Smell the sea at Azores

Standard

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 20.07.46.png

Located in the west of Portugal mainland lies an autonomous archipelago, Azores. São Miguel island is the home to the capital city, Ponta Delgada. The island is home to some volcanic craters, lagoons, hot springs and geothermal baths. With many hiking trails, on a good day, this place looks very beautiful.

D864F97F-890E-4374-81CD-C556BB226FCD

Volcanic Craters

I landed on the island late morning and to my surprise was greeted by a pleasant weather. The airport is built next to the sea and the first view of the island is pretty breathtaking.
IMG_2433

The lady at the information center on the airport was polite, kind and helpful. After arriving at the hostel, I unpacked and went around to see the city. I walked into a small restaurant and asked if they are still serving lunch. Most of the eateries close for a few hours in the afternoon, something like a siesta. But fortunately, this place was open and serving. The lady at the desk didn’t speak much English but asked a colleague of hers to attend me. The guy informed me that they were serving just fish and but it’s delicious and I won’t be disappointed. He was correct in every sense, it might well have been the best fish I had with a local beer, called Especial. After the meal, the guy wished that I enjoy my stay here. It felt like the people of this place would take every step to make me feel welcome and make sure I won’t have any inconvenience here.

IMG_2203

A taste of local beer

During one of my evening strolls in a garden, I ran into a group of school going kids and decided to exchange some greetings. They weren’t fluent in English but were delighted to have a tourist walking up to them and having a quick chat. They were young and have not left the island yet.
One day, it’s my dream to go to the mainland and travel“.
One of these kids moved from a neighboring island, Madeira. For the ones, who aren’t aware Madeira is home to Cristiano Ronaldo.
People are very very proud of him. Its a very very small place and he came up from nothing and look where he is now.”
People in Madeira dare to dream because of Ronaldo. He has given hope.

IMG_2051

The island has a coastline with the black sand beach. While taking a walk along the shore to view the sunset, there were many different advertisements of the of “Whale Watching”. Apparently, during the peak tourist season, one can hire a boat and the company would take you to a place in the closeby in the Atlantic ocean to watch the whales and dolphins.

IMG_1997

Green Lagoon

The next few days, I traveled to the east and west coast of the island, to experience the hot springs and see the lagoons. It’s very easy to hitchhike and people are more than willing to help you with directions. A friend at the hostel recommended a very scenic hiking trail, and it was indeed very very scenic. On returning, he enquired if I liked the hike and elated on listening that I enjoyed it.

IMG_2401

The bus connections from the town of Ponta Delgada to the coasts are limited, hence, I had to wake up very early to get the only bus to the other end. One of these days, en route to the hot spring I deboarded at the wrong stop, a small city some 10 kilometers of the actual destination. I went to ask for help, the guy didn’t speak English and he roamed around to find someone to help me. It turned out the next bus is in the evening, but an alternative mode would be to hire a taxi. I waited at a small stop, reading “Taxi Parking”. I was informed the taxi would arrive in half an hour, 09.00 in the morning. I waited waited waited, 09.00 am, no taxi…
09.20, still no taxi…
09.30, taxi nowhere to be seen…
All this time a lady a store next door was watching me waiting all this time. She called the Taxi Driver. The car was standing in front of me within next ten minutes.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Hot springs

 

IMG_2208

Geothermal bath

I have already described in brief about the love for books and reading being one of the favorite pastimes Portugal. The central square, a little square in the middle of the city has a little, Microlibrary. It’s like an old telephone booth with books neatly arranged inside. How it works is one can borrow a book and keep one inside. If the book you’re looking for is missing, you can put the details on the notebook kept inside.

IMG_2482

Microlibrary

The Azorean experience has been absolutely wonderful and in my opinion, this is one of the most underrated travel destination. I wished I had more time to spend here, people are welcoming, the sea, the sand, the hills, the hike, the mountains, the springs, the volcanoes, the lagoons, this little island has a lot to offer.

BA5E0C0A-21EF-479B-B2C6-B4C96B109475.JPG

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

Now, I fly to my next destination, the city of Porto.

Advertisements

Kolkata and beyond: Loleygaon, Lava, Rishop, Darjeeling

Standard

Having lived in Finland, I have developed a special liking for the nature. Fortunately, or Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to explore the diverse nature in the India yet.

