• Off to New Jalpaiguri and the Himalaya’s
I sit and ponder my navel working out alternative routes north. Either train to Calcutta and then north to New Jalpaiguri or by plane. I don’t want to do either. I was wait-listed number 13, then 10 but finally I am confirmed. So it’s a direct train all the way from Puri to New Jalpaigui, a twenty-two hour train ride.
I wander to the Pink House restaurant where I was last night and say goodbye to Christoff, sitting and chatting away with Jodie. Both are lost but Christoff is an artist and just floats. Jodie is totally lost and sees others as lost and is in a state of denial – or is it that she is just young and naïve?
I make it to the train, check the list pasted on the side of the carriage and I exist –great! All aboard and we are off dead on time: 14:10.
Interesting train statistics: Cost per kilometre averages three cents with an average speed of 50 kph. That’s not bad actually. Amtrak is not much faster but, who’s hurrying.
We stop at a station and get out to stretch. There’s a bunch of cops sitting on the floor all bundled up as is bloody cold playing cards. Laying on the ground are their rifles which I think are left over’s from the Brit’s in 1947, old Lee Enfield’s 303‘s. Their playing whist and another cop with a machine gun sits and watches them play. I watch.
I start chatting with young man who turns out to be a Major in the Indian Army. He’s 30, educated and his father was in the army and the police force, no kids – the new breed of Indians.
And so to bed, a reasonable sleep awakened by “Chai, Chai” as they serve walking up and down the corridor of the carriage at six.
I read a paper, an excellent paper, ‘The Hindi’ which has decent reporting from around the world. There’s a little article on a couple who slit their wrists and walked into the sea and died. The caste system, although illegalized, is alive and well. Don’t marry outside your caste or your religion – its madness!
I arrive in New Jalpaiguri dead on time, chat with a young man getting off the train to find out prices off auto-rickshaw’s to Siliguri, a twin city. New Jalpaiguri is busy and noisy and we wind our way only two kms to Siliguri amid the din of the car, trucks, buses, tuc-tuc and not forgetting the rickshaw bells.
I make it and there‘s a young man sitting at the hotel gate, we walk together to the reception and then he politely tells me they are full. Why didn’t he tell me that they were full at the gate – that’s rhetorical, that’s Indian. So back I go and find this wonderful hotel, $15.00 with an outside glass elevator!
OK, down to business. First the train station to get a ticket to Darjeeling and, oh-oh, it‘s Sunday and the beep-beep ticket office is closed. I get three different answers to where to get a ticket. Indian culture is so much different than North America. It‘s simply that they a) don’t want to admit they don’t know the answer and b) they don’t want to upset you. Christ Almighty – is this limiting in growth!
Next to the bus station to find out buses to Bhutan – again, three different answers.
So back to the hotel and scribe away and now for supper.