We spent only a day in Delhi – not because we didn’t want to see the sights, but because we thought it important to get to altitude (in Darjeeling) as quickly as possible (a judgement which was later confirmed, as we found it a bit easier to adapt to the altitude in the race than some of the participants who did not have as much time before the race started.)

We were booked by Mr Pandey and his team into the Hotel Ashok – a splendid, business class hotel (definitely not the backpacker experience) which, while luxurious, was a little soulless. In part this was because we were there on Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, which meant that most of the action was in town, not in the hotel.

Once we had checked in, we set off on foot to explore Delhi, and headed towards Connaught Place. New Delhi is full of broad, tree-lined avenues. I guess we expected bustling streets, full of people and shops; instead the area seemed quiet, empty and somewhat suburban. After last year’s holiday in Ethiopia we were surprised how few really poor people we saw. We found good coffee at a trendy bar behind Connaught Place. We walked to Humayun’s Tomb, recommended by friends, but unfortunately it was shut.

We took a ride back to the hotel in an “auto rickshaw” – the small motorised taxis similar to Bangkok’s tuk-tuks.

We took the recommendation of the concierge at Ashok’s Hotel, and ate at Karim’s restaurant in the old town; and good advice it was too. We had an excellent, spicy meal at this the moslem restaurant in a yard off the side of a very busy bazaar was just right what we needed. Tonight was the main Diwali celebration, so we enoyed the fireworks from the back of an auto-rickshaw on the way back to the hotel. Which was just as well, as it took our minds off the terrible driving.

The chef at Karims

The next morning we got up unnecessarily early for the flight to Bagdogra. Jet seemed well organised and efficient, and the plane was in good order. On a clear day, the views over the mountains are spectacular.


We left the Ashok Hotel unnecessarily early, at 7.30am, for a 10.30am flight. We met Hilary [Hilary Walker – world record holding ultra marathon champion] in the departure area. She was looking very fit considering that she had arrived only a few hours earlier on the BA flight from London, and had very little sleep.

We had a driver and guide to meet us at Bagdogra, to drive us to Darjeeling. This is an extraordinary road, winding up the hillside to Darjeeling. We stopped at the Tourist Hotel in Kurseong (we were to stay here later) for a coffee, to break the 3 hour journey. Although the monsoon season should have finished, it was pouring with rain, and we missed splendid views over the valley.

The famous Darjeeling toy railway winds up the same hillside, criss-crossing the road. The journey by train (some steam, some diesel) takes 11 hours (said by some guide books to be interminable).

The steam engine of the toy railway

Cedar Inn is top right in this photo
The Cedar Hotel was a gem. We had a wonderful room at the very top and felt extremely welcome. The hotel has great views on clear days, though on our first few days it was covered in fog.

Dinner each night was a self-serve buffet of excellent Indian food – including “rice and dal”, which meant that Owen was very happy, and breads, vegetable momos and vegetables.

We discovered hot water with fresh lime, which later bebecome our favourite drink, especially when we could only get tea or instant coffee.

We went for walk into Darjeeling in the evening. It seemed extremely busy; and at 5.30pm it was dark.

The next morning, we went for a gentle run, to begin our acclimatisation. Hilary told us that some physical stress at altitude would help our bodies to adapt. Running seemed hard at that height, especially as our route was hilly.

Later we went on a tour of the town, which was a good way of getting our bearings. We visited Tibetan self help centre, then the zoo and the Himalayan Mountain Institute. The zoo was rather sad, with several animals that seemed to be in small cages; including a very sad jackal, pacing up and down in a tiny space. But the zoo apparently does important work to help the breeding of rare animals that might otherwise be extinct. The mountain institute was especially interesting, including some information about the role of Sherpas in the attempts on Mount Everest. Grethe was reading the “Coronation Everest” by Jan Morris, which seemed relevant.

We passed on lunch at the Cedar and went to the famous Oxford bookshop and back to the Glenary’s for coffee and to check our email (they have a very good internet cafe). The afternoon sighseeing continued on foot. We did a lap of the mall and saw the luxury hotels.

Kanchenjunga from Tiger Hill
The next morning we went to Tiger Hill. This involved a 3.45am wake up, to drive to Tiger Hill in time for dawn. Though it seemed tough at the time it was definitely worth it. There was a procession of jeeps going from Darjeeling to Tiger Hill, carrying Indian and foreign tourists, to the viewing station at the top of the hill where you can see the sun rise, picking out the peaks of Everest, Kanchenjunga, and Makalu. Everest is 107 miles from Tiger Hill, as the crow flies.

The three of us decided to wear our running gear and we ran back from Tiger Hill to Ghoom. The run was largely downhill, but was a good way to get going in the morning.

Makaibari Tea Estate

We visited the Makaibari Tea Estate, an organic and biodynamic tea garden in the Darjeeling area. Rajah Banerjee is the great grandson of the first owner of the estate, and has adapted it to a sustainable model. Two thirds of the land is covered by sub-tropical forest, helping to reduce soil erosion and provide organic products and a microclimate to support the tea bushes. (This was really our first encounter with the notion of biodynamic agriculture: the idea is that the agriculture is entirely self-sustaining, a sort of closed biosphere.)

Makaibari is clearly a very progressive enterprise, both in terms of the nature of its product and the relationship between the management of the employees. (If you want to try the tea in the UK, look for tea distributed by the Hampstead Tea Company. You can get it in good organic food shops.)

All the workers live on the tea estate itself, in villages owned by the estate. The tea estate provides almost all their income, as well as services like roads, education (now taken over by the Government) and power. And jobs are “inherited” from one family member to another. This of course all seems rather strange to visitors from Europe.

Lunch break at Makaibari

We were grateful for the enormous hospitality shown to us, and it was great to see that sound environmental management can also be good business.

see here for our diary of the Himalaya 100 mile stage race

Owen Barder and Grethe Petersen

1 Comment

Claudia · October 2, 2013 at 6:03 am

Hi thank you for your histories… I have a question this year I will do the 100 mile stage race…what type of clothes do you recommend me? is cold or is not that cold? do you remember the temperature?
Thank you

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