Myles Harrington

Posts Tagged ‘West Bengal’

An Illegal Border Crossing and a Wild Snow Leopard

In India on June 7, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Sadly, of the two most exciting things to happen in the last 72 hours I have a picture of neither. I do have lots of lovely photos of flowers though because we (we being me, the German bloke and the British guys I met on Thursday night) went on a two day trek.

The beautiful flowers of the Darjeeling hillside

The crazy bloke we booked the trip with seemed to be on cocaine for the whole time we were with him. hespokelikethissobloodyquicklyitwashardtoworkoutwhathewassaying. Although he showed us his new swanky office in the centre of town I am half unsure whether he’d arranged a trip before. We arrived on Saturday morning and took over this poor native family’s house, don’t have a clue where they slept considering we took all their beds. On the car journey there we stopped off and picked up a chicken for lunch. It was still alive and it kept flapping under Barney’s seat. The two fellow tour guides that came along for the ride had a great laugh at the scared westerner. From the smell that filled the car shortly afterwards I think it shit itself too, poor thing.

Lunch - Nepalese style

After a couple of Darjeeling chais we set off on the main attraction of the trek, a walk down an extremely steep hill, via a non-existent village to a tea plantation we were not allowed to visit. We hung around the river at the bottom for half an hour taking more picture of flowers and the occasional snap of the stream and trekked back up the hill for more chai and the poor chicken’s insides cooked to a traditional Nepalese style. boiled in its own juices with rough amounts of chili, garlic and random brown spices. I think the coke head boss kept the breast for himself.

A post dal lunch nap ensued and we were so desperate for coke (not the boss’ favourite type) and chocolate upon awakening we managed to persuade one of the Nepalese blokes hanging around he should drive us to the nearest village so we could stock up on some supplies to see us through the night. After buying Red Bull, Coke and various types of cheap Indian chocolate we were shown to the border point the town was based on by our guide. It was just across the otherside of the street under some unguarded barriers, the type that are normally at level crossings, so we tentatively took a stroll towards them and ducked under into Nepal. Our guide was a bit worried to say the least and kept muttering “this is very illegal” “this is not allowed” but we survived without a bullet in the head so that was good enough for me. Then the journey home got even more exciting as half way back on one of the numerous bends, a grey and white animal, roughly the size of a big fox, sprinted lowly across the tarmac in front of us. Our guide informed us it was a snow leopard. It looked much happier than the one we saw at the zoo on Friday. The guide didn’t get my sarcastic remark about going back to the house to get the gun.

Once back at the wooden house the camp fire was in full swing, so we sat around sipping the home brew wine, whiskey and coke and chewing on yet more burnt chicken for dinner.

The next day we took a trip to a small village monastery, that the guide eventually found. It was built on a beautiful spot and the drive was quite cool. The locals loved seeing us too and they made some great postcard style photos. Back to the house for yet more chicken.

Feiste inder (Max came up with this caption)

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Darjeeling Unlimited

In India on June 4, 2010 at 10:51 am

I am once again donning Tom’s cardi, my stretched blue jumper, thick purple socks and the grey woolly hat that I have not worn since Manali. I am now in Darjeeling, which I think at the moment has weather that’s probably comparable to Siberia. The mist that clings to the steep hillside and drifts casually throughout the treacherous paths of the town reduces the visibility to anything between five and 20 metres. I arrived here two days ago and the fog has not lifted since.

The Hindu and Buddhist temple on top of the hill

I have met so many people on my tea stop wanders. Yesterday I met a gay couple who lived in a council house near Tower Bridge. Followed by a German girl from Hamburg who was here for six months studying Tibetan. A South Korean bloke who was travelling around the world trying to learn English before he will set up his lecture streaming business in India (once the internet speeds here make it viable).

Inspired by the gay couple I met over a tasty porridge breakfast I decided to walk to Ghoom, which is the nearest town to Darjeeling on the route here from Siliguri. It was an easy 8km stroll and I decided somewhere along the congested road that I would try and get the next train back on the infamous Toy Train with its 2ft wide tracks. I didn’t fancy going the whole way back to Siliguri by the unreliable locomotive because it takes anywhere between six to eight hours; when the shared jeep I took only took two and a half. I arrived in Ghoom or Ghum (no one seems to know the correct spelling) at 1pm and was informed by the station manager I had a four hour wait before the next normal train. They do ‘joy rides’ by steam on the Darjeeling-Ghoom route for a rip-off 240Rs.

