When we arrived at Bogdogra, we crammed ourselves into 5 jeeps. Then off we bounced down road!
The jeeps ran through dusty streets. I saw wooden houses on stilts to keep them far above the mud and filth below. The streets were chockablock with vehicles honking and swerving, and I was somewhat bemused to find us driving straight down the middle of a two-way lane facing other oncoming vehicles doing exactly the same thing.
Out into the countryside we went, and here we saw fields and fields of paddy ending in high mountains in the distance. We passed by many rivers, and we could see people, adults and children, working in the river, collecting things to put into their baskets.
The weather was cool, but it became steadily colder as we climbed. We stopped for a while at a little resthouse where the youths were fascinated by an enormous beehive just outside the window. After buying water and drinking tea (and letting the ill ones amongst us throw up in the washroom :>), we continued on our journey...
Now the roads grew steadily rougher and we bounced about like marbles in the jeeps! The roads were made of broken rocks, and even the jeeps squeaked and whined in protest.
At last, our poor youths' tummies gave out, and we had to stop to let three of them throw up in the grass. That was the point when the 'macho men' had to show off how little they could wear in the cold mountain air... Thomas won hands-down with just ONE t-shirt in below-10 degrees celsius!
We stopped just outside Neora Valley Jungle Camp and stumbled in. The first sight that greeted us was a lodge made out of warm wood and a stone foundation. It was so reminiscent of an expensive ski resort that it augured well for the rest of our stay.
We climbed up the stone steps to a beautiful wooden chalet with tables and chairs for dining in.
Our hosts had prepared two lovely surprises for us... one for the Team, and one just for Serene because it was her birthday!
For the Team, there were welcome drinks - unfortunately alcoholic, so the youths were forbidden from touching them. And our hosts put welcome scarves around our necks for blessings.
For Serene, there was a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a Happy Birthday message on the wall... and something which Lin Lin had secretly planned in email exchanges sent just after her recce trip to Neora Valley with Nicholas...
Lin Lin took Serene and Calvin down to the lodge that we had passed by and opened the door.... SURPRISE!!! It was a Honeymoon Cottage booked just for them and on the floor, a welcome message spelled out in flowers for Calvin and Serene.
But being the sweet couple that they are, they chose not to stay there anyway.
Chilled and longing to see our own rooms, we grabbed our bags and lugged them to our chalets. And wowwwwwww! The chalets were amazing!
They were so huge, they could have comfortably fit our team into two. Beds were downstairs and in the attic with three cushy winter sleeping bags laid out side by side. Everything was done in natural wood - the chairs, tables, even the lamp shades!
The rooms were chilly as there were no heaters though.... so we did not linger long. Pausing just long enough to pull out winter gear, we trooped towards the dining chalet.
Just outside the bedroom chalets were benches for us to sit... and we could see the twinkling lights of the houses spotting the mountains around us... and far more beautiful, the twinkling flurry of stars in the sky.
We had arrived!