Sunday, June 10, 2012

Incredible India

Dear Sonia,

Many thanks for organising what turned out to be a wonderful trip. Some feedback for you:

1.  Both the Guide - Norgay, and the Driver - Gopal, were very good indeed. The driver especially. we were subject to another driver the day that we went to Lake Tshongo and it made us appreciate Gopal's driving even more. Indeed we saw the recent results of two nasty accidents of vehicles going over the edge - which involved loss of life. Safety is a serious concern, and Gopal drove very well. Norgay's knowledge and enthusiasm about Tibetan Buddhism could not be faulted, we were really lucky to witness both chanting and debating.

2.  They were both very helpful and polite and willing to make small changes to the itinerary - we went on the Ropeway in Darjeeling which was very good (should be included on the itinerary) and they took us to a soccer match in Gangtok which was a bonus. They also accommodated our desire to do rather more walking than may have been planned. I would have no hesitation to recommend them as a team to other travellers.

3. The hotels were also really good, with a special mention for the Himalayan in Kalimpong, a really good place. All provided heating and hot-water bottles except in Pelling - I wonder how they manage in Winter?

4. We ate mainly away from the hotels - except breakfast. The breakfasts were fine. The pakshabhat, as recommended by Norgay, was especially good.

5. On the first morning in Kolkata we arranged (with some help from the O2 Hotel staff) a yellow taxi to take us into the centre of town and visit the river and to see many of the sights in the centre (2,000 rupees for 5 hours). This proved to be quite a highlight of the trip, despite the driver having almost no English he did an excellent job, including finding a breakfast place for us. There was no problem getting back to the airport in time for the flight.

6.  Nothing quite prepared us for the traffic in Darjeeling, it must be an absolute nightmare in the peak season. Sadly Tiger Hill was a complete flop - totally covered in cloud, but a couple of days later we were blessed with a spectacular view of the mountains. The Toy Train was marvellous

7.  Gangtok is oversold in the guidebooks, they have at least built some pavements and pedestrian walkways and the car-free shopping mall, but the traffic is still terrible and it can hardly be called either "small" or "sleepy".

8.  On the way back we once again went into central Kolkata to visit the Kalikhat Temple - this time by bus because all the yellow taxis were on strike. Just finding the Temple was quite a challenge, eventually with the help of a kindly policeman, we got an auto-rickshaw to take us most of the way. It proved to be quite a marvellous adventure, because we could not get a white taxi either and ended up walking for miles and miles until we found the Taj Bengal Hotel and bullied them into providing us with a hotel car.  Why have they built an elevated railway right to Kolkata Airport and yet if doesn't have any trains?

9.  In retrospect we should have asked to spend one more day in Pelling and done a full-day hike into the mountains to break up the travelling. Otherwise the whole expedition was both eye-opening and highly enjoyable.

Once again, many thanks,

Tim & Ray
Traveled to India in April 2012