"SILIGURI! SILIGUIRI!" It seemed as if every taxi owner, friend of taxi owner, and young kid wanting to mess with us was determined to take us there. The screams followed us throughout the shared jeep lot as we made our way across town trying to find a hotel. Welcome to West Bengal!
Although the site of a bustling market, crowded streets, and colorful shops is nothing new to me, this city called Darjeeling was like entering another world. It was as if someone had taken Gangtok, moved it 90 kilometers, and doubled the population. It was an entirely new maze of alleys, of people, and of things to explore. Before any exploration could take place though it was necessary to find a hotel...no problem right? Yeah, that's what I would have thought to. After our fun four hour excersion crammed in the back of a jeep holding 11 people that should have held no more then 7, we were practically tossed into the middle of downtown Darjeeling with no idea of which way to go, or who to talk to. I'm sure it didn't help that there was no place we could stand where we didn't completely stick out. So, we just started walking...the wrong way of course. Eventually we found a hotel that looked "liveable" only to find out that the rooms that were promised to us were actually under construction and no guests could stay...no problem, there are tons of other hotels in Darjeeling. So we began walking again, this time with our own personal tour guide who was supposedly taking us to a nice hotel for the same price--the only catch-- he didn't speak a word of English. We climbed a couple stairways, wound through some back alleys and eventually ended up at a hotel named Snowcapped Mountain (in Nepali of course!)
So we made our way up... let's just say you get what you pay for...150 rupees a night (roughly 3 dollars) gets you a room with no running water, a hard bed with stains and an overly friendly landlord. We thought getting there was an adventure. Little did we know how the rest of the evening would go.
I've learned the the language barrier can not only lead to potentially offensive situations but also quite funny ones. While trying to find a place where we could go listen to music at night, our landlord somehow got the impression that we wanted to hear loud music at night. He interpreted this to mean that when we got back from dinner and were trying to go to sleep it would be a perfect opportunity to blast Nepali dance music on the newly installed speakers that were set right outside our door. Of course he was completely lost and offended when we asked him to turn it off! God I love India! Oh, did I forget to mention the power that had the tendency to go off for long periods of time. I think most of our time at the hotel was spent hold candles so that we could see. Thank god all we had to do was sleep there.
Anyways, after dropping our stuff off we decided to head out and explore the town. We wound our way through the neverending bazaars, smiled at a couple of little kids, and turned down quite a few beggars. Saturday morning we woke up early and walked up to the Himalayan Mountain Institute only to find out that the price for foriegners was five times more then the price for locals. A little pissed off Becca and I decided to walk down into the tea fields that surround the entire city. It was the best decision that I've made all trip. After a couple of minutes down hill the city seemed to melt behind us. The honking of horns that never ends on the main road faded into the distance behind us. Eventually it was just us, surrounded by tea fields and butterflies. So we sat. And we watched. And we talked. And life went on around us, barely noticing we were there. What a nice change...I don't think there has been a moment where we have just blended in since we entered India. But like normally, all good things must come to an end. Eventually we had to rejoin the rest of humanity up in the madness called Darjeeling.
The rest of the weekend was anything but planned. We originally wanted to spend two nights there but Jess (the other Jessica) got sick and needed to come back. We caught the last jeep we could out of town and returned to Gangtok early. That jeep ride was even better then the last one. Five hours seems pretty long when the girl sitting next to you is vommitting up breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can't blame her though...she was really really sick...we ended up taking her to the hospital the next night. Besides, I'm starting to believe that everything happens for a reason. If she hadn't gotten sick, we wouldn't have left Darjeeling on Saturday, and then we wouldn't have been in the jeep when the driver had to pay off the policeman who was going to write him a ticket for having an extra person. It was truly an India experience! =)