So as the rain was closing in nicely and all my photos were being ruined by the misty glaze, I decided to have some lunch. I stumbled upon a one table shack restaurant overhanging the cliff and had the most delicious feast of double momo plate, thali and tea and I was sat with the owner’s children while they ate lunch too. I found out the eatery was a new venture and they’d only been open for two months. They didn’t even have a name yet, so I suggested as I was the first westerner to venture in, they should name it after me. They laughed but the boy seemed to think Restaurant Myles had a ring to it, so you never know. All of this for 52Rs (75p!), plus, when I left they handed me about 200g of Darjeeling’s finest, freshest tea tips. Amazing!

My luncheon buddies

Restaurant Myles, Cafe Myles or Myles Cafe? Harri's Hillside Hangout?

I still had two hours to wait at this point so it was on to a tea stall opposite the world’s second highest railway station where I had four brews and helped the delightfully happy husband and wife proprietors create the next batch of momos using the skills I picked up in McLeod Ganj.

Co-worker in the tea love shack

Once the train arrived, after skidding on the tracks for most of the journey up hill I discovered that the plump station manager had lied. All of the 2nd class seats were taken so I couldn’t travel. At that point I just hopped on in the guard’s compartment and told him I could only pay 20Rs and he had to find me a seat. For that I got a first class recliner for the 45 minute up hill slog. I’m so glad I didn’t go all the way on that thing, as the carriage door didn’t even shut.

Travelling in 1st class style, hanging out of the door that didn't shut

In the evening I bumped into yet more people. This time it was over a crappy veg burger dinner in one of the most lacklustre establishments in the whole of India and they were three Brits (brother, sister and cousin) and a German bloke they’d picked up earlier in the day. Being hardened drinkers as we all are from the west, straight after dinner beer was suggested as a matter of course, so we headed for the nearest bar.

The Brits head straight to the bar

Dancing in the Station

In India on June 1, 2010 at 7:41 pm

There she was just sat there, very sweet, very quiet and not more than three years old. I was in Siliguri‘s main police station and she was a lost child; Brianca. Surprisingly she didn’t seem scared at all but she clung to the man who had brought her in. She also attempted to make a run for the door a few times, I don’t know where she thought she was going. I bought her a mango juice carton which kept her occupied for a while, although most of it ended up on her and the floor.

Missing but not scared

I’d just arrived in town that morning from Kolkata on one of the worst bus journeys ever experienced by mankind. If there was a bus to hell that would probably be it. I had to share a single bed with a man who stank of bidies and at 3am the roof started gushing from a storm. Not to mention the suspension was f*cked, so every little bump caused me to whack my head on the ceiling. Perhaps that’s what caused the broken roof?

Two hours later, weary and battered, I was with one of ICSRS’s (ideal center for social research and self reliance) field workers, observing Raj do his day job. The paper work was completed at the station and we drove off on a motorbike with Brianca in between us screaming her head off. We stopped to buy some chocolate but she wouldn’t take it and five minutes later we arrived at the childrens’ shelter run by Conc’rn. While we were there Raj got a call. Another child had been found and his colleague Joyti, who was hosting me in Siliguri, had gone to pick her up. They arrived ten minutes later. This child was actually talking (a bit) and was older than Brianca so there was more hope for finding her parents.

The second lost child of the morning

Next was a trip to the boys’ shelter just up the road. A great bunch of kids all jumping around, singing songs and they were very polite “hello uncle, how are you?” As most kids I’ve encountered they loved having their photo taken so a photo shoot ensued.

At the lads' house

Today I had the pleasure of hanging out with Praggyaparamita and Arindam of Conc’rn at NJP train station finding new child arrivals, talking to them and guiding them to the drop-in-centre just outside of the station. The kids were very excitable, I don’t know whether it was because I was there, because they’d just had a glue hit or whether they were always like it. For some reason one of the boys, Bumba Das, kept saying one of the only English sentences he knew “I said, GET OUT!”, I don’t know where on earth he’d gotten that from so I taught him a new one that will probably help him get further in life “Give me money”. Then we danced on the platform to Praggyaparamita’s Bengali music on her mobile phone, which the children kept trying to sneak off with.

I said GET OUT!

Gettin jiggy wit it on platform 2

To finish off the day nicely I got some good news when I returned to Conc’rn’s office for lunch. Brianca had been picked up by her parents this morning.

