Thursday, May 24, 2007

Himalayan Holiday - Kurseong, Kalimpong, The End

We wake up in a large bedroom in Selim Tea Estate. It is a 150 year old bungalow. Bungalow is a word that was appropriated by English in the days of the Raj. In India it refers to a detached property; the number of floors is unimportant. We were in the first, and topmost floor. We headed down for breakfast. First we sat outside for some Darjeeling tea served on the verandah. We were right on the edge of the Himalayas, and could see the flat plains stretching out into the distant haze. We then went inside for the proper meal. Our host was the manager, a Rajasthani. His cook provided a delicious breakfast, the highlight being a Rajasthani pastry filled with various vegetables, onions, and homemade tomato sauce.

After eating, we had a tour of the factory. There were some tremendous Heath-Robinson style devices which sorted the leaves - my favourite being the Britannia Balanced Pucca Tea Sorter. Only the final stages in the factory were operational, as they work through the night to avoid the daytime heat. the tour completed, we headed out for a pony trek around the estate. My prejudice for bovines over equines was confirmed, as I nearly slid over the other side of the pony's narrow back on mounting it. No such problem with the stout yak a week ago. The estate is 'organic', so pesticides are not used. There were many butterflies, crickets and strawberry plants amongst the main tea crop. The manager complained of a lack of investment. The tea plants are 120 years old, and every year some of them die. There seams to be little money made available to replace them.

After our trek we leave the estate, and head all the way down to the plains to have lunch with Paras. It's a relatively short journey, but the difference in heat and humidity from the tea estate is extraordinary. Fortunately Paras has some cool beer. We were introduced to his parents, and his wife and baby. He takes us out for a walk around his house. I had seen some strange fencing on the road to his colony, colony being the Indian equivalent of estate, he explained that it was electric fencing designed to keep elephants out. The houses were built on an elephant migration route, and were a major hazard. Indeed a local woman had recently been killed by one of the animals.

Paras told us that he BBC had been in the area filming elephants. Paras had arranged their permits and passes - if he could deal with a foreign camera crew, then it was no wonder that he could arrange such a smooth tour for the two of us! He mentioned that the locals were amazed, and at the same time very worried, at how close the cameramen got to the wild elephants. However, they never got into trouble, so they showed their expertise.

In the afternoon we headed back up into the hills to Kalimpong. This was a bit of a rushed finish, but Paras was not to blame. We should have been here on the first day, were it not for our airline problems. It was only Paras' last minute juggling that let us come here at all. We had a quick look around a cactus nursery before turning in for the night at another government run hotel.

Again the rooms were large, and the room service excellent. After eating San watched a Bollywood movies, and I read a book. In the morning we wanted to leave sharply, as we had a plane to catch. Unfortunately the staff at this hotel were as inept as the staff at the government run place at Jorepokhri. San ended up bossing them about to achieve results.

Eventually we headed off down the valley to the airport at Bagdogra. We arrived with time to spare, but rather less than I was comfortable with. Our plane landed a few minutes late from it's incoming flight, but then an Indian airforce transport landed and our plane was marooned on the edge of the runway whilst the military plane was emptied. We left just late enough to give us the slimmest of chances of making our connection in Delhi. You're never so late that you can abandon hope are you? There is always that tantalising chance dangling in front of you to keep the stress levels at maximum! We waited, and waited for our bags to appear on the Delhi carousel. We had learnt our lesson from the outward journey, and San stayed with me. We then had to race across to the departure building; the temperature was a cool 45˚C. Exhausted after a dew hundred metres of running in this heat, I made it to the X-Ray machine, and was told that the connecting flight was delayed. Hooray - we had made it!

Not so much fun for Andy in Bombay though. He eventually picked us up at 11pm. Even at this hour Bombay was hot and sticky, and the space outside the airport infested with touts. Safely in his air-conditioned car we set off in search of dinner. Heading out from the airport we passed a 737 on the road, which would become infamous a few days later. We reached Navi Mumbai, and found a restaurant that was willing to serve us after midnight. It was after 1am by the time we left. We headed the short distance to Andy's apartment and crashed out. All that was left was to drive back along the expressway to Pune in the morning.



Blogger raj said...

it should be a hundred years old bungalow and not 10 years, as you have mentioned the british raj. it would also be convenient if you would put the personal mobile number of Paras.

12:23 PM

Blogger JamesW said...

Thanks for spotting the mistake. It should have been 150 years.

As I mentioned in the next post, you can contact Paras by email - - I do have a mobile number, but I'll check that it's alright to publish before telling the whole world!

2:36 AM

Blogger JamesW said...

You can also contact Paras on 09932980738

5:28 AM


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