is dedicated to the godess of fertility. Women wanting babies queue up here on mondays to pray for health and success.

In Kot square, the 'Great drums' were built to warn of troubles. A goat and a buffalo are sacrificed here twice a year.

A start contrast to the antiquated buildings is the white and blue Metropolitan Police building next to the main square. This is also a prison for petty crimes upto 31days imprisonment. Stands out a bit from everythng else around here.

Sorted out a trip to Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal for a couple of days so pleased with that. More of that later.

In the evening the KGH comes alive with music, a movie hall, restaurants and a lovely open log fire in the reception. Thamel also buzzes as so many restaurants and bars vie for business with live bands and traditional dancing. Decided to go to a nice café with a log fire and watch some traditional dancing. Met a nice girl from Ireland to spend the evening with, swapping travel stories over a meal and gorgeous hot rum punch. Really nice evening...could spend a long time here like so many others do.

Thu 13th Dec - On a tour of some local sights with Bhim & Ram the cartoon duo. First stop, the 'Swayambunath' buddhist stupa, which is only a 20 minute walk from Thamel. This site is also known as the monkey temple after the hoards of monkeys that frequent the main staircase entrance. Along the entrance is the usual array of 108 prayer wheels and two large prayer wheels housing the holy texts. To get to the main stupa on top of the hill are 365 steps built in the 17th century. According to legend, the Kathmandu valley was a lake and geologists now agree. The stupa was said to have risen out of the valley like a lotus flower. The view from the top would be fantastic if it wasn't for the terrible smog that hangs over the city below. A dirty grey cloud hides the mountains. This did improve as the day went on but it gets choking down below.

A bit of info about stupas.... Always have 108 prayer wheels which are engraved with the holy mantra Om Mani Padme Hum (Hail to the jewel in the lotus), Always have 13 tiers on top of the dome representing the 13 steps to perfection on the way to Nirvana, 5 sections symbolising the elements - Earth, Water, Fire, Air & Ether. A square sction stands atop the dome with the eyes of buddha on each face. A third eye above and between the two eyes symbolises buddha's insight. The question mark shaed nose is the nepali number ek or one, which means a symbol of unity.

A short walk from here to the 'Amideba Buddha park' which houses threee enormous buddha gold statues, Tara, Gautam and Melarapa. A mound at the back of the site has a couple of shells buried in the wall which you can blow into to make a horn sound.

Shared jeep to Bodnath and another Stupa built in 600AD. This village is the religious centre for Nepal's tibetan exiles.

Final site of the day, the amazing 'Pashupatinath'. Unfortunately, the main temple is only accessible to hindus but it is incredible from the outside anyway. The main reason why most people come here though is that the river Bagmati that passes through Pashupatinath is holy, so like varanasi, hindus bring their dead to be cremated on its banks. There were a number of cremations in process today and you can sit on the opposite bank and observe. Unlike Varanasi where photographs weren't allowed, here they don't mind but I felt uncomfortable anyway, as this is a personal family event and not a tourist attraction / show. Many colourfully decorated sadhus are strolling around the area as one of the most important Shiva temples is here.

On way around the ring road there was a large board showing the faces of the 19 martyrs who died in the uprising of April 2006. I gather that this was due the loss of popularity of the king when it was believed he had killed his brother and so was ousted from the throne. Many Kathmandu's believe they are worse off now. During the riots there was a curfew for 20 or so days when people were only allowed out for 1 hour per day for food.

After dinner decided to check out one of the world's most famous bars (well, in Kathmandu anyway) ...the 'Rum and Doodle restaurant and bar'. Named after the world's highest mountain, the 40,000 1/2 ft Mt Rum doodle! It is a meeting place for trekkers and mountaineers and has the great boast that you can eat here free for life...as long as you have conquered Mt Everest first! The walls are covered in messages from the world's great mountaineers including Edmund Hilary no less, and large yeti sized footprints adorn the walls and ceiling with messages from all who pass through. A nice rum butter punch to warm the insides and chat to folk around the bar. Great atmosphere. Thamel is a great place for nightlife with a constant sound from bars and live bands competing with each other plus the ever present shops that seen to be permanently open. Take the traffic, pollution and refuse away and it would be even better. Nepal in general is dear compared to India and you have to search around for the best prices for stuff as well as food and drink as they add 13% tax on top of everything although most menus don't mention it. A comment in the Lonely Planet guidebook is true, in that Kathmandu can 'leech' money out of you! The area of Thamel seems to exist nowadays on tourism, although life has gone on here for a lot longer....wall-to-wall shops, restaurants, bars, trekking and tour agencies and money changers. The other thing about the place is that I have been stopped so many times by drug sellers trying to pedal marijuana, cocaine or tabs of many forms. Also got offered a nepal woman by one guy! Did you know it's 7,325km to London from here...you do now...thought I would throw that one in.

Tags: Sightseeing




India is a great place and Darjeeling is just amazing! if you are a nature lover, this place is great! My trip to Darjeeling from London was really very memorable..Darjeeling is a heaven and if you are a nature lover, you'll be delighted to see the magical snow leopard,the most magical animal on the planet in some of the remotest parts of this place.Also,you'll get to see hawks, red pandas,Himalayan bear!We kept seeing at the red Pandas for hours,it was really a wonderful experience!My maternal cousin has got married in India and she lives at Darjeeling, which is the most beautiful and serene place ever! The snow-covered Kanchenjunga looks majestic and the lush green mountain slopes, they just look fabulous! The best season to visit Darjeeling would be in the month of December, when the sky is really blue and the air feels so fresh!I just love this place! :-)

  Qert Cullen Oct 28, 2010 5:25 PM


I couldn't agree more Qert. I will most probably be going back with my wife in December for the 2nd time and looking forward to it. We will head to Sikkim from there for Christmas.

Best wishes

  jeff bradshaw Oct 29, 2010 10:02 PM

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