Monday, 3 December 2007

Tongba nights



Tongba, or also known in other places as `Bamboo`

I discovered this local brew for the first time whilst on the Singalia treck.
One night I was invited over to join our guide with some of his friends, to congregate around their fire and participate in a bit of a Tongba drinking ceremony, or locally know as where I come from, getting pissed up around a camp fire!

I have to say it was really quite good and since then I developed a taste for this mildly alcoholic, special brew.

I found that it varies from place to place, subtle differences in taste and strength, so you build up your own personal liking to a particular variety and often becomes an interesting evening pastime, to seek out these seemingly secret Tongba drinking dens, taking you down secret allies and dark, backroom corners. I never found out why, but there seemed to be some sort of black market, taboo sort of feeling about it all with the locals, maybe a religious thing or just illegal?

Tongba is brewed from red millet grain, fermented with some sort of yeast, which I did manage to find in a local market, it looked like white chalk with a piece of jungle fern in it, I did ask what this was and they said it was a secret ingredient, `jungle magic` so with this you can brew up your own Tongba and dispell any unwanted demons at the same time.

To make it I believe the grain is put into a large container, boiling water is poured over, magic jungle yeast is crushed and mixed in, then left for a few weeks to ferment.
When it is ready the grain is scooped up and served directly into a drinking vessel, traditionally a wooden container which has a lid, then boling water is poured to cover the grain, you then leave this for five minutes or so to let it all brew a little and then it is drunk through a straw made of thin bamboo, hence the local name `Bamboo`

The taste is hard to describe, a sort of a mildly alcoholic taste of sweetish grain, like you had been too impatient to wait for it to finish fermenting properly, but I found it very refreshing after trecking, the alcohol relaxes the muscles and because you keep filling it up with  plenty of hot water, maybe three or four times you get hydrated well after a hard days walk. Well that`s my excuse anyway. It1s good, I even think it is good and healthy for you, just my feeling. I like it. I recommend it.

Be warned though it does creep up on you after three or four or errr I lost count, errr I lost my keys and errrr where the hell am I?

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Singalia treck

This was a great little treck with excellent views of Kangenjunga,
The embarrasement passed as we were soon rewarded by the first rays of light to illuminate the distant mountain, along with hundreds of watchfull eyes and cameras. A big tourist attraction, but good to see nature like this doing its best.

A total of 5 easy days, reaching a maximum altitude of 3636m.

I extended the walk a further two days to let my guide take me to a few alternative places, as I was enjoying the freshness of the landscape.
Sikkims highest mountain. I decided to do this walk after seeing this mountain for the first time from a nearby vantage point that was close to Darjeeling, called `Tiger Hill` whereby I walked two hours from where my guest house was in the middle of the night, hoping to sleep at the top and awake early in the morning to be the first one there, only to be awoken very early in the morning by hoards of Bengali tourists that were now peering over the edge of the car park wall, hacking, coughing, spitting, where I had unknowingly slept, much to their amusement as I emerged quickly from the leaves and branches.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Delhi belly!

Why travel?

This was my first journey to India which started in Delhi. My enthusiasm for adventure had been brewing for some time prior to this trip, but soon declined just a few hours after landing as I realised I was not prepared for India! well Delhi especially....therefore in retrospect I do not advise anyone who is not very well organised or experienced in travelling like I was at this time to start from such a location, landing in the middle of the night without good planning.

I did land in the middle of the night and I had no idea where to stay or what direction to go, only that I wanted to visit my friend Anna, who lived in Siliguri, West Bengal. Unknowing to me that this was a journey something like 1500 km. Well it looked not so far from Delhi when I looked at the large scale map just prior to booking the flight, which being on a budget was the cheapest place to fly into, besides maybe I would have a little adventure travelling from here to Annas house.

Still dazed and tired from the flight I left the airport to enter a hot, sticky, Indian night scene of charging taxi touts, noise, pollution and confusion, as soon as my foot landed within range, the taxi touts were already upon me. Dazed, confused and tired from the flight I started spinning around and dancing whilst trying to avoid all the red stains of betel spit on the floor. “OK take it easy” I told myself, dont panic, sort yourself out and try to find someone that will take me to a cheap place to stay.

"no problem sir" one of them told me, so I take a ride towards the center of Delhi where the driver tells me he knows a good place for me to stay. It soon becomes clear that it becomes a tour of tour operators, driving me around the bend literally, we stop at several places only to discover that I am being given a sales pitch..."no I don’t want to book a tour to see the Thaj Mahal, its 2am in the morning, I just really need to sleep, "but sir all the hotels are full because of festival here", which was a lie I found out later, so this went on for another hour or so until finally I almost had to threaten him to just leave me at the entrance to the train station where I was about to lie down in the street and go to sleep....."oh no good sir, I take you to my brothers, sister, cousins hotel, very good there".....I ran for it and promptly did try to sleep outside the train station, but got moved on by the police saying it was too dangerous for tourists to be around here this time of the day. It was a lot of stress in the end. I did find somewhere but had to spend a silly amount of money, they seemed to know exactly how much they could scam from you. There seemed to be no choice and I was too tired to argue, so I paid, stayed and went directly to book a train the next day wanting to get out as fast as possible.

All the next day was a constant effort not to be scammed one way or the other, never knowing if the information you ask is part of some other motive, well that was my lesson for not being prepared before hand and I am sure if I returned now after several experiences of travelling it would be a much better experience.

Eventually I did get on to a train to Siliguri, but not after seeing the Tahj mahal, yes somehow it was inevitable, scammed, but ticked the box anyway, been there and done that.

Nearly three days on the train and I was thinking it had taken a wrong turn and was in fact going around in circles until I signed up for an alternative tour! I was starting to realise just how big, colourfull and chaotic India was.

Reunited with Anna sometime later and already plenty of stories to tell, she laughed at my stupidity to tell me....”welcome to India”.

I soon recovered from my ordeals and headed off into the unknown, well Darjeeling actually, but prepared and wary this time. It proved to be enlightening, beautiful and colourful. I became to love India very much and to this day the dust never quite left my nostrils. I will be returning there again for sure.