India Part 5: Delhi, Agra, Darjeeling, Sikkim

The Shimla-Delhi road is as-featured-on-TV, namely on Ice Road Truckers: World's Most Dangerous Highways Season 1. It may well have been a little bit hairy but I had my eyes tightly closed so that I didn't throw up from the constant turns. I was very pleased when we arrived on flat ground.

From Delhi we took a day-trip to Agra, which lived down to its reputation for touts but was still an amazing day. We went intentionally on a Friday, since we didn't want to visit inside the Taj. Instead we went to Fatepur Sikri, an amazing ruined city which surpassed expectations – I actually preferred it to the Taj itself. We took our mandatory view of you-know-what from the Mehtab Bagh across the river, where there were only a few people taking photos.

The 26 hour journey from Dehli to New Jalapguri (the mainline station closest to Darjeeling) turned out to be, in fact, 22 hours including delays. The downside of this was that I started falling ill with a bad cold. We decided to head straight to Darjeeling rather than wait overnight in New Jalpaguri or Kurseong, and arrived a day early.

Sadly Darjeeling is wreathed in clouds, so none of the mountains I remember from my last trip are there. However, it was good to return to Hotel Tranquillity to recuperate, even if the town was very cold. While Darjeeling's temperature is higher than Brighton right now, the hotel doesn't have heating, so we are relying on hot water bottles and many layers of clothes.

From Darjeeling, we took a shared Jeep to Sikkim. The shared jeeps are a little like that game of how many people can you fit in a mini. I think 8-9 people would fit comfortably. At one point we had 14 people (two of them hanging on the back). The road to Sikkim was tiny, a single-track mountainside dirt road in places. By the time we arrived it was raining (the first rain I've seen this year) and the power was out in the hotel. Still it was a relief to reach Pelling after 6 hours of travel, even if it did feel a little like a horror movie.

Today I've visited a couple of beautiful Buddhist monasteries, both of which involved lots of climbing. The mountains nearby put in a brief appearance about 7am, but have been hidden by clouds since. Still, at least it's warmer. I think we're going to spend a few days here, and pray for clear skies.

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