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A few days in Darjeeling

A few days in Darjeeling

October 16, 2010

11.20am It’s raining. And I’m lost. I don’t really understand the layout of the streets in Darjeeling and I can’t orient myself.

1pm Finally I found a way. I came to visit another Tibetan refugee camp, founded in 1959. “Tibetan Self Help Centre”, it’s called. I bought a blue warm shawl made by the women that live here. I love it. I will probably use it as blanket. I can see myself in my living room in Italy watching a movie staying warm with my shawl and dreaming of Tibet…

A poster reads:

Tibet will never die

Because there is no death for the human spirit.

Communism will not succeed because man will not be a slave forever.

Tyrannies have come and gone and so have caesars and czars and dictators.

But the spirit of the man goes on forever.    

Jaya Prakash Narayan

This moved me a lot. It’s something I probably will never be able to fully understand, what it means to have to abandon your house and your country. There are about 350 people in this village. A lady explained me that the youngest go away, to work or study around India. Only the eldest and children remain.

5.40 In the guesthouse, watching English football on TV. With an American, from Vermont, and two British. Someone else is playing guitar. I am already sleepy. I bought a milk tea to take home today. It’s weird, to prepare it you use only milk, no water. You boil the milk, add a teaspoon of tea and a lot of sugar, mix for a couple of minutes. I’m adding a cup of tea to my image of myself on my sofa in a couple of months…

October 17, 2010

8.20am Breakfast in a cool local restaurant with fried bread and chilly potatoes with milk tea. 30 cents. I like it. And I’m full. Today it’s not raining. But cloudy. I need to wash my pants. Here they have a weird way of talking on the phone. They keep it close to the ear while they listen, but when it’s their turn to talk, they bring it in front of the mouth. As if the mike didn’t reach it if it was near the ear. I noticed the same way to use the phone in Nepal.

What I am doing today? I might go to the Observatory Hill and then I can have a huge latte in that coffee shop that I saw in the shopping centre. It’s more than 2 months since I’ve had a latte or cappuccino. I deserve one.

3.35pm. It has started to rain. In 30 minutes there’s a movie, Knock Out, a bolliwood movie that I would like to watch at the cinema. While I wait I can drink a milk tea with two Indian sweets super sweet and very good. This white cake with pistachio is made with wheat and sugar. I hope they are selling popcorn at the cinema. There are no foreigners in these local restaurants, only in places recommended by Lonely Planet.

4.05pm The movie was in Hindi, no subtitles, so I came to Glenarys for a tea and internet, if possible (you never know if the connection is good). There’s an amazing view of the hills around Darjeeling from here, covered in tea plantations and hidden by low clouds.

There’s a seat on the train to Kolkata tomorrow. But I would like to stay a bit longer and take the “toy train”, a tiny old steam train. I would also like to visit a tea plantation, I need to go to the post office, so yes, I’ve got some things to do!

8.05pm Let’s see how the weather is tomorrow. Because if it keeps raining, there’s no point in me staying here. After 2 days in Darjeeling I am starting to find my bearings. Tonight I was able to come back to the hotel without getting lost. What confuses me is that the town is on two sides of the hill. It’s confusing that the hill is on your left while going down, then you turn left and the hill is to the left again…

I ordered a banana pancake for dinner. Yesterday I started to take the malaria pills. About time. I bought a wool hat today. I would have enjoyed it in Annapurna, it was so cold there! In a few days I’ll be in the heat and won’t need it, but it’s a nice souvenir. I like to buy things that will remind me of this trip once I’m home.

There are a lot of people today in Darjeeling, in spite of the rain. Some of them are drunk. It’s the main day of their festival that lasts 10 days. Many had a red tikka, larger than usual, with big pieces of powder, on the forehead. There are many Indian tourists, and Chinese.

