In an effort
to be affiliated to a new project at the university, dealing with
the in vitro
propagation of endangered plants from the foothills of Himalaya, I
found it necessarily to make a expedition to
Nepal, Bangladesh and
Bhutan which are connected by the
Indian province West
Bengal. While I'm here,
I might as well enjoy the vivid culture and with luck; some of the
nature. Especially Lloyd's Botanical Garden should have some
amassing collections of the areas botany.
I have arranged several visits to nurseries along the road,
India is just considered as a way to connect the other countries on
this expedition. I have been in
before, but not this far north-east, and is truly different!
28/1. Against all
odds, I actually cross the border from
two days delayed, at exactly noon. It is just a short walk across a railroadbridge, but the
considerable. I pass through six counters, each in its little house or hut, I get my backpack x-rayed
and looked through. Several interviews and filling out forms with exactly the
same information, while the officers do the same, based on the information
on my passport. Picture taken once again, four stamps in the passport,
signed by other officers and finally, I'm let out to roam
free in India. Well, twice, the bus is stopped by some military personnel,
one wanting to see my passport.
A trishaw to the bus terminal cost 20 Rupee, and he need help to
get the last 10R! I get a ticket to Balurghat, not on the list of ten names
I have for waypoints to Darjeeling, but several agree; that is where I want
Every thing look just like Bangladesh, and I having a hard time finding
anything to make a photo of. Well, here are significantly more cows in the
streets, and not in front of the butcher shops. Here are also female
soldiers, police and shop keepers and no covered women.
Someone tells me, I can get an express bus from
here, to the major city Siligure, but at nine in the evening. I was aiming
for Siliguri, but I had feared I had to do the nine transfers. I rather
spend the day in Balurghat and then 10-11 hours on a express bus during the
night. Else, I recon, it will take me two days during the day times with
arrival in Balurghat around two, and shortly after, I have a ticket for Siliguri in the evening. The sun just broke through at the border, but now,
the clouds are pulling together. The bus is at 20;00, but I decide to treat
my self with a hotel anyway: Logen Lila. 350R, and I have a nice room with bath, just
next to the bus terminal. A quick and expensive meal at a little joint; 150R
- €2, but it is a great gravy with mutton and fried rice.
I had a feeling of, the time might need adjustment, and it is half an hour
Back to the hotel to have a short nap, before I start working. Of cause, the SIM modem I used in Bangladesh is not working, and I'll wait and see, if the
hotels will have Wi-Fi, before buying a new. Neither of the two internet stores in
the ground level of the hotel has Wi-Fi, and I didn't bother to bring my
Thunderbolt-juggle for the line.
The sun have returned, and I go for a stroll in the city. It seems like I
already can the most essential Indian: Dub-tar the sweet spiced tea I
live on. The main street is not that
busy, but the shops are just like those in Bangladesh. I cruises around till
I stumble over the marked. Here are rice en-gross, butchers of goats and
chickens, fishmongers and even a line of fish auctions - with little
One shop sell charcoal, another firewood. One of the tea shops use egg-trays
as holy smoke. Could be worse, I guess.
In one place, a huge number of people are gathered to some Hindi religious
thing, in another, a bunch of people are playing some real good music.
At six, it darkens, and I head back
to my room, armed with water and biscuits for the evening in the bus. I am
fare from looking forward to this nightly ride, but it is my best chance to
catch up some of the lost time. I got the very last seat, right in the bumpy
back of the bus - could not be worse, I think. Well, no seat and no bus of
cause. After Bangladesh, I easy to please.
I work until is time to find the
bus - fighting the desire to grab yet another nap. Especially the trick: How
to find three days in an already tight schedule, causes some problems. Two
lost by the bouncing at the borders, one due to the fact I'm 400 kilometres
south of where I wanted to be.
I dress in warmer cloths. The weather forecast has predicted 13-15C in
Darjeeling during the day, but the present temperature now show -2C. I guess
the "-" is an error - sure hope it! But is can easily reach frost at night,
I have heard.
I'm at the terminal in good time for a dub-tar, and a
friendly man show me to the bus. On the way, someone calls me, and it turns
out: I am leaving a trail of bags, falling out my bag-pack's broken zipper. I
walk bag, and get what I can find, hoping the essentials are there - well
all is essentials in my little back-bag!
We are all here, and the bus leave early. We pick-up some along the line,
and make a eating stop around midnight. I manages to doze off sometimes, but
some bumps throw us out of the seat. The more smooth stretches feel like one
wheel is oval, the other square.
