Saturday, 3 April 2010

Queen Of The Hills

I scrambled off my bunk in carriage 13A, grabbed my belongings and dashed to the nearest exit. I threw myself beyond reach of the grimy train as it snarled its way out of the station toward an unknown and undesired destination. I had overslept. The journey from Kolkata had been uneventful in the scale of things, masala chai and odd Indian snacks forced upon me through open windows. Thankfully a small amount of uncomfortable sleep was accomplished somewhere in between.

Bleary eyed and deprived of a decent nights sleep, I make easy prey for the unforgiving touts. A barrage of shouting (closely related to screaming) finds me in a jeep seating all of 15 people, there's space for 10, just. The route up to Darjeeling is beyond impressive, it snakes its way up a dusty trail to an impressive altitude of almost 10,000ft. A rest stop gives me a chance to gulp down a steaming cup of chai and take in my surroundings. I look out onto an unimaginably vast valley, the sides of which seem to soar so high as to penetrate the very sky. This truly is the roof of the world, and its decorated with streamers of the bright green tea planations.

Philosophy seems to be a way of life in India, in Kolkata I spent an evening discussing the pros and cons of the British rule and its affects on life with a boy of fourteen. Darjeeling was no different. I feel I need to mention a man as he was the most bizarre yet thought provoking person I have ever met. His name is Dawa Sherpa. I met him in a dank and dingy pub and we talked for a very long time. He calls himself a philosopher and I believe him, although I have some doubts as to his mental state. Let me elaborate. He has spent his life devoted to meditation and as a result has opinions on life which seem to make a lot of sense. Alternately he says he is just 6 months from finding the cure for AIDS and that he had to turn down a pass made at him by Nicole Kidman due to the 'upset it would cause to Tom Cruise'. Hmmm I hear you say, indeed. Maybe his time spent meditating on the meaning of other peoples lives had a slightly adverse affect on his own.

"Everything in life drowns with time, only hope floats." - Dawa Sherpa , conceived at the moment before a failed suicide attempt. I sincerely hope he remembers his own words.

So Darjeeling, well how can I describe it? Its like everything beautiful and happy about England. The crisp cold air at night, the warm bright sun during the day and a sense of excitement and joy which is so reminiscent of a Christmas Eve in London. Ironic that I had to go so far from home just to find it again. The mornings bring a sight so magnificent it sends a chill down my spine, across the town and the hills beyond sit the immortal Himalaya. An impenetrable necklace of snow capped diamonds glistening in the pale morning sun. Beautiful to behold.

After losing an impressively long game of poker against eight people from six various countries I was forced to partake in a five day trek along the Indo-Nepalese border to the hill point of Sandakhpur. Not such a bad forfeit on all accounts. A view of Everest was the ultimate goal, the sparkling symbol of magnificence our planet has to offer. It was not to be. We had been battling with the weather from the start and I think we were always destined to lose. The cloud being so utterly enveloping a view of more than 100m was seen as pure bliss. It swirled around us, blanketing our world in complete and absolute whiteness. No Everest this time. Still, taking tea and momos in a remote village home 4000m into the Himalaya was just as incredible. Or maybe the breakfasts of smoked Yak, chapatti, yet more chai and the sublime comfort of being surrounded by wood smoke and warmth on exceptionally cold mornings could be seen as a worthy alternative. Unreal to say the least.

Tired legs brought me back the the town of tea after walking more than 100km, completed in sandals I might add. Total exhaustion and lack of sleep resulted in the decision Everest was the next best plan of action. I don't understand my logic sometimes but I always trust my heart. So here I am, in Kathmandu. This is going to be one hell of a ride...