October 18, 2010

1.30pm. Darjeeling Post Office. I’m looking at the guy who makes the packets. He’s quickly and meticulously sewing my packet. First he wrapped it in paper, than covered it with a white cloth that he’s sewing.

darjeeling post office
Sewing my packet with so much love

4.20pm It’s raining a lot. Manuel is out there somewhere. He’s from Perugia. The second Italian I’ve met in these two months around. He’s a professional photographer. Why couldn’t I also sell my pictues? Why is it I am not good at anything?

This morning we went to see a tea plantation. Harrods sell their tea. The factory was closed, but a lady showed us how it is made. Well, she tried to. At the end we simply had a cup of tea for 30 cents (very expensive, usually it’s only one third of that!). But it was nice walking among the tea trees. I had never seen them. They are tiny.

We had some delicious momo for lunch, and a sort of huge gnocco filled with meat. It’s the same restaurant where I had breakfast yesterday. We met there this morning, with our fried bread and potatoes. He’s going to Sikkim next, more to the North. This region has a bit of autonomy, and you need a special permit to go there, that is free. It must be nice, you can see the highest mountain in India, and I also thought of going there, but I’m getting tired of mountains and bad weather (forecast says weather will be bad for 10 more days).

ristorante darjeeling
My adoptive family and favorite restaurant in Darjeeling (it’s all here, a kitchnette and two tables for the guests)

We met a guy while we were walking, and when we told him we are Italian (following the usual list of questions) he told us his granfather fought in Italy during WWII, with the British army against the Germans. They were called Gurkha. Gurkha is the name of the people from this corner of the world (between Nepal and Northern India), from which comes Gurkhaland, and Gurkha were the Indian soldiers fighting for the British. They were renown for their courage and strength.

Gorkhland

There’s a nice sky, surrounded by clouds and a stripe of yellow light at the horizon.

Today I was in the usual café for 3 hours for Internet, having only a piece of chocolate cake and some tea. Will they hate me? But here they don’t mind bringing you the bill as soon as you are finished if they want you to leave, so I believe if they say nothing they don’t mind me staying there.

Anyway, for your reference, here it’s 7pm and in Italy it’s 3.30pm.

India Culture shock

India Culture shock

October 15, 2010 4.30pm

A traffic light. Men brush against me on buses and on the street. Everyone finds a reason to make the initial price higher. Yes, I’m in India. I’m not sure about the time here. I miss Nepal already, how they treat foreigners. In the last bus I took I couldn’t let an elderly woman take my place, because I was the guest and I had to remain seated.

On the bus to Kakarbhitta this morning there was a mad man. With girlfriend and daughter. He showed me his calf and threw a fist in the air to show me his strength. He asked me to go to his home. Sure. And he offered me to take his daughter. In exchange of my camera.

confine india nepal
I rented a bike with driver to cross the river that separates Nepal from India

There’s a shop near the gas station! Wow, it feels almost like Europe. Not even in China are gas stations like this.

8.15 pm Tower View Hotel. They are heating up the water so that I can shower. I’ll wash taking the water from a basin. Ok, it’s not the end of the world. As long as it’s hot. Because it’s quite cold and very humid here in Darjeeling. 2134 m above sea level, home of tea. It’s in West Bengala, a region that seeks independence (they call it Gorkhaland or something similar). It’s not really India yet, it’s a mix of Nepal and Tibet. They actually speak Nepalese, I believe. And people is kind (I’m not expecting Indians to be rude, but a bit more annoying yes).

I’m super tired and I’m looking forward to go to bed.

Janakpur

Janakpur

October 14, 2010

Wow, I love Janakpur! People is very welcoming. A lot of people stop me on the street to ask the usual questions, where I come from, if I’m traveling alone, what my name is, if I like Janakpur. A few times I was also asked “What is the purpose of your trip?”. The purpose of my trip? I don’t know! But they are not annoying, once they are done with the list of questions they go.

This morning in the shop where I stopped to buy a coke I met a very smart boy. 13 years old, he spoke a good English and told me that the Nepalese situation is not good. Because I told him I live somewhere near Venice, he told me about Marco Polo, born in 1254 or similar, that left Venice to go to China, where he lived for 17 years, becoming friends with the emperor.

