Hoorah for the 2424 Express from New Delhi station! It left exactly at 2pm and arrived in to New Jalpaiguri just after 11am – just one hour late! However the ticket wasn´t cheap; Rs1635 in 3AC is a lot!
Unfortunately I did not get very much further.
It´s election day in this part of West Bengal – one of the poorer states of India. Communist flags are decorating every street corner. No buses or jeeps are moving today, so i´m now holed up in the hole that is Siliguri – what Lonely Planet charitably describes as a “vibrant, crowded trading hub”. It lies about 8kms away from New JPG reachable by taxi for RS150 or less. I decide to go with an honest-looking cycle rickshaw driver for Rs100.
However, I´ve been on the road long enough to know that you can always find moments of serendipity, even in the most rank of towns.
I head to the slums underneath the bridge on Hill Cart Lane and spend a pleasant hour going around. I´m invited for a chai at the local polling station and then mobbed by the children. It never ceases to amaze me how warm, friendly and happy these poverty-stricken people can be, despite literally being surrounded by shit.
After my misfortune at not reaching Darjeeling today I treat myself to a sumptuous dinner at the Eminent restaurant at what looks like one of the best hotels in town – The Hotel Conclave. Chicken tikka butter masala served to perfection with roti bread served hot, fressh and thin. Add on two fresh lemon sodas and it came to a very worthwhile RS200 (US$4).
I´m staying at the new – looking Hotel Mount View on Hill Cart Lane, opposite the bus stand. The beds are poor, the mattress very thin and I just saw a cockroach the size of my fist emerge from the sink. At Rs250 for a single, it´s overpriced. It boasts a fan and TV. There are 12 tv stations, all in Hindi, and 6 of them are showing cricket!
Buses cost Rs65 to Darjeeling, tickets sold at counter 13. A jeep will cost Rs95 with the first departure at 5am.