“Maine humari Darjeeling ki tickets already book kar li hai, ab tu jaldi se Kolkata aaja.”
(I’ve already booked our tickets to Darjeeling, come to Kolkata quick)

My friend on his call made sure, there won’t be any further delay to this plan and I won’t be allowed any more excuses.

Packing my rucksack, I boarded the train from Delhi to Kolkata in the evening. I was greeted by my friend at the station and we reached our abode in the “City of Joy”, I was not disappointed. That city is a living museum, seems like not much has changed there since the Britishers left India (check my post on the tram in the city, to get a glimpse of my thoughts).

Kolkata to NJP

One evening, a week later, I was standing at the same Sealdah station, only this time to board the Darjeeling Mail. It was weekend, and I could sense a special joy and relief among the passengers to the train. Being a popular hill station, it was fairly evident most of them were excited to get there. After a long and tiring day, I retired to sleep and was up before the sunrise. Being a December morning, it was misty and foggy outside. As the train passed through the farms and fields, the view outside was pleasant. Hazy sun, rising in the horizon, damp fields and unmade houses. Finally, we arrived at the New Jalpaiguri Station (NJP).

img_0003

View from Darjeeling Mail

NJP to Loleygaon

After a bit of bickering and bargaining we managed to convince one driver to take us directly to Loleygaon for 1200 rupees. The driver was very talkative, friendly and helped us plan our trip, the dos and don’ts and places to see, things to do, such stuff. Located roughly 100 kms from the NJP, it took us around 3.5 to 4 hours to reach Loleygaon. We stopped for a breakfast at a shack, next to a tea gardens, and it was lovely, my first time among the tea gardens. The road on the hills to Loeygaon wasn’t the best one to drive on, it was broken at places and full of stones. Eventually we arrived at our destination and check into an inn, the lady charged us 700 per night for two people. Loelygaon is a small settlement with a sparse population of around 5000 located at an altitude of 5500 feet in the Himalayan ridge. Since we were there in December, the weather was on the colder side.

img_20161129_112428

Tea Garden en route to Loleygaon

We had our lunch freshened up a bit and went to see the place. There’s a canopy bridge and we went to have a look at it. You will come pass through the bridge area of the entrance gate kind of a thing while traveling from NJP to Loleygaon. To our dismay, the bridge was closed for some construction repair and we couldn’t get to walk on it. But nevertheless, we had a good look at it. It’s made of wooden planks all along and at places supported by branches of the trees. Since, the place is totally secluded and amidst a forest, the evening was quiet and calm. Occasionally, you could hear the birds chirping or even leaves falling. We didn’t do much that evening, as were tired. After a small walk in the village, we had dinner and off to sleep.

Next morning, woke up early and walked uphill for around 4 km to reach Jhandi Dara, the sunrise point. The view from the hill was absolutely spellbinding. I stood there for a long long time staring into the sky admiring the rising sun. We were hoping to get a glimpse of the Kanchenjunga hills, in the west, opposite the rising sun but the clouds hid them behind. After the sunrise, we headed back to our accommodation, showered, had brunch and started for Lava.

img_0101

Sunrise from Jhandi Dara

img_0102

Sunrise from Jhandi Dara

Loleygaon to Lava via Kalimpong

We started for Lava around 11.00ish, our original plan was to reach Lava from Loleygaon but things didn’t go per our plan. During our ride from NJP, the driver informed us that there is a quicker and cheaper way to reach Lava from Loleygaon and he handed out his contact too in case of any confusion. So, per his instruction, we hitchhiked, walked and walked and walked till we reached a four-way intersection. One road each leading to Kalimpong, Lava, Loleygaon and some other village close by (I can’t recall the name). There was a three way a few hundred metres before the four way and it’s easy to lose way due to confusion there. Anyways, on reaching there, we were told that we had already missed the last car/taxi thing to Lava and if we’re lucky we might get a ride from someone heading that way. We waited at the four way for an hour or so, asking every passing vehicle. Ultimately, we decided to go to Kalimpong, because if we missed the last car/taxi to Kalimpong, we might have to be stranded there. The plan was to hop on another bus/car/taxi from Kalimpong to Lava.

On reaching Kalimpong, it was already evening, and on enquiry we found out that the next bus to Lava is in the night. No point reaching Lava after nightfall, since we won’t be able to do anything there at night. Hence, we parked ourselves at Kalimpong for the night. Kalimpong is a city with lots of people, cars, hustle, bustle, coming from Loleygaon we found it a bit crowded. Next, morning on bus to Lava. The slow bus ride took us higher and higher into the mountains. The driver seemed to be a popular friendly guy, smiling and greeting people all along the way, exchanging pleasantries, promising people to deliver their gifts, dropping off late going school children. It made me wonder, the people in these hills don’t have access to the best to infrastructure and facilities but they have themselves and each of them take care of one another and help when needed, was kinda hearting to see. I noticed the change in vegetation all along the way.

