At the border, I changed to a four-wheel drive tank of a vehicle, which as it turns out was just as well. As I was leaving, it began to rain, and it rained all the way up to Darjeeling – hard too. We went up and up and up. Darjeeling is at 2134 meters above sea level, according to my guidebook. Before long, we were totally enveloped in fog and rain, taking hairpin turns on dirt roads, all the while ascending. The earth was red, like Georgia clay, and there were tea plantations all around. The tea bushes are a form of camellia, I understand, and it is sort of strange to see a farm of shrubbery. There were people out working with baskets on their backs that they would throw leaves into, and many of them had open, brightly colored umbrellas fastened to the baskets. Once the fog set in, though, I couldn’t see a thing. My driver had his head out the window and the lights on to try to see better.
Eventually, we arrived in Darjeeling at the main cab exchange. I had a bit of a disagreement with the dispatcher about the rate (I still think he ripped me off), and got totally soaked by the rain while they were arranging the transfer of me from large car to little microbus. I don’t know why this cab hopping must happen. There were plenty of four-wheel drive vehicles pulling up to the hotel all day. Something to do with territorial rights by the drivers, I’d guess, but it is really not nice to make passengers get soaked, financially or physically, for it. Couldn’t those guys just charge a toll or something? If I have to do it again, I am probably going to have a fit. Not that it would help. On the other hand, it could have been worse. The moment I got into the microbus, it began to hail – lots of hail, very hard. I could have been standing in that!
We got up to my hotel, the Cedar Inn, on the outside of town. It has a free shuttle to the center, and I’ll try that tomorrow. Today I was so peeved that I thought it best I calm down a bit, have a bite to eat and try to recover from the drive. Plus I did not know the situation in town and thought I should become informed before wandering. The hotel has wonderful internet service, the best since I left home. And they put a hot-water bottle in the bed in the evening. Really, it’s a good place. The room came with a cricket. He must have flown in when I had the windows open photographing. When I came back up from supper, there he was, bright green on my wall, exploring. I managed to pick him and put him back outside without hurting him. If the light had been better, I would have used him as a model first!
The best thing about today? Arriving safely. Second best thing? I finally got to see Khangchendzonga. After the rain had stopped for a while, the upper mountains became visible for the first time to me. It was breathtaking. I ran up the four flights of stairs to my room, grabbed all my camera equipment from where I’d left it to dry out, and shot for maybe 30 minutes. These images are a bit hazy due to atmospheric conditions, but I think you can see how beautiful it is. I’m going to try for some black & white film with a red filter tomorrow if I can see the mountain again, though it might be too much to hope for. Can you believe that this is the view right out my bedroom window? They put me at the top of the building and it’s a perfect spot.