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Friday, May 18, 2012

DARJEELING

NARRATIVE

While I was in Dharan, I met up with a bright young man named Ashok who I spoke of in the previous blog entry. He warned me to be careful of which man I chose for the rickshaw. If the man looks slick and has earrings and such, he is to be avoided as he may try to rob me en-route.

Damned if it didn't happen.

I had flagged down some rickshaw driver and another slicker younger man tried to muscle in on it. The old guy looked pretty whipped by life and just kept his head down hoping to be able to eventually feed himself. I was starting to wonder if yelling 'Look, just fuck off' to the young guy was needed when the creepy guy who did my laundry at the guest house popped up. Damned if he didn't make good. He got rid of the young guy. I rode with the old guy without incident. Pretty happy about that.

It was a long, twisted road I took traveling from Kathmandu, Nepal to Darjeeling, India. I don't recommend making that trip.

On the way to the border, I had to take a rickshaw from Dharan. Normally, that would be a quick and easy taxi ride. Since there was a strike, nobody wanted to risk having their taxi set on fire for violating the strike.

I met up with a Christian. There is nothing that is more of a menace than a convert. He wanted to take me home to pray with him, his wife and child they were working on brainwashing. I turned it down. "Have you heard of Jesus?" No, I've managed to live all of my life in America without once coming across that name. What the hell is up with these religious Zealots?

After a lengthy series of rickshaws and microbuses I made it to within four kilometers (an easy rickshaw ride) of the border to India.

For those curious, my route was Bivatnejar to Jogbani to NJP to Siliguri to Darjeeling. Yes, you can bitch about how they're spelled but the towns are often spelled differently depending on which map you look at and so on.



REFLECTIONS ON NEPAL

After Rajistan India it was a welcome and most needed break. The vast majority of Nepali people were friendly and good humored. I like that. That being said, they have a very fucked up non-government government which is full of - if the people I spoke to are to be believed - a lot of people busy lining their own pockets. That sort of behavior does fit in with what I call the 'Asian business model'. It's sad. I'd have stayed around and gotten some more visits to towns were it not for the impending failure of the constitution to be done by it's latest deadline. There are a lot of 'pre-clusterfuck strikes' which will be happening. After the constitution, a lot more to follow is my guess. It's not a good time to visit Nepal.

The strikes make it extremely difficult to travel. Personally, I don't like traveling out at night when I can help it and the strikes have shut down transport during the day. It feels a bit like the original 'Terminator' movie in which the humans could only go out at night because the evil human killing robots never discovered thermal imaging. (If Skynet goes on line, don't tell them.)

If you as a tourist are thinking about going to Nepal, go for the outdoor activities. If you are not into things like hiking, paragliding, bungee jumping and so on, Nepal isn't really for you. Be advised that none of this stuff - even the trekking - is not cheap. Yes, there is nice scenery but they charge you to see it and everything costs more as you increase in altitude.

Kathmandu has plenty of 'creature comforts' but little 'tourist candy'. Three days should suffice. Bhaktapur is worth a visit. For white water rafting, be sure to visit the folks I mentioned earlier in previous blogs for the most safety stuff.

For my experiences, Nepal costs about the same as India.

Would I go back? Only for the people. The rest is either meh or I didn't visit initially due to either lack of interest or cost.



BORDER TOWNS

Border towns are generally scabby places and the one I was in was no exception. The part of Nepal I was in had become 'south east Asia hot'. Go outside, boom, you're covered in sweat.

Since my Indian visa states that I have to be out of the country for two months before I return - and I wasn't - I thought reentry would be more difficult. It wasn't. In fact, I ended up having tea with the superintendent of the security guards. Yes, one of his subordinates not under his watchful eye did make a hand gesture for wanting a small bribe but since he'd already given me the paperwork I needed to take back to his boss, I acted real dumb and he had to either spell it out or give up. He gave up.

The superintendent was super nice to me. He even assigned one of his men to take me over to the currency exchange I'd missed on the way there. That was great since I needed to exchange a fairly large amount of cash. I'd recently made a withdraw in Nepal so had what amounted to a small (very small) fortune on me. I wasn't at all happy to be doing this business at a counter on the street. I think I'd have felt better letting the man just examine my penis rather than have all of the other customers look at my wad of cash and think "If I just kill this fat man, all this wealth could be mine!" At least if they were looking at my dick they'd think "No threat." (If you didn't think the Logan's Voyage blog would stoop to dick jokes, be sure to read the back issues.)

