Darjeeling and Bodhgaya
After a few awkward connections involving crammed shared jeeps (strangely called Sumos), a friendly toy store owner’s car, and vomit encrusted busses, I found myself in the popular hilltop town of Darjeeling. At -3C and without any kind of central heating or sealed windows let alone appropriate clothing, it is inescapably cold 24 hours a day, which is roughly the amount of time I lasted before heading back down the frigid mountain. It’s hard to do, but if you throw a mid-winter cold snap and 2000 meters of Himalayan altitude at India, it’s no longer the scorching hot environment you usually imagine. A round of hot water bottles, anyone?
Darjeeling itself is a quaint town full of steep winding alleys and stone staircases (best enjoyed without luggage) and the cold clear air and high vantage provides enormous views almost everywhere you look. A stop here isn’t complete without hopping on the century old ‘toy train’ that shares the narrow cliff roads with other road traffic while its coal boiler chugs along on impossibly narrow tracks only two feet wide. Delightful however inefficient.
A non toy-sized train brought me out of the cold and into the holy city of Bodhgaya, where it is said that after six straight years of meditation the Buddha reached enlightenment. The Mahabodhi Temple found here is the holiest place on Earth for Buddhists, and people make pilgrimages here from all over the world. I can’t begin to understand exactly what was happening in the chanting and ceremonies that took place there, but the peacefulness and spiritual importance of the place were certainly palpable.