We booked a train ticket to Darjeeling, and what we found out when we met a bunch of other travellers at the train station was that the train we booked tickets on was a 'notoriously shitty train'. In India, this loosely translates into, this train will be delayed by seven hours. What's crazy is that everyone in India knows that this particular train will be seven hours late because it's always seven hours late, and instead of changing the schedule to reflect the delay, they just operate on the assumption that anyone booking a ticket on it knows it'll be seven hours late and turns up at the station at the right time. Not seven hours early like we did. We threw our backpacks on the ground (they make great seats!) and got comfortable. Our group swelled from three to nine as other travellers arrived at the station and realised they were in for a wait. As cliche as it sounds, we all sat in a circle and played cards, tuned guitars, had staring competitions with Indian people (always an entertaining game!), drank chai and shared stories - from home and our travels. Not only was this my first train delay, but these were my first travel friends.
Strangers one minute, friends the next. Names are forgotten as soon as they're mentioned, but what you remember is where your new friends are from. Canada, who's travelling solo around the world with his guitar and go-pro, France and Brazil, who are holding hands and smiling at each other, Australia, who taught me how to play briscola, and Adelaide, who actually only lives a street away from me. Four days after I met them, I said goodbye, and it was hard. We exchanged names and emails, hugged, and they got on a train going south, while I waited for a train going north. One of the greatest things about my trip was the people that I met and travelled with, sat in stairwells chatting with, and share stories and laughs with. I won't ever forget these people, and I look forward to meeting them again - at my home or theirs.
We got to Siliguri - the closest train station to Darjeeling - late at night, and then had to hop into a jeep for a three hour drive up a windy mountain road. Cue motion sickness. Cue me becoming so incredibly frustrated at getting motion sickness. When we finally arrived in Darjeelinig it was midnight and nothing was open. The boys wandered around for a bit, knocking on doors until we managed to wake someone up who could offer nine weary travellers beds.
We got up the next morning and explored the town a bit, but unfortunately for us, the whole town was striking - nothing was open and nobody was around. Luckily for us there was one small cafe - Sonam's - open for breakfast. And by open, I mean you had to knock on the door and squeeze through the tiny kitchen to find yourself a seat in the cosy dining room as the cafe was technically closed. Bless Soman and her husband for opening to feed hungry travellers. I highly recommend that you check out Sonam's if you're ever in Darjeeling - it has the best toast you will eat in India, the best hasbrowns, and some pretty decent coffee. After breakfast we found some kids playing a game of street cricket and sat down to watch. The next morning we got up at four am and headed for Tiger Hill. From a lookout you can watch the sun rise on one side, and the Himalayan mountains come into view on the other - it was amazing and worth getting out of a warm bed at four in the morning for. We walked back along the top of the mountains, through forests and little villages, past rows and rows of Buddhist prayer flags, and stumbled upon a Buddhist graveyard. It was a beautiful walk in the morning sun, and by the time we got back to Darjeeling we were ready to hit Sonam's for breakfast.
After a nap (me) and cards (the boys) we headed down to The Happy Valley Tea Estate. The factory itself was closed - the picking season runs from March to November - and there were no women picking tea, but we wandered around the estate, through the plantations, and sat down to take in the view, which was incredible. We were sitting there for a couple of minutes before a voice behind us said 'Do you want to have some tea?', to which we all yelled back yes! A kind lady invited ('Come up to my house for the best cup of tea you've ever tasted') us into her teeny tiny lounge room-cum-shop and set some water to boil to make us a cup of tea. After a lovely chat with her about all things tea and a cup of Darjeeling tea (tick that on off the bucket list!), we headed back out into the plantation and the boys started a game of chess that attracted the attention of a group of local kids, which was cute until one of the kids accidentally knocked the chess board over. On the walk back up to town we stopped and watched some fireworks - and Indian fireworks are insane!
The next day we went to the zoo! After watching tigers sunbathe, a bear lazily watch the humans walk past, and some monkey's chase each other around we headed back into town for a lazy day and some thukpa - Tibetan noodle soup! We were on the move again in the morning, jumping into a jeep back to Siliguri and then onto a train bound for the North Eastern states.