For the next couple of days, Anisha, Neha, and I are on an adventure! School is closed for the summer holiday (which is a month long because it’s in the middle of the school year… and for the class 9 and 10 kids/teachers, it’s only a week long because the school decided that the kids are behind and need those other three weeks to catch up. Talk about a bummer), so we’re taking advantage of our brief freedom and going to Darjeeling, a popular tourist town in the mountains! Well, we’re actually staying with Anisha’s aunt and uncle in Sonada, a town about 17 km away. We’ll go into Darjeeling tomorrow, but just getting to Sonada from Jaigaon was enough of an adventure for one day!

Just to give you a sense of where we are, Darjeeling is about 5 hours west of Jaigaon (if you drove the whole way… as you’ll soon see, it can take far more than 5 hours to get there if you need to go on public transit).
Us on the train with some of Anisha’s cousins.

We left Jaigaon this morning at 5:00 and drove to the train station in Hasimara, about a half an hour away. From there, we took the train to Siliguri. The train took 3-4 hours, and we still had a looong way to go after that. The train was MUCH different from the trains at home. In India, there are usually different classes of train ticket that you can buy, but I’m not sure that our train even had a first-class-type car. We got our tickets (which cost about US$2) and found some space in a car with bench seats, broken fans, and glass-less windows.

There was no conductor or anything in our car, so after the train started moving, no one closed the door. It was just flapping around as we chugged along, and I don’t think anyone else even thought twice about it. The windows had shutters that you could slide up and down to block the sun, plus a glass window that you could also slide up to open. Can you imagine a train in the States where you could completely open the window?? There were a few horizontal bars across the opening, so it’s not like you could fit your whole body through, but there was certainly enough space to stick your arm out. Crazy!

On a separate note, one of the things that I CANNOT get used to is the way that people dispose of garbage in this country (to be fair, it’s not just here. There are a lot of countries/places where litter is a huge problem). When I’m traveling and eat a snack or something, I keep the wrapper in my bag until I can find a trash can. Here, you just throw it out the window. Anisha and Neha got some tea, and when they finished, out the window their cups went! Every time I see someone litter without a second thought (probably without even a first thought), it physically pains me. I want to just go and pick everything up! All of the trash cans here say “Use Me” on them, and at first, it’s kind of funny because you’re like, “Uhhh, why does the trash can have to tell you what to do?” Then, you realize that it really does need to be said, and it’s not quite as funny anymore.

The train is moving… and the train door is very open.
It’s not super obvious because I wasn’t taking this picture with garbage in mind, but if you look on the hillside to the right, beneath the road, you’ll see a bunch of white stuff. That’s basically a landslide of garbage. I assume that it must get dumped there because that’s not just from people throwing trash out of their car windows, but man. It’s just right there next to the road!
Train views…

When we finally arrived in Siliguri, we took a car the rest of the way to Sonada. It was basically the same concept as the mini-buses that I took in Ghana and Peru, but this was clearly made for the mountains. I’m not fully informed on car terminology, but I think it would be an SUV? I have no idea. It reminded me of an army vehicle or a hummer or something. Ugh, I don’t know. Just look at the picture. Ours also had caged chickens strapped to the top, so that’s fun.

This isn’t the one we took, but it’s basically the same (except for its lack of chickens).
Completely normal
Here’s a map view of the drive from Siliguri to Sonada. Needless to say, my stomach got a little queasy at times.

Leaving Siliguri, it was hot, dusty, and miserable. About half an hour into the drive, we started climbing up a mountain, and the air started changing. It got cooler and cleaner (or so it felt), and I felt like a new person. The drive took about 2-1/2 hours, including a lunch stop along the way at a little roadside shack. We got vegetable momos (steamed dumplings… sometimes also fried, but not most commonly… and stuffed with either a meat or vegetable filling), and I was in heaven because momos are quite possibly my favorite food in all of India.

I had no idea at the time, but momos are one of the most popular local foods in the Darjeeling area which means that even if it had nothing else to offer, I would strongly recommend that all of you go there. Of course, there are plenty of places where you can find momos in Southeast Asia (especially Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and parts of China), but man… the ones in Darjeeling are GOOD.