Eventually, we arrived at Lava. Located at an altitude of about 7000 feet, the place is scenic and small. We rested and dined and headed out to the Lava Monastery. Situated on the hills, the panoramic view around the monastery is absolutely breath taking. Unfortunately, the time we reached there was a meditation time for the monks and we couldn’t get to talk to them. We roamed around the place for a while, talked to a few locals and since we were already behind our schedule, headed straight to Rishop.

img_0201

View from Lava Monastery

img_0203

At Lava Monastery

Lava to Rishop

There are two ways to reach Rishop, from Lava – by taxi and by foot. We walked for one and half hours uphill on broken roads to reach our destination. The trek is demanding at places but still doable. The way to Rishop is a bit disguised and one might need to ask locals for directions. There’s some sort of government accommodation and some small broken wooden stairs lead up on the right side of the road. On walking, a few hundred metres, there a diversion and we stuck to the right side of the road, but we asked people constantly to assure ourselves that we were on the right track.

dsc_0052

Trek uphill to Rishop

After a while we could see the small village in the horizon. Rishop is a small quaint Hamlet at an altitude of 8530 feet located amidst the hills. “Pink Floyd Hotel”, that was our resting place. We were living in the clouds and on opening the door, the clouds would float into the room. There was nothing but silence, dead silence. Imagine a small place in the clouds, sipping hot coffee on the balcony and all you can see is mountains, trees covering the mountains, little houses, small villages in the distant. The stars covered the night sky, twinkling bright. In the morning, we trekked 2 km uphill in to Tiffin Dara to a get a Panoramic view of the place. The trial passes through a forest and you can also rent a guide to take you there. The view was a bit below my expectation but nevertheless still worth it. We headed for our final stop, Darjeeling via Ghoom.

 

Rishop to Darjeeling via Ghoom

A few of our To-Dos in Darjeeling was to catch the glimpse of the sunrise at the Tiger hill and ride the Toy Train. The hill is closer from Ghoom, 5ish kms, and the train passing through Ghoom takes you to D’jeeling. Rishop to Ghoom was a long journey, going back to Lava, Kalimpong and then to Ghoom. The journey from K’pong to Ghoom was very scenic. We drove downhill, passing small waterfalls from big huge rocks, river flowing through the valley, trees and stones on either side and we crossed a small bridge before driving uphill.

It was already night by the time we reached there. We somehow managed to get an accommodation for 500 bucks after extensive bargaining. Next morning at 4 am we went about our way to Tiger Hill, it’s not so pleasant and there are a lot of cars whizzing past you, many tourists from Darjeeling hire cars to get there. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed on reaching there, it was crowded as hell, and they have constructed a stand to seat the tourists. Overcrowded places do not interest me. All I could see was vendors, selling you coffee and people flashing their phone for selfies. The sunrise wasn’t appealing either because of the heavy clouds.

We got on a 9 o’clock train to Darjeeling, from a distant, the city was half lit with the morning sun. We were lucky to get a view of the Kachenjunga range. And trust me on this, it’s one of the best thing you’ll see your entire life. For me, it was one of those moments, when you see something so mesmerizing that you want to keep looking at it the entire time. I was dumbstruck. A flat white mountain range covered with silver velvet. The white snow was gleaming in the morning sun. You know when you see something very gorgeous, and it makes you so happy that you forget all the worries in life and want to just keep staring, it was something like that (and I’m not exaggerating). Maybe, because I live in the city, it was more appealing to me, but still it was absolutely worth every bit of it.

fullsizerender

Darjeeling with Kanchenjunga in the background

Darjeeling is just like another city, full of cars and people all around. The Mall road is cleaner and better compared to other places and you can take a walk around. We went up to see St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling, it was nice, organized. I wish I went to such school, with the view of Kanchenjunga every morning. We stayed in Darjeeling for a day and a half, went to watch a movie and roamed around the city, talking to locals, there were a few good coffee houses and eateries around. It felt kinda good because I hadn’t had good coffee in a while.

Being a city it is well connected and got a shared cab to NJP.