Travel times in India
24.05.2017 - 24.05.2017 27 °C
The distance from Darjeeling to Namchi is
14km - as the bird flies
41km / 2h18m - according to Google Maps
114km / 6h45m - if things don't go to plan
Distances are a funny thing, here in the north of India. The first thing you realize is that, thanks to all the mountains, gorges, valleys, the distance you have to drive, to get from A to B is significantly longer than it looks on the map.
Then there also are the roads (if you can call them that), that often are in a sorry state and reduce your vehicle to not much more than walking pace. There are small towns, clinging to the side of the hills, with narrow roads clogged with honking cars, turning stationary in the frequent dead locks.
And then there are other funny factors, like the weather (which was fine for us, between 24C in the hills and around 30C in the valleys), or Indian Bureaucracy and your drivers lack of knowledge thereof...
Our micro taxi picked us up at our hotel in Darjeeling at 9:30am, as planned. And we took off right away on the shortest route to Namchi, our next goal and first stop in the state of Sikkim. We had been warned that this road was bad. It turned out to be worse, in fact the worst piece of road I ever had the pleasure to be driven on in a 2WD. Alas, we made it to the border post to Sikkim, in about 90 bumpy minutes.
Here a few explanatory words on Sikkim may be in place. Wedged between Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China, the People's Republic still does not recognize India's claim on Sikkim. Due to this, Sikkim is treated as a restricted territory and especially it's northern provinces are slightly difficult to travel. For the southern part one only needs a tourist permit, which can be obtained at the main border post in Malli or (as we had done) in Darjeeling. We had heard, that foreigners are only allowed to enter Sikkim via Malli. As rules like these in India are constantly changing, though, we were not too surprised when our permit explicitly stated that we were also allowed to enter Sikkim in Nayabazar.
So when our taxi driver, whose grasp of English seemed limited to the word "break pads", headed towards this much shorter route via Nayabazar, we smugly congratulated ourselves on how well versed we are in the Indian ways. This mood was thoroughly crashed, when at the border post, after lengthy discussions and calls to the soldier's superior we were turned back. Friendly but firmly. Apparently the clerk in Darjeeling had used the wrong form... This meant not only that we had to drive the 20km mostly unsealed road back up to Darjeeling (we had to get off and walk at one point, after four failed attempts to climb an especially steep bit of rubble), but also that we then had to take the much longer, if mostly sealed road via Malli.
Add to that a 10 minute stop by the road side to change our taxi's break pads, which we had worn out with all our driving up and down the mountains, we did not arrive around lunch time, as planned, but, after nearly 7h in the car, just in time for dinner.
Luckily for us, we were in no hurry to get anywhere, and even more luckily we are traveling with the most relaxed 4 year old in the world. Nerea spent a day in the back of a car, wedged between her parents, chatting, singing, playing, laughing, snacking and napping. She didn't ask if we're there yet more than five times.