29/1 At four, we make another stop, and most of the bus empties. The guy next to
me tells me: It is Siliguri! Outside, I hear someone calling Jarjeeling, and
it is a pretty packed 4WD'er. He ask for 130R for the 80 kilometre tour, but
a newspaper distributor marches that with a empty car. Compared to
Bangladesh, it is a relief to be able to communicate with people.
We must be at the outskirts of Siliguri, and pretty fast, we are on the main
road. We make a turn through a huge military camp, then a moor with intense
fog. Here are several signs warning about elephants, but I don't see any.
Then the fog clears, and we start climbing a lot for the next 50 kilometres
or more. Through tiny villages and tea plantations. We follow a narrow gage
railroad track, crossing it time and time again.
At six, it starts to
lighten, and I can see the tiny houses in the villages are cosy, little
wooden houses. Here is frosting on the roadside, and it clearly get colder,
as we assent.
The few trucks we meet are brand new, and not the usual Indian style. Just
before Darjeeling (elev. 2135), the sun breaks through, and the most
amassing mountain range reveals itself. I pay an additionally 20R to get
the hotel, but it is quite a walk uphill through the town. I passes at least
30 other hotels, and when I finally find "mine", it is closed. I can hear
someone inside, but they don't reply to my calls. On the other side of the
road, a cosy little wooden house offers room too, and I pay 300R for
simple room with a breathtaking view to the sunrise.
My plan was to go to Tigers Hill, 10 kilometres out, to enjoy the view to
Everest and the other peaks, but the shared Jeep only leave before four in
the night. And
I'm not going to do that to morrow morning! In stead, I work a bit, than try
to get some breakfast until the Lloyd's Botanical Garden opens at
eight, while the hotel will take care of my laundry.
It is a rather long walk down to the town, and out to the
garden. The gate reminds me most of all of prison entrance, and the
first part of the walk the same. The thing changes, despite the misty and
cold weather. It is a large botanical garden with 16 hectares. It was funded
in 1878, and some of the original plants are still here. The altitude of
1800 meters give a special climate, and this is Himalayan flora. Here are
167 species of trees, 176 shrubs, 144 herbs, 80 orchids and 42 species of
cacti and succulents.
The many old trees is covered in orchids and other epiphytes as well as
mosses. Besides from the living collection, the herbarium houses 14252
from 175 families. The library 1000 books, some I noticed was first
editions of Hookers work.
The garden it self is keep perfect. There are not a "forgotten" corner to be
found, and most plants have name tags on. Here is a big conservatory, a
cacti and succulent house and several orchid houses. Unfortunately, I'm here
on a misty
winter day, but I still find the garden fantastic. The orchid
houses are, like the other houses, spotless.
In the trees, I find a caudiciform epiphyte, I a bit puzzled over. To
clarify its identification, I seek out the Ranger Officer. It is the very
present and well educated Mr. Manoj
Kr. Chhetri, FR. We have a long talk about plants, botanical gardens,
funding and alike. He tell me the plant I have found is
and I forgot it!.
It fare from look like any Stephania I know, but Agapetes serpens
does neither look like any other Ericaceae. I know. Here are a lot of them
too. The visit end at the
Orchidarium, which have a great collection, taken
care of by an old gardener and his apprentice, given five years to learn the
The sun refuses to break through for more than a few minutes at the time,
and I give up, getting some real good photos. I head down through the
surprisingly little town. I would have thought 120.000 citizens would
require more of everything. The only
thing here are in abundance is Jeeps
and cookie shops. The centre is packed with both. The central part is real
worn down, here are no paint to be found. I had expected a fancy and rich
tea- and tourist city - it look fare from like that. Further more, most
shops are closed, so are the big marked.
I do some loops, and end out at the Darjeeling Himalayan Railroad or
the Toy Train: A UNESCO World Heritage. I have a look at some of the coal
fired locomotives, but can't be
bothered to wait two hours for a two hour
tour. Instead, I head back to the other end of town again, to see the ZOO.
It should be a real treat with several interesting breading programs and
rare animals from the Himalayas. It is a real long walk out there, and
I have a bit hard accepting the sigh: Closed on Thursdays.
It is still
misty and cold (yesterday was great, they tell me), and I have
nothing else to do here. I figure I can save half a day, heading on to Kalimpong. I feel a bit stupid, checking out of yet another hotel without
sleeping in it, but time is precious. It is a bit hard to relocate the hotel
again. On the map, it seems like it is close to centre, but the almost
vertical mountain side means it is about 500 meters higher and several
kilometres to walk.