By the way, the coke was to kill potential bacteria that I might have ingestited with a weird drink I had for breakfast. Just out of the hotel this morning, desperately looking for something to eat, I saw some people drinking this yellow thing, and I decided to try it. But it was cold, I should only drink something that has been boiled or that is in bottles. This drink was probably made with their tap water and some corn flour (from the taste of it). Quite thick. Not my favorite drink. And I’m expecting trots any time.

These days they are celebrating Diwali, one of the most important holiday for Hindu. Their Christmas, as they explain it. It lasts 10 days. Tomorrow will be the most important day, when thousands of goats will be sacrificed to gods (I read this is only a tradition of Nihang Sikhs). For many families it will be the only occasion to eat meat. I would like to participate to the celebrations, but tomorrow I must leave Nepal because my visa is expiring. It would have been interesting.

An oblivious goat

I like walking around the town. Janakpur is different from other places I’ve seen in Nepal. It’s grey and dusty, roads have few cars, many bikes and many people walking. And I’ve met only one other foreigern, from Australia.

This morning while I was walking around I could hear prayers and songs coming from speakers. I sat on the steps of a temple, surrounded by many small altars, and I looked at the people around me. A family (the man dressed in bleach white) entered escorted by a group of armed men. In the temples priests (or servants?) are dressed in rags, very skinny; women wear bracelets on both ankles and their feet are red. A man sells newspapers and he has a large group of men, sitting on the steps of the temple, reading his newspapers. A cow tied to the column of a temple. She also has a red forehead. A guy moaning as he prays. In another temple two men dressed in white are sitting on the floor and are talking, one with a long grey beard, and the usual skinny man that brings them water to wash their hands.

The cow is holy for hindy. They consider it their “mother”, or at least this is what I understood from a guy on the bus yesterday. Poor hindy, I wonder what they feel when they come to Europe and see what happens to their holy cow. There are many cows roaming freely around town, it looks like if they were also taking a stroll; people walk around them, most times ignoring them, sometimes they stop to put the red powder (tikka) on their foreheads. These white cows with red forehead are quite pretty. I wonder if they have a owner and how they find them?

Janakpur Women Development Centre

This morning I went to visit the Janakpur Women Development Centre, near Mithila village in Kuwa. It was interesting. The center was founded in 1989 I believe; here work women from the village, very poor, that have the chance to create a space out of the influence of the husband. They make pottery, carpets, bags. They sell to tourists and they export, even to Italy, but the lady couldn’t tell me where exactly. I bought a cup (I love cups) and some mirrors to hang on walls. I wanted to send them home, but the post office is not like those you find in Europe. There was nothing, no envelops or packages you could buy, only a tiny counter where I was told that I couldn’t send glass because it can be broken and they don’t want to take the risk. I will try from India. It’s a shame, it would have been nice to have an envelop with a stamp from Nepal.

Lunch with family

As soon as I got out of the post office I was invited to visit a family for a tea. That became a pork with puffed rice and vegetables, and a glass of grapefruit juice. I had just had lunch, but I couldn’t refuse. The mother of the family even gave me some bracelets and a necklace. Probably they hoped I would bring their 20yo son to Italy. They were a well-off family, compared to the average nepali, all children had been to university, one was in the army, the other in Kathmandu working for Qatar Airlines. But I’m european and when I work I probably earn 4 times what they do, so for them I’m rich, a good solution for the son. They had to invite me, they said, because I’m a guest in Nepal.

They also invited me to sleep with them, they hoped I could meet the father, that was at work, and another of the brothers. I excused myself saying that my bag was at the hotel. They were incredibly welcoming, and it was nice and funny at the same time, spending some time with them.

pranzo in famiglia a janakpur

There’s a sudoku on the page of the Kathmandu Post that was used to wrap my mirrors. And I am scared of letting one off, in case I got diarrhea.

Janaki Mandir

In the afternoon I went to Janaki Mandir, a temple described by the Lonely Planet as similar to Taj Mahal. It is very beautiful indeed, different from other temples I’ve seen in Nepal. It is built in honor of Rama and Sita, husband and wife. Women wear their most precious sari to come here.

