It’s Good Friday, 10th April 2009. I’m currently sat in my room in the Windermere Hotel in Darjeeling. It’s before 0800 in the morning… and I’m shattered.
I got up today (I’m not going to say this morning, because I refuse to accept that it was anything beyond last night) at 0330 to travel to Tiger Mountain Viewpoint in the Darjeeling hills (I say hills, but I get the impression they’re a wee bit taller than the Mourne Mountains). It’s a favourite haunt of locals and Indian tourists alike as an early morning view point for the Himalayan Mountains… in short, you get to watch the sun rise against the tallest mountain range on earth.
Unless it’s foggy / misty / you’re in the cloud…
… as was my experience this morning (I’m saying morning now because it was after 0500). Yup, I got up before the crack of dawn to miss dawn because of cloud / mist / fog (from here on, known as mist). So there I was with probably a couple hundred other people. Most of the westerners took the opportunity to flash the cash & go to the second floor of the observation tower. I decided against… It was cold, and windy… probably no more than a dozen degrees and in a mist (anyone who’s been up a mountain in mist or fog will tell you how damp & cold it can be). And we waited… probably for about an hour all told, but in the end, we got a glimpse of the third tallest mountain, Kangchenjunga. And I kid ye not when I say, it was huge. Bearing in mind I was probably already a few thousand feet in the air, we were dwarfed by the beast, simply dwarfed. It rose out of the cloud, which was no shame on the cloud… it was a right height in the air. It was incredible.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to see Everest this morning, as the mist was too great, and it’s quite far away, but Dhillipe (my personal Sherpa / Chauffeur for my stay in Darjeeling) seemed happy enough with the idea that we go back tomorrow (at a sensible time) if the weather is better.
Anyways, I’m in Darjeeling for three nights (although it’s an early leave on Sunday) as I decided I should do something more with my Easter weekend than sit in Mumbai & play the computer. I travelled up yesterday on a twin prop aeroplane – a form of transport I’ve not used since I used to fly with FlyBe from Belfast to Newcastle back in 2002-2003. The drive from Bagdogra airport to Darjeeling took just over three hours… Dhillipe had said when I got into the wee taxi-van thing he called a car (it had no seatbelts either) that the journey would take three hours as the road wasn’t “so good”. My lesson from this trip is that when a North West Bengalese driver says the road isn’t “so good”, what he actually means is that “you’ve probably driven on better mucky tracks, through forests – oh & by the way, it’ll have more corners than you can shake a stick at, and the road will be nicely poised on the side of the biggest mountain you’ve ever been on. Wee man.”!!!!!!!
The road was shocking, but the views were incredible before darkness fell. And after darkness fell, the moonlight was incredible and the moon seemed so big it was huge. Towards the third hour however, mist (or maybe it was fog??) fell and the journey became bit of a scare to be honest. I couldn’t see much more than 20 feet in front of the car, although Dhillipe didn’t seem to mind so much. He’s an interesting character is Dhillipe… he’s done lots of mountaineering and climed a few 18,000 ft mountains in his day. He remembers the British ruling Darjeeling, and the old branch of Lloyds Bank!! He seemed very much in awe of what the British did in Darjeeling building roads & railways… to be honest, I’m questioning their sanity having seen where they built this hotel & the road to get here!! He also has decided to plan my “programme” for the next few days… timing my schedule to the minute almost!!
So needless to say, it’s interesting. The hotel is very, very British… I’ve got a coal fire in my bedroom which was lovely last night, and they put a hot water bottle in your bed every night at 2100!! The furniture is all antique British style and the photographs on the wall predate India’s independence almost exclusively. There’s even pictures of Queen Elizabeth I and her husband in lounge area. The food last night was excellent too… all in all, not a bad wee spot to say. As Dhillipe says, it’s the best hotel.
The past few weeks have also had their travel. I returned home to NI for a week to catch up with family, make sure Mark was all OK with wedding prep & also to watch some football. If you’ve not seen it, Northern Ireland beat Poland 3-2 followed by beating Slovenia 1-0 (both in Belfast) and are proudly sitting top of their world cup qualification group. You might remember that we did the same thing in the last qualification campaign and narrowly missed out on qualification & finished third. I don’t think this time will be any easier, so we’re not favourites by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re well placed at the moment.
The highlight though, was our third goal against Poland. If you’ve not seen it… get yourself on YouTube. Superb.
Whilst home, I also got to catch up with old friends. I met up with Danielle who I’ve not seen since school… we met on a social networking site and decided to meet up and it was just like being a kid again… I don’t think either of us have matured much beyond 16… although obviously we’re both grown ups now… I also went to a movie premier at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. The movie was a documentary by the IFA in relation to the journey that NI football supporters have made over the past decade & outlining what the future might look like. I was actually in the movie… but I doubt I’ll get a copy to keep… though you never know I guess.
Anyways, it’s nearly 0800 now, and breakfast is about to begin… I don’t want to be late or I might forfeit Dhillipe’s schedule for me today…