The man who got sent with me also helped me weed out dubious bills to make sure I got only the best bills. This is important when changing money. If a bill doesn't even look like the others, reject it and get a new one. Same if there is any damage to the bill.

I got a picture with the superintendent and he got one with me. Sadly, getting a picture with his other men was prohibited though I'm not sure why.



INTO INDIA (AKA 'ONCE MORE INTO THE BELLY OF THE BEAST')

Trains in India are much better than buses in Nepal. Sadly, just like some of the buses, you often end up near someone who smells like they shit themselves. There is always the asshole who thinks you want to hear their music. I must admit that I wish I had a recording of cats having sex I could put on any time I hear Indian or Nepali music. It sounds as appealing to me. I'd have liked to pay more than 17 IRS for a seat but it was what was available - general third class seating. You never want anything other than 'AC' which is how they say first class. Ever. Really.

So the twelve hour journey I thought I was on stretched into more of a seventeen hour journey. For most of it, I had no food at all. Eventually, I wound up in a town and had a small meal praying not to get 'traveler's tummy'.

After the train, I had to take another train. I asked for 'first class' (mistake - ask for 'AC') and got third class general seating. I don't know if the guy just didn't understand, didn't care or there was no good seating left. Fortunately, I was taken in by a kindly Indian family who was crowded into the seats already. They made room. No English but I was grateful. I passed out my Nepali maps and some small (useless to me) Nepali notes (money) and they seemed happy about that. The conductor came by and they told him they were OK sitting with me. He looked at me with a look that said "Ah, an idiot tourist. No problem." I certainly felt like one.

Eventually, I got to Siliguri. From there, the only way to Darjeeling is by private (read as expensive) vehicle or by the cheaper bus. The buses had stopped running by the time I got there. At this point, my obsessive personality got the better of me. Rather than deciding to just tackle it in the morning, I decided to push on. Big, big mistake.

The normal ride crammed into a jeep is 150 IRS. For this, they toss your luggage onto the roof and get as many people into the jeep as possible. You then sit wedged in together for the next three plus hours. I'd had quite enough of being wedged in with everyone else. After over a dozen hours of constant travel I needed a break. It was time to bargain.

"I want the entire front seat. Nothing in there but the driver, my backpack and I. How much?" The man said 1500 IRS. I laughed at him and told him he was smoking crack. Eventually, he said "This is my last offer." After taking him down from that, we settled on 400 IRS.



DARJEELING, DAY 1

I had heard that "Jammu Kashmir is the Heaven of India." Believe me, when I first got here it was the opposite.

Within the vehicle, we went through a massive amount of scary switchbacks as we alternatively sped and crawled up the mountain. The road was usually wide enough for one lane of traffic. Hence, traffic moved both directions on the road even at that (for India) late hour. I'm just surprised people didn't block off parts of the road with stands selling crap. Perhaps during the daytime.

I've been into more towns than I care to remember and never had as much problem finding a place to stay as Darjeeling offered.

Everyone is at a huge disadvantage when trying to find lodging at night. Avoid it when at all possible. Eventually, I found a manager at a hotel who spoke excellent English and took pity on me. He took me to a hotel.

I stayed at Hotel Chandi, 500 IRS, that normally just housed Indian guests who could put me up for one night. If, I was to vacate by ten AM despite their normal noon checkout. They didn't even have any cold soda stocked despite having a restaurant in the hotel. If you don't stock cold drinks - at least cold water - you are (to use an American phrase) 'leaving money on the table'. In other words, if you sell it people will buy it.

I seemed to have arrived during the two month 'high season'. Everything is booked by groups of Indians. I found out later that there are two different kinds of hotel/guest houses here. The first is 'normal' and the second is 'foreigners only'. Apparently, they don't want Indian business. Nobody seems to know why this is and I don't ask.

At 6:21AM, I was awoken by a couple of bitches who wanted to know if I wished to purchase a scarf. Only to strangle them with and leave their corpses outside of my room as a warning to others... The really sad thing was that they were only the first of the salespeople selling useless shit door to door there. I've never encountered anything like that aside from the house call whore in Laos who at least had the decency to knock softly. I woke up feeling very violent.

Since I was now wide awake (still feeling violent) I went and found a new hotel and had my stuff in it all within a half hour. Quite a difference from the previous night when I was walking around dragging the heavy pack for god knows how long.

