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India: Darjeeling, Singalila Trek and Himalayan Views

Herein lies a tale of elevated social bliss and well earned, amazing Himalayan views; following exhilarating trekking.

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Darjeeling

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Journey

The cab ride to Kolkata airport is long, slow, noisy and "aromatic".
My driver weaved in and out of congested lanes with similar daring as Han Solo and Chewbacca showed in their Millenium Falcon.
The flight to Bagdogra was a brisk 1 hour.

I took a taxi to Silgiri, then hopped on to a share jeep for the swerve-y 4 hour journey up the steep mountains to amazing Darjeeling.
Share jeeps are the primary mode of transport in these parts (the roads and inclines are too dicey for buses) - typically with 3 rows, and always crammed!

Next to me were a couple of local retired businessmen.
'Kumar' a retired military officer explained that he was stationed in Perth for a while.
He was born in Darjeeling and went to pains explain how much better it was when the "British were here". Elaborating that it was a much better run, cleaner and nicer place in those days, and that his home town had since fallen into decline.
Darjeeling isn't the glistening romantic hilltop station it may have been - but it is gorgeous all the same and has a warm, welcoming and vibrant charm.
I was so sad to leave when I did andmany other backpackers I met here expressed the same sentiment.

Kumar insisted on walking me to my guesthouse and to show me points of interest along the way.
Anyone might think he was leading up to a hard sell of something, but it became clear that he was a local dignitary. People stopped him in the streets to say hello and issue respect. I arrived at my guesthouse door very informed on my host town.
As Kumar went on his way he told me to ask around for him if I needed.
Darjeeling is that kind of place. You can afford to let your Varanasi or Rajasthan induced guard down a bit here.

Let's get trekking!!!

On my first day I roamed town and booked in for a trek, leaving the following day…

It was just myself, and another backpacker Sam (from London).
We took a jeep to the edge of Singalila National Park, which straddles India and Nepal.
As such we criss-crossed in and out of borders. At some points we had to pass through military check points to show our passports and visas - without much hassle.

This trek was pretty tough with some very steep gradients indeed!
The actual distance was somewhere between 35 and 45 kms depending on who you talk to.

Day 1
The views on the first day were very limited, as it was cloudy, but the weather cleared up pretty much for the rest of our journey.
For the evening we stayed in a home stay, along with another trekking group of gents from Kolkata.
We had a delicious veg curry with dahl for dinner, and a nice chat on Indian travel, Bollywood, and (of course) cricket - which I can only provide limited input on these days.

By 9 everyone was exhausted and ready to crash.
It reached bitterly cold temps in the evening, luckily there were nice thick down donnas at our beds.

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Day 2
The morning was clear and bright.

We soldiered on again. This was the longest leg - 19kms and some really steep gradients.
We passed through many small towns and villages.
One thing that puzzled me was - how the heck do they get supplies (building materials, etc) up here?!
Our guide really kept the pace going - which was good in a way, because we didn't dilly dally and got to our evening destinations with a good amount of light left.

We arrived at our hut within thick mist and cloud - we really couldn't see beyond 5 metres.
The night was cold and dark (no power in the huts), but the hut manager made us a hearty curry dinner, before a retreat to slumber under 5 blankets.

Gorgeous Rhododedrons amongst the mist:
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Day 3
The highlight!
The previous day, we climbed to the peak of Mt Sandakphu, though visibility was poor!
We had no idea of the view we would get in the morning.

At approximately 4:45am, our guide bashed on the door to tell us it was clear outside and to come and see the view.
When you see the magnificent Khangchengdzonga in clear view for the first time, your heart stops!

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To the left you could see Everest in the far distance:
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Absolutely mind blowing. Worth every step/climb/trudge!
(Link to full photo sets at end of this entry.)

Most of the final day was a decent, which uses completely different muscles. I felt my legs shaking about half way down!

This was a trip highlight....

Throughout the trek it was difficult to tell whether we were in India or Nepal!
Though, just before departing on a jeep back to Darjeeling we had to pass Indian border and passport control.
All in all it was a truly amazing experience.

Unforgettable Darjeeling

The rest of my time in Darjeeling was brilliant - it is one of those towns where you get to know most of the travellers there, and one where you could easily spend weeks!
My trekking buddy Sam and I went to Happy Valley tea plantation which makes tea exclusively for Harrod's. It was quite interesting, and definitely gorgeous! We also went for high tea at ……

Joey's Pub is a great hangout to catch up with other travellers. I had two good nights in there chatting with backpackers and locals alike. Sam and I got talking to a couple of guys who work in Bollywood as producers. They gave some great insights into Indian culture and the ins and out of the (enormous) entertainment industry.

Budgeteers - if you stay in Darjeeling - book Tranquility! It is one of the best guest houses I've stayed in India for the 500 rupee region.
The rooms have hot water, cable TV, comfy beds - and the front facing ones have unobstructed views of the lush mountains. The staff were excellent and the wi-fi was fast. What more could you want?

I left Darjeeling in a share jeep with great memories, new friends, sore legs and a smile!

Photos

You can see all of my Darjeeling photos here

Singalila Ridge trek photos here

Onwards and upwards to Sikkim……
Skinny Fists out.

Posted by SkinnyFists 19:32 Archived in India Tagged trekking himalayas darjeeling khangchendzonga singalila

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