29. Off the beaten track. Darjeeling-Shillong-Cherrapunji-Imphal

Train stations are not my favourite form of accommodation. But we didn’t have a choice. In Mughal Sarai, where we waited for our train to Darjeeling, none of guesthouses had permission to receive tourists. Except one, but that one cost a fortune. The delay of our train that primarily was 9 hours increased to 14 hours so we spent the whole night curled up behind a timetable board. Anyway, finally with tears in our eyes we entered the correct train and after removing the Indians occupying our beds we spent 25 h on our bunks. We were already familiar with Indian Railways so waiting for 4 h in the middle of nowhere didn’t annoy us anymore. We finally got to Siliguri and that was the most important.

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Narrow streets in Darjeeling

After arriving to Darjeeling we noticed it wasn’t the best season to visit this region. But although hills were covered with fog and we could forget about seeing Kanjendzonga the place was still magical. It wasn’t India anymore. White, furry dogs on the streets, access to meat and drunkards appearing a little more often than usual made us feel exactly like in Nepal. I heard this area fought for autonomy and you could clearly see it on the streets covered with Nepalese flags. Although beautiful, with a nice mix of Nepalese and British influence, Darjeeling is quite expensive. After about 2 hours we managed to find a room for Rs 600 with WiFi that exceeded our wildest dreams. We finally had some time to relax so after sending postcards to our families we indulged in watching Kill Bill which, in fact, was a “half Kill Bill” as most of bloody scenes were cut out. Sweet Indians, so sensitive.

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Prayer wheels in Mahakal temple

The next day the weather begun quite nice so we had a pleasant walk to Observatory Hill and its colourful Mahakal Temple. We saw the process of local tea production in one of the factories and visited Happy Valley tea plantations which, maybe not as impressive as in Munnar, were still beautiful. Mountainous weather changed rapidly when we got to Ghoom monastery which, again, reminded me of Tengboche monastery in Nepal. After having probably the biggest thali in our life in one of the local restaurants we decided to walk to Senchal Lakes. The map didn’t show any path leading there from the main trail but we, explorers by heart, decided to find it. And maybe we would if our chat didn’t consume us totally. The path was empty and the forest was absolutely gorgeous. But after 1 hour of walking in the fog we realised it took too long so we climbed up through the forest trying to find the lakes. Without success we gave up, finding the correct path on the way back. We almost forgot about our innate ability of getting lost but this day proved it once again. The next day we went to Siliguri where another sleepless night in the bus awaited us.

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Tea plantations of Darjeeling

From then on we started our race against time. We had barely 1 week to enter Burma as our permit allowed us passing the border strictly on 23rd Feb. We couldn’t see as much of the northeast as we wanted but we tried our best. After arriving to Guwahati we quickly got to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya state. The further to the east, the more expensive the accommodation was so we found some prison cell for Rs 600 and after long travelling we rewarded ourselves by a long nap by beautiful Umiam lake, delicious pizza and WiFi.

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Beautiful Umiam Lake

While being in Meghalaya, we couldn’t miss Cherrapunji, the rainiest place on Earth. Surprisingly, the main town looked rather like a dessert than a jungle. We found a cheap hostel and after getting to Lumsophie we started our trek to “living bridges” where finally we saw a real jungle. Hundreads of steps led down through small settlements and dense rainy forest where after 5 minutes we were all sweaty. “Living bridges” mean trees that connect with each other across the river creating natural root bridge. As we entered the single one we felt literally like in a paradise. No people, just us, river and the virgin nature. The double decker bridge wasn’t as impressive as the first one so we continued to the Rainbow waterfall. As we were there before the monsoon season the fall wasn’t at its peak but big enough to make us stare at it for 1 hour.

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Living bridges in Cherrapunji

As I mentioned, we are not the best with directions and, unfortunately, with the memory either, so we quickly forgot about the previous incident and decided to explore Cherrapunji on our own. We followed the trail in order to come back home from the other side. Although at the start the path was quite decent after 1 hour of climbing up through the jungle the path disappeared. And here we are, lost again, surrounded by bush, bamboos ad endless hills. We had one hour before dusk so we had to go back if we didn’t want to spent the night with snakes and tigers. It was already dark when scraped and exhausted we got to the double decker discovering a perfect lodge to rest after a tough day. Few foreigners were there, including a nice German couple who gave us lots of tips regarding Burma. Next morning, half dead we overcame neverending steps and got back to Cherrapunji. But there was no time for rest, the next bus to Imphal was already waiting for us.

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Rainbow waterfall

The last stop before the border was the most stressful. Looking for accommodation took forever and believe me, for Rs 460 we didn’t get a palace. We still didn’t get the permit so we spent the whole day trying to contact the agency. As we weren’t in the mood for sightseeing, we ended up having dinner in one of the restaurants with WiFi. The night probably would be quite relaxing if we didn’t have to deal with 2 fist-size spiders occupying our room and a rat who ate our cookies in the middle of the night. Few more morning hucking and spitting at 4 o’clock behind the door and we were ready to go. Goodbye, sweet India.

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