Becoming a Member of The Village People

In India on May 29, 2010 at 10:30 am

Two Wednesdays ago I left my base in Nandakumarpur and headed south, deeper into the Sunderbans to Sabuj Sangha’s Brajaballavpur base. When I initially set off at 6am I thought I was only going for two nights so I was grossly under prepared for my eight day excursion; two t-shirts, one book and no phone or ipod chargers. Little did I know then how rural the area was. The electricity came from a village generator and there was absolutely no chance I was getting an English paper, let alone the latest Dan Brown. Hence I ended up reading The War of the Worlds twice and purchasing a deck of cards, so that in my spare time I could recreate the solitaire game I’ve recently become addicted to on my Blackberry.

While I was there I stayed with the friendly team of five staff members in their two room office cum home where they worked extremely long days (5am to midnight) for seven days a week. The house had no running water so trips to the well, that was luckily located outside the property, were frequent.

The three amigos; Aroof (sp), Goutam and Bhabani

We ate as they always did at a local lady’s house a short walk from the office. The two cooks took it in turns to conjure up delicious Bengali cuisine for every lunch and dinner. Some personal favourites were a sour fish curry and a spicy colcannon type dish (aloo chokha). The meals were very carb heavy but so good. A typical dinner was a mound of rice, a few chapatti, aloo chokha, potato and marrow curry and a fish and potato curry. Gillian McKeith would have had a heart attack at the sight of it. I also learnt how to eat rice and curry with my hands, which is easy when you know how, although my attempts on the first day caused many laughs.

Very handy

The village itself is a quaint place where everyone knows everyone and everything. The gossip spread about me being in town and rumours were aplenty, I was even the local photographer’s desktop background for a day. It was rather strange how the locals started talking to me in Bengali as if they expected me to know it and were often shocked when I told hem I didn’t know Hindi either. Only a handful of people knew some key English words so I could roughly get a basic conversation going in the tea shops with charades. Even though we couldn’t communicate verbally it was very easy to make friends with the villagers and by the end of my week in town I couldn’t walk down the street without being offered a Char (tea).

The working men's club

A little map I drew of the main bazaar

The work Sabuj Sangha is doing in Brajaballavpur is essential to the redevelopment of the area’s economy and the peoples’ lives after Cyclone Aila struck last May. The team there are mainly concentrating on rebuilding the area’s agricultural system because the economy is so reliant on the income from crops. The soil was polluted by the salty water from the Bay of Bengal making it very difficult for the rice paddy to grow as normal. The organisation is also operating a cash for work programme where the villages can apply to work for 100 Rs (£1.50) a day. The work is grueling hard labour, re-digging the ponds that are used as a water resource and fisheries, that were filled in by the mud Aila brought. I only did it for about half an hour and my hands were raw, my back hurt, my hair was matted with clay and I was covered in mud. The villagers were carrying three times the amount I did too. They definitely earn their money!

Don't give up your desk jobs

Scaring The Kids of Nandakumarpur

In India on May 27, 2010 at 7:23 am

No blog post for over ten days. Very poor form. But I have an excuse! I have been in the Sunderbans for most of the last two weeks working with Sabuj Sangha, a locally based NGO that specialises in health, education, water and sanitation, woman’s rights and micro-finance projects for the people in the Sunderbans area of West Bengal.

My first week with the organisation was spent at their Nandakumarpur HQ. It takes about three hours to get there from Kolkata. Firstly, by a packed commuter train for an hour and a half and then by auto rickshaw from the nearest train station for the rest of the journey.

At their HQ there is an excellent hospital with all mod-cons and a great primary school with just over 100 students. My primary objective at the school was to help out with the English lessons and to generally have fun with the kids. I was staying on the school grounds in their very cosy accommodation, which was complete luxury compared to some of the dives i’ve stayed in. They even provided me with soap and mineral water on demand. The chai was also one of the best i’ve had and the food was delicious for the whole of my time there, all thanks to the attentive canteen manager and his two wonderful cooks.

When the kids finally came to me

I managed to sneak into the compound on my first day without the pupils spotting me. When they eventually did at home time they were so scared! I couldn’t get within 50 metres of them for the first twenty minutes. No matter how much I chased or put out my hand, smiled or waved.  Eventually they all got the courage to come to me so I showed them my Blackberry and all of the photos of people back home and played them a selection of songs from my ipod. Bill Withers, The Corrs and Bob Marley featured on the playlist. I thought Digitalism would have blown them away so steered clear of anything too abstract for their innocent ears. Then I bought them sweets and took a few photos to their amazement.

Initially it all seemed easy enough until on my first day of proper teaching I was put in front of a class and told to teach. Having never taught anything in my life before I was a little uneasy and managed to blag my way through teaching them basic questions and answers such as “how are you?”, “What food do you like?” and “What is your favourite colour?” etc.

