Day 15 cycling: Siliguri - Kurseong [bike computer malfunction!]
DST = approx. 46km; RTM = approx. 4hrs; ODO = 1071km; AVS = 11km/hr; cadence = 73
Day 16 cycling: Kurseong - Darjeeling
DST = approx. 33km; ODO = 1104km
Made it to Darjeeling early this afternoon & have taken a room at Dekeling Hotel - a deluxe room (Rs1360). I decided to take a chance with the Holi celebrations & headed off bright & early (well, for me, 8am is an early start). There were a few very powder-spattered, very pissed looking blokes around but otherwise everything was very quiet. I passed the nearby Hotel Conclave where the night before they'd refused to accept my Rs500 note, claiming it was a fake. I'd then gone to the ATM to use my credit card for the first time to withdraw money. It took three goes before money came out; I'll be interested to see how my account looks & whether the first two unsuccessful attempts actually did result in money leaving my account. Curiously, one of the Rs500 notes that came out was identical to the rejected note. So, I'm not persuaded it was dodgy.
No mountains were evident ahead as I pedalled towards Darjeeling - the smog or haze obscured much of what lay ahead. It was a lovely ride - the road was flat at first but then began to rise to a slope that was fairly constant all the way to Kurseong, my planned overnight stop about 45km away. The roads were quiet, & alongside & sometimes crossing the road, were the tracks of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Annoyingly, my bike computer failed - battery I think - at the 29km mark. As I ascended, it became colder, the clouds darker and the roads rougher. The people became friendlier it seemed, especially the occasional truck or van driver, but for some reason the dogs became less friendly. Carrying a big stone & then showing it to barking dogs usually scares them away. Everywhere were flags & signs saying "We Want Ghorkaland" and everywhere road safety barriers, buildings & even huge boulders carried words & showed maps of what was wanted & were painted in the Ghorkaland colours of green, white & yellow. Basically, local Nepali speaking Ghorkas (also spelled Ghurka) want a separate state for themselves. At one point, the small diesel train withs everal carriages went tootling by. Very cute. It was an excellent ride, although hard work, and at times I wondered if my own battery might fail ... Siliguri is at an elevation of 119m; Kurseong is at 1458m, so I ascended some 1339 metres over the 45km. I checked into Cochrane Place at Kurseong, into a deluxe room (Rs2250). I figured some (relative) luxury was earned after 4 hours of steadily riding uphill. It was a slightly quirky place, full of oddities, antiques & general bric-à-brac & a good range of various teas. For afternoon tea, along with some vegetable pakora, I had a cup of Kanchanjunga tea (Rs45) "darjeeling blend spices, cocoa & mint". Rather tasty. It was a cosy place, with a sitting room & a few eating areas, and 360' views - unfortunately it was very foggy outside. At 9:30pm the rain started to beat down, leaving the roads - and train tracks - quite wet & slippery for the next day.
As I left Kurseong this morning, it was very foggy & cool, but it started to warm up a little & cycling in shorts was still quite OK. The weather was quite labile however - from cloudy to sunny to dark. The road was fairly bumpy & the traffic quite a lot heavier than yesterday, suggesting that people were observing Holi & not doing much driving, but it didn't seem quite as steep as yesterday. Cycling ever on up did begin to lose a little of the charm of the previous day. A burst boil on the left buttock didn't help much either. I reached Ghoom (Ghum) and found to my surprise it was downhill to Darjeeling from there. Ghoom, the highest point of the ride, is at an altitude of 2226m, and Darjeeling is at about 2050m. I've checked in to a cosy 'deluxe' room the Dekeling Hotel (Rs1360), a "pick" in the guide book, with "possibly the best views in town". The view out my window is indeed pretty stunning. Darjeeling was quite confusing at first but I eventually found my way to the hotel after buying a train ticket at the railway station for my return journey from Siliguri to Calcutta on Friday night. The ride back down the hill to Siliguri on Friday should be fun (although the bumpy bits will take the edge off it).
Ghoom (Ghum) railway station