17th October. 60km.
Short ride today for us – 60km via the main road from Siliguri to Darjeeling, with the aim of spending four nights in Darjeeling chilling out. The rest of our motley crew – Aad & Mike on their bikes and Emiel & Claire in their old Landcruiser had opted to take the longer, scenic road up to Darjeeling, but Karen and I were still tired from our long ride to Sikkim and back, and we were happy to aim for a short ride today.
After battling our way through the morning traffic in Siliguri we passed through a few villages on the outskirts of the city, before entering a tea plantation that ran right up to the foothills to the north of us. We paid our ten rupee fee (return trip) to go up the mountain, and then started the steep and twisty climb, complete with lots of hairpin bends and crazy oncoming drivers. Earlier in Siliguri we had seen a lot of Matahandra jeeps parked on the roadside looking for customers – this morning I think all of these jeeps were now either climbing up or down the mountain.
Near the crest of the mountain we picked up the narrow gauge railway of the Darjeeling train, the tracks criss-crossing the road repeatedly. The road narrowed down to only one lane in many spots, and policemen with whistles controlled the flow of traffic in many of these bottlenecks.
We reached the position given on the GPS of our intended destination – the Hotel Bloomfield – but it wasn’t there so we continued north along the main road – the quaintly named ‘Hill Cart Road’ for a few km before we spotted the hotel. Our alarm bells started ringing immediately as we could see no secure parking for the bikes as had been advertised, and when Karen spoke to the hotel staff our concerns were confirmed, as they tried to suggest we could just park on the street out the front of the hotel.
Karen railed at this suggestion, and the hotel staff went into a huddle for ten minutes before they came back with their next suggestion – leave the bikes out the front during daytime, and then move them into the mechanics workshop adjacent to the hotel at night. We weren’t too thrilled at this suggestion but was better than nothing so we unpacked the bike and checked into the hotel before going across the road to a brand-new restaurant that had just opened up two days earlier.
Just as I was finishing my chicken curry and roti lunch we saw Emiel & Claire pull up outside, with Aad just behind them. They had already been to the Hotel Bloomfield, heard about the poor parking arrangement and rejected that out-of-hand, in favour of cheaper rooms at the hotel next door (but higher up the hillside, up from the main road and railway track below) that offered very secure parking.
We moved our bike from the street front up to the hotel where the other guys were staying – already Karen had to chase away some guys who had parked their car right up close to the bike and had started to remove the cover we’d placed over it.
For dinner the six of us returned to the new restaurant across the road and had a simple chow mien dish each. After dinner we said goodnight to our travelling companions and returned to our Hotel Bloomfield. It was a very cold night – Karen pulled on her thermals and climbed under three blankets to keep warm in bed – a far cry from the hot and humid plains of India far below us.