The Big Ride

India: The allure of the Northeast – Part II of II

The Darjeeling Himalayan train, Ima market, living root bridges, it's cheap!
Mosquitos, loud horns, muddy roads, bad stomachs
Things we are loving
The Catholic Church, less crowded than other parts of India, the scenery, North East hospitality

* Our good friend Peter suggested that we call this blog ‘Punctures and Paneer’ – which we thought was great. However, having hardly eaten any paneer in this part of India it didn’t seem quite right. Definitely deserves a mention though!

We were a little anxious crossing the border back into India as we were not sure what to expect from our journey across the North East of the country. The idea of facing the trucks, horns and crazy traffic that we had left behind was not an appealing one. However, we need not have worried – it was a whole different kettle of fish on this side of the country! Returning to India felt a little like visiting some distant relatives you haven’t seen in a while – familiar, comforting, and not nearly as bad as you remembered! We were welcomed back into the country by some lovely immigration officers at the border who let us camp outside their office and use all their facilities!

Camping at the immigration centreThis was great as we were tired, hungry and a giant storm had just started unleashing its fury on us as we arrived at the border. What a great way to become reacquainted with the country. Immediately we noticed some stark differences in this part of India. There were a lot less people, the roads were in great condition and everything was just calmer and cleaner than when we left.  Our first stop was the town of Darjeeling, which was I was excited to visit. I was even willing to cycle up to the hill station after swearing I never wanted to cycle another hill in my life following our time in Nepal!


Nestled among the foothills of the Himalayas, the town was made famous primarily due to its tea plantations and the UNESCO Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and it’s Toy Train. The British liked the cooler climate of the town and the fact it was well suited for tea plantations. Subsequently in 1849 they annexed the area from Sikkim and made it part of British-India. In 1881 the railway was opened. The town’s bustling shops, colonial architecture and picturesque setting – being surrounded with snow-capped mountains and vibrant green tea plantations has resulted in Darjeeling becoming a major tourist destination.

The route up to the town was beautiful and the climb was gradual. We passed through forests, giant tea plantations and followed the Himalayan train line as it wound up and over the hills. We even got to glimpse the tiny diesel locomotive and its couple of carriages as it passed us.

Our time in Darjeeling was great even if the weather wasn’t on our side – it rained and was cloudy the entire time we were there. This meant we didn’t get to see the incredible mountain views that Darjeeling is famous for but we did get to ride the heritage steam train to the highest railway station in India (the world’s 14th highest), Ghoom. We also ate well and even got to meet up with our favourite touring couple, Tommy and Brian, reunited on the road again, we haven’t seen them since we bumped into them at Pammukale in Turkey (7 Months ago!) – so we had a lot to catch up on. The town felt relaxed and even though it clearly catered for the many tourists that visit; it didn’t feel like it had lost its charm, it was still a little rough around the edges in all the right ways.

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