We had no idea what to expect when we discovered we would be visiting a treehouse with a view of the Bangladeshi planes. We imagined the kind of wonky treehouses you play in (or wish you’d played in) as a kid. A small wooden box type construction, perched precariously on a branch, with little room to manoeuvre.
Our drive from Shillong to Mawlynnong, like many on this trip, was part of the adventure. A journey which provided an ever evolving landscape. Sheer natural beauty.
A little way into the trip we asked Tums if he could find somewhere for us to have a spot of tea. Somewhere to wake up a little before we arrived at the treehouse. No problem for Tums. He seems to be able to find nice stops no matter where we were. We pulled up at a roadside cafe and had some smokey tea made by this gorgeous and angelic lady who was obviously expecting to serve a lot of noodles that day.
Shillong, a hill-station in Meghalaya was our base for a couple of nights.
We found the town centre where we were staying ok, but we weren’t really there long enough to get an honest view of it. We struggled to find food, which may have tainted our opinion slightly. We tried and failed to eat at Cafe Shillong, which is a very cute and western style place. Good for drinking tea, playing cards, but not eating food without animals in. Never mind! It was the beautiful lush green that surrounded the area which we had travelled to see.
We were really keen to explore more of the northeast of India. Although Sikkim became part of Northeast India in the 90s, we wanted to venture further east to see some of the “Seven Sisters”, in particular Assam and Meghalaya. With the monsoon rains approaching and a set date when we planned to fly to Kashmir, we decided to see if we could find someone who might be able to give us a helping hand with planning our trip. Our friends Steve and Sarah were keen to head in the same direction, so we had the opportunity to share the cost of a tour. Fortunately Piran over at Kipepeo Tours came to the rescue. Kipepeo came highly recommended to us by our friends at India Someday, as well as another friend who had been on one of their tours. The company also really appealed to us because of their emphasis on responsible tourism. Their philosophy is to ensure the livelihood of local communities through the conservation of their local environment, culture and traditional practices. Cheekily I sent Piran a very vague email explaining that we had 2 weeks and were keen to see x, y and z. Oh yea and that we were hoping to go in like 3 days! Amazingly, despite he himself being out in the mountains on a tour, he put together an itinerary which would enable us to see everything we hoped to see for a very reasonable price. And that was that…
Getting from Darjeeling to Bagdogra airport was crazy. We left our homestay at 9am to catch our early afternoon flight. After fighting his way through the Darjeeling traffic, our driver decided to stop off and get some breakfast. Ah yes, we were on “India time”. This is something you get used to, but when there are flights involved, it can be disconcerting. Often when someone in India says “5 minutes”, it can easily mean 10, 15 or 20. It’s kind of not worth questioning it. After 15 minutes, our driver had finished his breakfast and we had both anxiously chewed off our nails. We set off again. Still loads of time. Then the traffic hit hard. There is only one road out of Darjeeling in the direction we wanted to travel and it was blocked. Stopped. Not moving.
2 hours passed, during which time we had crawled forward about half a mile. More importantly though, the wee-wee Gods were wreaking havoc and the situation was becoming difficult to bear. Unfortunately, baring was the only option….
It was during this traffic jam that the driver nonchalantly mentioned that he had arrived to collect us an hour and a half before we left as he had suspected traffic. Unfortunately he hadn’t had the foresight to mention this to us, nor had he taken this time to go for breakfast.
Eventually, we started moving and our driver, bless him, decided we would catch our flight. This meant that we absolutely tore through tiny village streets, swerved around corners and raced through the middle of tea fields.
Oh, what the brakes? No, they weren’t working. No prob though, because the driver did the whole thing in first gear.
Remember that one person’s opinion is just that, one person’s opinion. Whether that one person writes for The Lonely Planet, whether they’re a friend or whether they’re a fellow traveler. Sometimes you have to go with your gut and find things out for yourself.
We’d heard from a few people that Darjeeling was a let-down. Whilst in Sri Lanka we had overheard one traveller write-off the whole of China to a young, fresh-off-the-plane backpacker.
“China’s crap, don’t bother”, he said to the wide-eyed impressionable young Canadian.
“India’s OK, but Sri Lanka’s better,” he continued.
We would travel to new destinations with no preconceptions.
Despite this, it was hard to ignore the negative comments about Darjeeling, which seemed to increase the closer we got to this town in the state of West Bengal. Tales of excessive tourism and litter kept cropping up.
Left to right: coleslaw sandwiches, ceraal, watermelon, jam sandwiches, boiled eggs, veg patties in the shape of leaves, rotis and bananas
…we headed towards “Zero Point”. You know you’re going on an adventure when you’re headed to Zero Point. For us foreigners, Zero Point is as far north as we were allowed to go. Although the famous Gurudongmar Lake lies even further north, we aren’t allowed to go there. It was a fun ride and nowhere near as bumpy as day 1 or 2.
Much like all of our previous travels across India, we had no idea really what was going to happen over the next 4 days. North Sikkim is a pretty remote place. It’s not a hugely popular tourist destination for westerners, probably because it’s out of the way and not that easy to get to. As we mentioned in our last post, tourists aren’t allowed to make their own way around the area, so the only way to explore is to book onto an organised tour with a driver and guide. There are also certain areas of North Sikkim that foreigners simply aren’t allowed to visit. Anywhere too close to the Chinese border was strictly off limits. This meant that we were not allowed to go to the famously beautiful Gurudongmar Lake.
Organised tours are not always that accessible to shoestring travellers, but teaming up with Steve and Sarah meant that we were able to get a sweet deal.
Spoiler alert: We ended up travelling with these babes for a month because we love them so much.
This is Sarah and Steve, they’re basically fantastical.
Luckily for us Steve and Sarah had not only done all the research the day before we were introduced to them but they were looking to do exactly the same kind of tour as us. MG Marg, which is the main strip in the town centre has plenty of travel agencies all offering the same sorts of packages. We couldn’t really say whether one company is better than another. With these kinds of things, you have to go with your gut, or just go with the friendliest face and the best price. We got a driver, a guide, all fuel, a jeep, accommodation for 3 nights plus breakfast, lunch and dinner for the grand total of £360 or £60 per day, per couple. For a 3 day jaunt, that’s a reasonable amount to spend.
HIYA, we're Tom and Amy. We left the UK in Feb 2016 to explore what the rest of the world has to offer. Amy left her job teaching music and Tom left his making videos. We hope to fill this blog with a combination of musings, creative offerings and useful advice. Let's be inspired! x