There’s a guy with a white sheet around the waist and long hair wrapped in a tail, wild, my type. I don’t now if he’s a priest or he’s studying to become one, he crossed the courtyard a couple of times carrying wood.

While I was sitting there, looking at the people around me, there was always someone coming to talk. The usual questions. A guy was slightly different. It was a true interrogation. Favorite book, hobbies, movies, and so on. He asked me what I think of the political life in Nepal. I don’t know? You tell me. Not very good, he said. He thinks maoist, despite being part of the government now, aren’t happy and want to rule alone and they cause troubles. They are like HitlerS, he said. He liked to say “it means”, to confirm obvious facts. Like “do you eat meat” – Yes. “It means you are not vegetarian”. “Do you speak Nepali?” – no. “It means you cannot understand nepali”. I don’t understand the reason of this. It wasn’t annoying, it was interesting, this approach. While he was talking to me I couldn’t stop looking at the sweat between his nose and the mouth.

I heard many people complaining about the government. They say it’s corrupt and it keeps 95% of International Aid. It’s a shame. Nepal is a beautiful country that needs a good government and a boost to the economy. People deserve to live a better life.

In the evening I stopped to drink a fresh juice of tiny oranges and I saw that many people were drinking a white thing, a bit thick. I found out it was lassi (like a milkshake, but I don’t know what it was made of, it tasted of yogurt and lemon). Delicious. I wonder how they make it. Very refreshing, and it’s a blessing with this heat. I went back after dinner (fried fish very salty) and I had two more. I wonder if I will find lassi in India too? (I will have loads).

I was really surprised by the hospitality and warmth of people in Janakpur. At first I thought they were a bit intrusive and too curious, but they have been a good company throughout the day.

Towards Janakpur

Towards Janakpur

October 13, 2010

Happy birthday to Sonia and Raffa.

This morning I woke up again at 4.45 to take the 6am bus from Tansen to Janakpur. A lovely chai tea (it’s made with boiling milk, no water, with some tea leaves and a lot of sugar, something we are not used at all in Italy) at the bus station, before we leave. Unfortunately they hadn’t started cooking their lovely things they fry for breakfast. At 6.45 I could see the first food stalls, but we were on the bus and we didn’t stop for 3 hours.

It was nice to see the country waiking up. At 5.30 there were quite a few people around. I believe in Italy too there are people who go to work this early, but it’s different because here you can see people walking on the street, while in Italy everyone drives.

Following is a gallery of images taken during the long trip, mainly from the top of the bus.

Driving towards the valley you could see the morning mist and I thought of San Martino, an Italian poem that I only know by heart because of a song by Fiorello.

I had promised myself I wouldn’t have gone up a bus anymore, because I might loose all my hair (every time I get off the bus it has a huge amount of knots), but from Naayangarh the bus that I had to take was so full that I had to go up. We were pretty squeezed there too. I arrived in Janakpur at 7pm, quite tired. Tanja went to Kathmandu, where she is taking a flight to Hong Kong.

Janakpur, finally

I’m in a little muslim restaurant near my hotel. I order rice with chicken but instead I got Dal Bhat. They offered me a glass of tap water, yellow. I had to refuse.

12 hours in this part of Nepal (South East) and I have already received two marriage proposals. They find me attractive because I have fair skin. And I am actually quite tanned at the moment. Face creams have a solar protection of 90+. Some are whitening.

I can tell we are getting close to India, it’s not the Nepal I’ve known so far. The trip is getting more and more interesting.

Tansen

Tansen

A stop in Tansen on the way to Janakpur

October 12, 2010

Yesterday Tanja and I woke up in Bardia at 4.30 am and arrived in Tansen at about 5pm (Hilde had to go straight to Kathmandu to get her visa to India).

The most urgent affair after 5 hours on top of the bus (between Butwal – or Bitwan? – and Tansen I couldn’t get on the roof, and inside it was terribly hot) was a nice cold shower to regenerate my muscles and fix my hair. I wouldn’t have minded some hot water, as Tansen is at 1372m above sea level and it’s not very warm. But you do what you can.