This is "Hotel Long Island". There are several huge disadvantages. There is a common shower which is a bit of a screamer (new term - if you see it, you may run off screaming). The hours for this horrifying place are 8:30 AM till 8PM. Otherwise it is locked up. Why, I do not know. There is a squat toilet in my room and flushing is done by dumping water down it manually. Worst of all, there is no internet. It has a minimum booking time of two days so I paid for it and will spend my time looking for something else. The one and only advantage of this place is it is fairly cheap at 250 IRS per night.


My initial impressions of Darjeeling are both good and bad. It is much cooler as advertised. Joy. Some of the clouds are below where I am. The downside is that rather than build on a relatively flat area in the mountains like Kathmandu everything is built on very hilly terrain. Lugging my fat ass up and down hills is not a joyful experience.


Oddly, Darjeeling does have something called a 'mini-train'. This is a very narrow gauge train. They have little joy rides set up with it. This train is apparently nifty enough that it has been designated as a 'national heritage' thing and is given money both by the Indian as well as foreign governments. Despite this, maintenance has failed and part of the route is now inaccessible. Yes, big surprise. Anyway, you can go pretty much nowhere useful on it. It would have been a neat way to get off the mountain when the time came though I'm not sure if I'd enjoy sitting on a mini train going ten MPH for several (3?) hours.



DARJEELING, DAY 2

I'm still waiting for this town to grow on me. Thus far, I haven't found a lot of things that make this a 'comfortable' place to stay. Like a room with wifi. Reasonably priced laundry facilities. Yes, they do have plenty of wifi here but it is all in internet cafes. Not a lot of help with uploading the masses of pictures and videos I'm starting to accumulate. There are lots of warning signs around saying 'due to water shortage, doing laundry is forbidden'. Well, they're close to that though usually misspelled and badly phrased. But this is a moist climate. My 'quick dry' towel doesn't.

It's been overcast here since I've gotten here which means no spectacular mountain views. Just climbing up and down unnecessarily steep hills.

I think I'd prefer SE Asia hot.

It appears that escaping here is going to be a pretty expensive nightmare.



DARJEELING, DAY 3

Have done some exploring. It's not an easy town to learn due to the hills and all of the interesting stuff being far away from each other but I'm finally getting to know it. Although there are no mosquitoes here, there are a whole lot of flies. Because the people are Hindu, they don't like to kill things. I would but I can't catch the bastards. I am talking about flies here, not the Hindus.

The town has not grown on me.

I paid a couple nights more for my 'close to camping' crappy lodging because hey - it's cheap.

I went to check out the train station. After going up and down a few more huge hills I eventually found it. Naturally, it was open though they had 'link failure'. In simple terms, this means that although everyone else in the town is able to get the internet, their link is broken. This happens often enough they have a permanent sign for it. Not joking. When the link is down, nobody knows anything about anything. In fact, they don't even bother to sit behind the counter - they just go on very long breaks. No help. Had to turn to a booking agent. I don't like going to a travel agent for anything but this one came recommended by the locals. He even showed me the online booking prices and his mark up was pretty reasonable - 200 to 300. While this may sound to some like I am blowing a few extra dollars on tickets, the Indian rail system is a mess. They have to bribe people to give them the tickets or the employees claim there are no tickets. Things like that. Very corrupt and disorganized. Makes me wish that they'd just bring in the Germans from Deutsches Bahn to run it. Hell, they'd probably enjoy the challenge and probably put on enough extra trains to handle the huge loads. If you are booking more than one person the difficulty goes up remarkably due to the strange booking system.

After a lot (at least ten minutes) of soul searching, I decided to go first class across the country. It's going to be a couple days of hell (literally, pitchforks and everything) in the train. Don't even talk to me about the bathroom situation. For those interested in the itinerary I've paid for, I'll be going from NJP (whatever that stands for - it's a town nearby) to Calcutta. That's about twelve hours of fun and I'm arriving at 4AM. Once I arrive there, I need to find a taxi to take me to a different train station (Howah). This will be anywhere from half an hour to an hour drive. Then, I am boarding what is suppose to be a very posh train called the 'Duranto Express'. Everything including my food is covered. I then will have a wonderful twenty six hour ride. That puts me in Mumbai. The bus station is close to the train station. I will have to ask the locals where it is and get ones who will admit that it hasn't burned down, been taken over by terrorists or closed. I will then have a bus ride of unknown length and duration into Goa. The cost of the two trains totals to 4675 IRS. Pricy but about a quarter of what a flight should cost.

On the upside, the bus ride is suppose to be scenic. On the downside, I don't know if I'll be in any condition to appreciate it.



