Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Rough Road to Nirvana

Central Nirvana Hotel, Darjeeling
Hotel Central Nirvana, Darjeeling, India
At the end of our Kanchenjunga trek we ended up in Taplejung. (Technically in Phunling, since Taplejung is actually the name of the district.) We were in the best hotel in town, which wasn’t bad, given where we were. We even had a functional hot shower in our room! Unfortunately it was also the noisiest night of the trip. Some group of people (we were told they were politicians) stayed up all night having loud discussions and talking on their cell phones in the hallway outside our room. And then there was the chorus of dogs barking and howling.

I’d already been thinking about how one of the big differences in getting back to “civilization” was the noise. For weeks pretty much the only noises we’d been hearing were natural - wind, water, birds, insects. Roosters in the morning. Now we had cars, trucks, motorcycles, radios, tvs - a constant background. You can guess which I prefer!

The next day we had the seven hour jeep ride back to Phikkal. The road is paved and actually in reasonable shape, but it’s very windy and every curve is taken at max speed so you have to constantly hold on to prevent getting tossed around. And if there is ever a straight section, e.g. through a village, that just means accelerating to high speed through a slalom of people, cows, dogs, and bicycles. Our driver was good, but it’s still a tiring journey.

We got our old room back at the Kanyam Inn near Phikkal. Amazingly, they have wifi here but it wasn’t working when we arrived. We thought internet would have to wait, but the owner/manager proceeded to pull a new wireless router out and plug it in and we were online.

The next day our trekking guide and driver took us to the Indian border, about an hour’s drive, mostly on highway. They found us another car and driver to take us across the border and to Darjeeling. The actual border crossing was quick and easy. People from Nepal and India can pass freely across the border, so there were no lineups of locals. And we didn’t see any other white tourists.

Our new car was just a regular small car (rather than a four wheel drive high clearance jeep) so we assumed that meant it was a better road to Darjeeling. Wrong! The road might have been good at some point in the past but it was falling apart now. It was full of car swallowing potholes and busy with traffic, and of course only about one and a half lanes wide making every encounter with another vehicle a challenge. Again, our driver was good and drove relatively safely, but it was another tiring 4 hour drive.

We finally arrived in what we thought was Darjeeling, but it turned out to be Kurseoung. Another hour to go.

Originally, we had assumed we could get from Phikkal to Darjeeling in a day. But then we’d been told it would take two days, with an overnight near the border. As it turned out, it was no problem to make it in one day. That meant we were arriving in Darjeeling a day early. I phoned our hotel to book the extra night and they said they had no rooms available. The owner/manager of the Kanyam Inn said he knew a place, and called and got us a room. Problem solved, or so we thought.

When we arrived in Darjeeling, our driver took us to the hotel (or as close as he could get) and dropped us off. We walked up the steep narrow road wondering what kind of place we were ending up at. It didn’t seem like a very classy area! The Hotel Majestic was anything but. It looked like it was more aimed at locals rather than tourists. There was at least a private bathroom, but no shower, and not even any hot water. After two days of tiring driving we were a little worn out and had been looking forward to something a little better. But it was only for one night and it seemed clean enough, just basic.

We headed out to look for lunch. (The hotel restaurant didn’t look like somewhere you’d want to eat.) The hotel we were booked into (Central Nirvana) after that night had a sister hotel (Central Heritage) so we decided we’d go and see what it was like and maybe switch to there. Darjeeling is on the side of a steep hill and is a maze of steep windy narrow crowded roads. Even Google maps has trouble here! We ended up taking a taxi to the hotel, even though we were pretty sure it was walking distance, because we couldn’t quite figure out where we were, where it was, and how to get between those two points! The hotel looked nice and had a room, which we asked to look at. It was night and day compared to the Majestic. We said we’d take it and then proceeded to explain our story. They were surprised that the other hotel didn’t have rooms, and phoned them, to find out they did have rooms after all. I have no idea why they told me they didn’t that morning.

So we walked over to where we were booked (Central Nirvana) and got everything arranged, then walked back to the Majestic. We thought we knew the way after having come by taxi. We only got lost a couple of times :-)

We picked up our bags which we then had to haul for about a ten minute walk to the taxi stand. Of course, the taxi couldn’t actually get to our hotel (streets too narrow) so it dropped us off with another ten minute walk to the hotel. Shelley was starting to get a little cranky by this point so it’s a good thing that there were no more hiccups and we got checked into our room. The room wasn’t quite as nice as the one we’d viewed at Central Heritage, but it was still pretty nice and had the requisite hot shower!

I’d chosen Central Nirvana because it had a nice garden and was a little off the main streets and therefore quieter. The garden certainly looks nice and I think we’ll appreciate being away from the hustle and bustle.

We've now made the transition from trekker to tourist. We’re looking forward to a change from the constant movement and relaxing for a few days in the one place. Darjeeling is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit - it’ll be fun to look around and sample some tea!

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