I pack my stuff, wait for the laundry
man's son to return my washed but very
wet cloth, and start the climb down to the motor-stand. I ask around twelve
times, and are guided out to the other end, down some blind stairs, and
round in circles. The mountainside is kind of upper site Ts, unconnected.
When I pass my hotel again, I figure they can do some use for the 300R I
have paid them.
I finally reach the central part of town and the hundred Jeeps. The one on
the upper square guards me to the lower, which sends me back. I feel like
this city is either populated with morons or arseholes. Despite Darjeeling
and Kalimpong are the two bigger cities in the area, and the distance is
only 57 kilometres, here are no connecting busses! I finally find a proper
ticket office way back through some dirty shops and tunnel-like
constructions. I get seat no. five in the next Jeep, departing when the last
two seats are sold.
They have squeezed an additionally row of seeds into the back, and here are
four persons in each row - and a child more. At last, it is only
kilometres. We leave at three, and I look forward to finding a hotel while
it is light, and catch up with some work and planning. After one and a
half hour, the driver announces 20 minutes brake. He start washing his Jeep
while we are two who get out to have a cup of tea. The remaining ten keep
sitting inside the crammed car. We head on, and an hour after dark, we reach
Kalimpong (elev 1250).
It was a nice drive through tempered rainforest with overgrown trees, huge
tea plantations and a few tiny villages. Crossing a big, blue river; Tista, and
doing a lot of turns. One was without a doubt the sharpest corner I've ever
taken: 560 degree, I think. Involving a
bridge and tunnel. What I don't get
is how a 57 kilometre tour can last for three and a half hour! The 120R was
that considered, rather cheep.
Despite it is dark, I find my hotel: Sherpa's Lodge, rather fast. The owner
speak a good English, and he have a fantastic knowledge about the area, and
it is more than willing to share. I wished there was more like him. He have
a map of the area for me, and give me the highlights and the nurseries I
want to visit.
I head down the street to get some supper; Rice and Curry. This hotel have
no Wi-Fi either, and I better buy some my self. While I wait for my food, I
check at a cell-phone shop next door. Sure, he just want to see some ID. He
closes at eight, no problem. Well, when I returns half pass seven, the shop
is closed like all the others. Slightly annoying, and the last two wasted
nights don't really help on my understanding. I get back to the hotel, where
the owner supplies me with a bucket of hot water - the usual thing around
Afterwards, I work for some hours, but the lack of sleep
kind of spoils the fun. Problem is, I need the planning for tomorrow, and I
guess it will be a real busy day. I freezes quite a lot, despite it is 16C
at my room. The 200 photos of the day seems like an endless task.
The planning is easier: Here are several monasteries and temples - which I
won't see. I have an appointment at Himalayan Orchid Exports nursery (one of
these days), and I
will try to visit Nurseryman's Heaven and Pineview Nursery as well. Here are
maybe 30 nurseries, but not all are interesting for me.
My host recommended several things like Deylo Hill with an astonishing view,
a handmade paper mill, a gumpa and some more, gone for now. The area also
have some great walks, but only if you got the time: I don't! To prevent my
bag from cracking open again, I do some stitching on it - I think. Bit hard
to see black-in-black in next to no light. I also hang my laundry to
dry, although I doubt it will have any effect in the cold. The car remained wet for 30
kilometres after it was washed - and that was driving! In my crammed room
with a humidity on 78%, it will be a miracle. In the line of desperate
actions, I try to get my visa card to stay in one piece with superglue. I
might need it on the trip, and it is living hell to change it for the
monthly drawings and especially the Danish Rejsekortet! Meanwhile,
the computer do backups on the rather filled 32GB USB sticks.
At eleven, I have to throw in the towel: I can't accomplice anything anymore.
I am tired as an entire older people's house, I have a hard time sleeping.
It is, as mentioned before; cold! Further more, the single blanket I got is thin and way too short and narrow.
I try to bend together, but then the back stick out in one side, and the
knees in the other.
An early start leads to the usual roti and omelette. Then I try to find
transport to the recommended viewing point; Deylo Hill. It is just up the
road from two of the nurseries, I have planned to see, and early mornings
ought to be beat time to experience clear weather.
The Jeep drivers are a tough pack to haggle with. Apparently, there are no
bus-Jeeps going there, and I have to pay 300R to get there. On the way, I
learn my map is so much out of scale. The long way out of town is short,
where the stretch from the road-fork I have to return by, is endless! I have hoped
for real interesting nature, but it is not that interesting. I end up asking
the driver to wait for me, while I check the breathtaking view from Deyla
Then he can drive me to the first nursery.