Views from the drive! This was still pretty early on, so were not very high up in the mountains.
Getting higher… look at those awesome views!
I just wish it wasn’t so foggy/smoggy
It’s still pretty spectacular, though
Hanging out of the car window
You can see the road zig-zagging up the mountain.
The roads are a little terrifying… and, since there is only one road to get up and down the mountain, this is also where people walk. And there are no sidewalks. And it’s not that wide. Like I said, terrifying.

We finally made it to Sonada a little before 1PM, and all I wanted to do was go to sleep. I don’t understand why traveling is so tiring when all you’re doing is sitting for hours and hours! But of course, I couldn’t go to sleep quite yet. After we got settled, we wandered around town a bit and went to pick up a chicken for dinner.

Since Sonada is built on the side of the mountain, most of the town isn’t accessible to vehicles. There’s the one main road that we came on from Siliguri and that leads to Darjeeling, and the rest of the paths are more like this (or are made of rocks). Definitely not handicap accessible!
Yes, this is as steep as it looks in the picture
Another random “street” in town. I like this one.
The main road
Views around town

The dinner plan was chicken momos, and I was THRILLED. Yes, we did just have momos for lunch, but those were COMPLETELY different… vegetable vs. chicken… duh! Anyway, while we were out, we went to the butcher to get the meat. This was at another little roadside shack, and it was one of those times when I would have been okay with not knowing exactly where my food came from. The meat is all sitting out, and the flies are taking advantage. Eek.

After we bought the chicken, the guy chopped it up for us because it was being used for momos… and he did this with a cleaver on his chopping block aka tree stump, and I’m 100% certain than little pieces of wood ended up mixed in (because I pulled a tiny piece out of one of my momos later that night)… It was fine… But like I said, I would have been okay not knowing.

Since I love momos so much, I was determined to learn how to make them and saw this as a perfect opportunity. I’ve been trying to force my way into the kitchen this entire trip, but no one ever lets me help with anything because I’m a guest. Little do they know that my desire to help is completely selfish… I want to absorb their cooking knowledge so that I can enjoy momos for the rest of my life!

This time, I refused to take no for an answer, and I talked my way in just in time to learn how to wrap the momos! They had already made the dough and the filling by the time I got there, so that will have to be a lesson for another day.

I had to get a picture of this building because its painted one of my favorite colors… though in this context, I’m not sure, it could be a little much.
Dumpling wrapping!
The whole crew

The first one I wrapped looked horrible, and everyone (myself included) spent a solid 5 minutes laughing at it. I watched Anisha’s sister make about three more before I was convinced that I understood the technique, and from there, mine got better and better! By the end, Anisha’s sister said that mine were better than hers! Which, of course, I protested against, but I will say that I made vast improvements. Of course, each one took me about 1 minute to make while hers took maybe 15 seconds, but you have to start somewhere!

Tomorrow we’re going into Darjeeling, and I’m excited for more mountain views! The views were amazing on the drive up to here, and Darjeeling is even higher in the mountains.

Check out that beautiful detailing
I saw a lot of people carrying very heavy looking things this way. There’s a strap wrapped around the bundle, and then you wrap that around your head.
This guy had one of the most impressive loads. I tried to creep on the boxes as he walked past to see if they listed a weight, and I’m pretty sure one of them said 43kg. If that’s right and those boxes weren’t refilled with something else, that means he’s carrying about a 660-pound load!

** Note: This post has been edited since its original posting to include more information and photos.

Related Posts

Darjeeling – admire the mountain views from Darjeeling!

The Long Trek Home – join me on my longest travel day… 42 hours!… as I made my way home from India.

The Ride Home from Kokrobite – traveling in Ghana took FOREVER, especially when going and coming from the village where I lived. Come along on the endless adventure home from a weekend trip to Kokrobite!

Zakopane – if you’re a fan of mountain views, you’ll love Zakopane, Poland. These mountains are enough to take your breath away!

Machu Picchu Hikes – for a completely different mountain landscape, check out the Peruvian Andes and visit the incredible site of Machu Picchu.

Leave a Reply