I scored five! If only I was that good against people my own size

For the rest of my time there after my dodgy first lessons I just asked to help the other teachers and we seemed to work well as a double act. I would write on the board and pronounce the words while the teachers would translate for the children what I wanted them to do.  I also taught them rhymes before lunch time such as Baa Baa Black Sheep and Humpty Dumpty which the children loved.

The P.E teacher sings his heart out for the students. My rhymes weren't quite that impressive

Chilling in Kolkata

In India on May 16, 2010 at 11:27 am

I was in Kolkata for three days last week doing as much sightseeing as physically possible in the heat. There’s a lot of interesting things to do and the one line metro is a great help for getting around. It’s so much nicer than Delhi. Less hasslers nagging you and pretending to be your friend and you can even walk from place to place because there are street signs! (If you can withstand the sweating)

Jealous? You shouldn't be

On Tuesday I went to The Indian Museum of Kolkata, an old-school museum that is kind of like a small version of London’s Natural History Museum. There are a few rooms of interest, I enjoyed the old coins and the deformed human embryo.

The pickled baby of Kolkata

After an hour there I went to the amazing Victoria Memorial (but not inside, it is far too expensive) which is the kind of building we should have more of in Britain. Then I just strolled around the Chowringhee area in general trying to get my battered Lonely Planet guide re-binded to no avail.

Vicki's Memorial in full bloom

Half of Wednesday was taken up in an Indian post office to my frustration. The Indian postal system is one of the most bureaucratic organisations I have ever known. I arrived with my parcel for the lucky birthday boys and girls and the rest of the rabble back in London, nicely wrapped with strong parcel tape and with a clear label with a white background. The Royal Mail would have thought I’d put far too much effort in. This wasn’t good enough for the red tape jobsworths at Mirza Ghalib St Post Office. I needed to get it all sewn up in cotton, photocopy my own postal form and then paste and sew that form on different sides of the parcel. When I came to pay after an hour and a half of pandering to their petty demands they said come back tomorrow. For it was 4.10pm and they stop dealing with parcels at 4pm. aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!

What a waste of time.

After that hassle I needed some tranquil time off so I headed to Mother Teresa’s house and illegally took some snaps of her possessions.

Mother's last passport

It was there that I met Ryan (an Australian) and Anya (from Belgium) they’d been travelling together for the last two days since they met on a plane and arrived in India. I told them about my plans to go and relax in the air con sanctuary of the Birla Plantarium. They joined in on the plot to cool down and afterwards we went for an amazing Bengali feast at Bhojohari Manna that place definitely deserves its reputation as one of the best eateries in town. Succulent fish, massive prawns the size of lobsters and well defined flavours in the veg dishes. The ice cream was also a winner with Anya getting two helpings.

This probably would have looked better if I hadn't attacked it first

Notes From a 40 Hour Train Journey

In India on May 11, 2010 at 6:04 pm

It began at 8.50pm Saturday 8th May at Old Delhi Station and ended at 12.30pm 10th May at Kolkata, a journey of epic proportions. In that time I could have gone from London to New York and back two and a half times or got the train from London to Manchester and back ten times. I even learnt to drive and passed my test in less time. It was an agonisingly slow train and if the staff at Bikaner station had been more helpful, I say more, I mean just helpful, then I could have got here in less than half the time.

The ticket so beautifully displayed on the red leather AC section seat

Some highlights of the trip include:

  • Seeing a text message from Osama Bin Laden from the Muslim guy who was sat next to me on and off along the way (I thought he was probably dead too)

Considering he's so good with technology Bin Laden needs to learn how to spell. It's F R I E N D

  • Meeting my fellow compartment travellers, Sheshank (Monu) Shubham. A man who was called Uncle, i’m not sure if that was his real name or a term of endearment made up by Monu and two quite girls who before they left warned me of the Muslim whose name is Raul and “Not to accept anything he gives you”, they didn’t realise it was too late and i’d already had a double rum and water from him.
  • Eating the fattest banana i’ve ever eaten
  • Having a poo and seeing it drop onto the tracks

Monu, Raul and the two quiet girls

Uncle Kracker

They looked fatter in real life. Don't worry I didn't take a poo pic, I was tempted though

My dear friend Monu now keeps sending me motivational text messages including one last night at 23:17 which said “Gudnyte. mising u myles so much : -) tkcare.”, before that it was “Life is very short. So break silly rules, forgive quickly, believe slowly, love truly, laugh loudly & never avoid anything that makes you smile” and his first, which i think might be his best was “Gudmorning miles, i m in my home. Its feel gud. Have a sweet day 4 u. Bye.”

I bought a new SIM today.