It is yet another misty morning, and despite the area look like a nice park,
the view is based on guesses. Ten minutes, and I give up.
We drive down and up the other road, and the driver know the nursery.
Retreat is not the public nursery I had expected. A huge and impressive
house with some small tunnels behind. A gardener follow me back the the
mansion, and after an interview, the owner grand me permission to a short
tour on his premises. It can't be here, he make his money!
A bit down hill, and I finally find Himalayan Orchid Export. This is truly
something else! Through a Scottish dealer, I have been in contact with
junior. Due to my lack of contact means, I have not been able to announce my
arrival, and he is occupied elsewhere.
Instead, I get to meet his farther and owner of this part of their industry.
Udai C. Pradhan is a true
gentleman and an excellent host. On top of that,
he have an incredibly knowledge. We talk over a cup of tea for a long time,
then he show me his collection. Besides from the plants they have in trade,
they have a huge amount ready species, when the marked get ready.
Again, I can confirm; they give their plants way more light. Here are only
20% shadow, and we are close to equator. Many terrestrial are grown on a
rock-wall, and seem perfect! A real delight to see this, and meet the owner.
Considered the price I paid to get here, I walk
back to town. It is only half an hour, and the nature is nice, so are the
outskirts of Kalimpong. I end in the 10 Mile market, but walk fast
through it for now.
On the other side of town, the Nurseryman's Heaven orchid nursery is found
up on the steep hillside. A short talk with the owner, who especially point
out an un-described orchid, he have found. He offers me one, and it would be
great to bring it back, and let Henrik Æ. Petersen describe it - but that is
not possible without a ton of papers. A tour around the different tunnels
give me an idea of their methods. They use 30% shadow, I think.
Then, further out down and up another hill side, to find Pineview Cacti Nursery. It
is a long walk, but I manages to find it. I can see some rather huge tunnels
from a distance. The impressive gates are closed, and a little sign tell:
The nursery is closed today. I am not really lucky these days! And from what I can see
through the gate, it would have been so interesting!
I have to do the long walk back to town.
The huge number of hoses along the road puzzle me. It look like every house
has it own for water supply! A bit further down the road, I get that crazy thought confirmed.
And they all lying on top of the sidewalk, gutter and whatever are along the
road. Many are fizzing or directly running.
Back in town, I desperately seek some internet. The huge mobile-company
Airtel has the right solution. But; they need passport, copy of passport,
photo and current address in India. Considering I'll only be here for 3-5
days more, I can't be bothered.
I find a rather fancy hotel-restaurant, who actually have Wi-Fi for hire. I
get up to date with upload and emails, while I drink two cups of what I
thought was tea. Then he ask, if I want a third cup of coffee! It might have
been coffee? The internet was a bit expensive, but at least it worked perfect.
Back to the hotel to see, if I can get another blanket,
and get my laundry from the roof. The sun was shining this morning, when I
placed it there. Now, it is cold and windy, and it have been blown down. I
find most of it, one sock in the dogs water bowl. The rest is still slightly
moist. Not really my lucky week or two...
Down town to find a souvenir and replacement cloth. Somehow, I find my self
in two cake shops, eating samples. I go through the
10 Mile Market again,
and get some dissent shots. A small Ganesh might make it up for my souvenir
At four, I return to my cold room to catch up with work. The planning still
bothers me. I can see, the next national park is rather hard to access, and
I might have to skip it. Somehow, I lack information for the next park in
line. If the transport is as
slow as the one from Darjeeling, it will take a day to reach it. Then again,
I think it is lowland, and that ought to help. From here, I have a long
drive to Siliguri and further on to the Nepali border. It is a circle I do,
and in Denmark, I could do it in about 2-3 hours. Here, it is more likely
At seven, I'm ready to revisit
the restaurant with
internet. Both for dinner, which should be good at this 125 year old
restaurant, still in the same family's control. While
I'm at it, I upload the Darjeeling - Kalimpong
The food is fantastic: Boneless chicken in oyster sauce and fried rice with
pork. I try desperately to get a name to that epiphytic caudiciform I have
seen around here, but I can't come up with a family, and then it seems
Here, like everywhere else like in the Jeeps, everyone is complaining about
how cold it is, but none closes the doors and windows. I think a fireplace
would be the right thing to attract customers!
At nine, I better head home: The gate is closed at half pass, and there is
no bell. Well, it closed half pass eight, and I have to be a bit clever to
The epic journey continues in