Shower done, we went out for dinner. We had momo (tibetan dumplings) in a nice little restaurant. And went to bed soon. At 6pm it’s dark and because there are no street lights, at 7pm it looks like it’s deep night. In any case the hotel closes at 9pm and there’s not much to do around town, so we didn’t mind to catch up some sleep.

Second Day in Tansen

This morning we were up at 6, because our room faces the road and the walls are so thin that you can hear all noises coming from outside. With the first cars and trucks (that use the horn any minute, to alert people they are coming), we also woke up. At 6.30 the guys at the reception woke up too and turned the TV on, with such a high volume that probably everybody in the street woke up.

It’s nice to wake up so early. At 11am we had already been on the hill above Tansen, and it looked as if the day was super long. Before we got to the hill we stopped to have a coke because the coffee we had for breakfast was so light that I didn’t have the caffeine I need to on through the day. In the shop where we bought the coke the lady was watching an old movie with Silvester Stallone (in English, I don’t think she understood anything) and I would have stayed there with her to watch the move drinking coke and eating chips. She would probably have enjoyed it too.

But we had to go and we continued to the top. From there you should be able to see the Himalaya, if it’s not cloudy. But it’s very

Ma il dovere chiamava e abbiamo proseguito verso la cima. Da cui a quanto pare si vede l’Himalaya, se non è nuvoloso. Noi siamo riuscite a vedere solo un paio di cime rosa. It was very polluted and foggy.

Later on we walked back to town. Very pretty. It’s up the side of the hill, an up and downs of tiny alleys, with many tailors and shoemakers (I tried to fix the boots again). Very pleasant indeed.

We spent the afternoon in a café for foreigners, with prices slightly higher but still low, with a nice courtyard with tables and trees, toilet paper in the toilets (!! quite unusual here in Nepal). We had a nice coffee (filter coffee, of course) under a tree. Then dinner with a veggie burger and at 9pm we were in bed.

Of castles of straw

Of castles of straw

Thoughts from Bardia National Park

I’m swinging on a marvellous hammock here at the lodge of the Bardia National Park. I love hammocks. I have one at home, that my university friends gave me for my graduation. One of the best presents ever.

It’s getting dark and mosquitos are in full activity. Tomorrow at 6 am we leave for… Tansen? Can’t remember. I decided to go East, to enter India through Darjeeling.

Today hasn’t been the best day. Maybe because I didn’t have much to do. Or probably because I spent two hours doing the laundry, by hand. And I hate washing by hand. I think the washing machine is the best invention ever. I don’t need a dishwasher, I like doing the dishes, but I couldn’t live without a washing machine. I’ve decided it’s the last time I wash jeans by hand. And white t-shirts. It was a bad idea to bring white t-shirts. Colored t-shirt you can’t see the stain too much. In any case, the white ones are not that white anymore. They are yellow-brownish.

Anyway. Today for the first time I missed home. I missed a washing machine I think. And a yellow wall where I can hang my pictures. And being able to make myself a cup of tea whenever I feel like and having all the chocolate I want.

Then I read the Lonely Planet and the thought of all the cool places I’m going to see excited me. So I’m again thinking of what I could do to travel a bit longer. I’m not running out of money, but I would like to earn something while I’m here. Maybe I can find a job in India. Or I can come back to Nepal, where in 20 days I was offered two jobs. And I will ask my parents to come to see me in Varanasi for Christmas. That would be cool.

This afternoon I took a walk around the village. The most interesting moment was when I saw some girls fishing in the river. They were literally inside the water. Dressed. With some nets. And any tiny fish they caught was put in a basket that they carried on their head.

donne pescano al Bardia national park
Girls fishing in Bardia

Last night I woke up with rain dropping on my face. There was a strong storm, that usually when I am at home I love to listen to. I don’t know if the water was getting in from the window without glass or from the straw roof?

Ok, I’m giving up. These mosquitos are hungrier than me!