NEXT?

If I can't find what I am looking for in lodging here, I may head down to hot, hot Goa while it is well out of season. Sweat my ass off there (my visa expires 29 JULY) then go to Sri Lanka to again sweat my ass off.

I've heard a lot of conflicting reports from people. Some people are saying Goa or Sri Lanka or both are expensive. Others are saying they are not.

I'm going to go there and check for myself. If I can't find a place that I like in Goa and is cheap, I will push on to Sri Lanka. After that, the plan is Indonesia then the Philippines. After that, who knows - maybe head back to Cambodia to stew for a bit. Maybe press on somewhere else. I am running low on cheap Asian countries to hang out in. For all of the people in the Republic of Georgia, yes that is still on the menu!

I spoke to a German gentleman who lives in Bali and he said that the prices were quite low there. Good deal.



WEIGHT

Despite how much I sweat, yeah, I'm still fat as hell. Should I ever lose weight, I know a certain Dutch girl who will be thrilled. Yes, very, very thrilled. She'll be in line for some very disappointing sex.



IDEA FOR INDIAN WOMEN'S T-SHIRT

"If my parents knew I was a girl, they'd have got me aborted." Yes, sad but true. This t-shirt would provide good biting social commentary.



INDIA - COUNTERFEITING

I spoke with someone about the problem with Indian counterfeiting. According to him, the problem is caused by Islamic fundamentalists who want to undermine the economy. The counterfeits are extremely good - usually of the 500 rupee notes. They include the watermark, silver strip in the bill and so on. It is not some guys with a color copy machine. Sometimes, counterfeit bills come out of the ATM. Should you take one into the bank, they will tear it up and throw it into the trash. You've just lost that money. It is a far cry from the USA where such bills are sent to the secret service for investigation.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

"This is my lowest price." or "This is my final offer." This is my translation. "You have finally gotten them down to their first serious offer." If you don't bargain them down from this point anywhere from 10-50%, you are fucking up.


When you are carrying water during travel itself, the water will also be needed when you actually arrive at your hotel. If you are in Asia, do not trust the water out of the spigots for pretty much anything other than showering.



PITHY SAYINGS

"No pockets in shrouds." Country of origin unknown. For those unfamiliar with the word 'shroud' it's what they put a corpse into.

"Life is short - live wide." - Unknown.



REVIEW - RATNA HOTEL PVT LTD (restaurant)

The first thing I did was bargain away the 13% VAT. "I don't need a tax bill." Does anyone actually try to get reimbursed from the government for that shit? Is it ever actually paid from the smaller places? I doubt it. It's just pocketed. Yes, everything is negotiable if you don't mind walking away. The food was OK but not great. I wouldn't go back but it was a decent last meal in Nepal.



REVIEW - SAM'S FOOD CORNER, DARJEELING INDIA

Good, basic food cheap. If you are a non smoker, you won't like the ashtrays and faint aroma of lingering smoke but since I am a smoker, I did my bit and added to the ambiance. The price range of food is about 20-100 IRS.



PRICES (NRS = Nepal Rupees, IRS = Indian Rupees)

Nepali border, 24 hour internet pass, 250 NRS

Baubles from a train vendor, 10 IRS

One liter of water, 25 IRS

Laundry, 20 IRS per shirt or pants. Yes, I think they're on crack after I was having it done in Kathmandu for the equivalent of 30 IRS per kilo. I'm still working on finding a new laundry place.

Xerox of my passport to get a copy of my photo for the police, 5 IRS. Yeah, the place I am staying in is just that petty.

Transport via shared (read as packed) jeep to a town called 'NJV' or something close to that where I will have to go to catch the bloody train, 150 IRS.

4 comments:

  1. If I could be bothered working out how to, I would totally create a Google Map of your travel path...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Up to you though the way you phrased it someone could also say "If I could be bothered working out how to I'd create a monkey powered flying backpack."

    The map would be easier but the monkey powered flying backpack would be much more interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  3. And here are the places mentioned in the top of the blog. This can be added as a map on the blog fairly easily. (Add a gadget of HTML/Javascript, grab the code from the map (click the link button first), and paste the code in.)

    Currently only those with the link can see it.
    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=208407834590720793742.0004c0bf74b83f0e8fdcb&msa=0&ll=34.452218,63.105469&spn=103.846094,150.996094

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's pretty cool. I'm going to try to remember that when I've got a hotel room in a nice place instead of sitting in a very full cyber cafe.

      Delete

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