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Monday, 6 April 2015

In search of the tiger

Photo by Hannah Bailey

We recently took a trip to Ranthamboure to search for the famous Bengal tiger, the national animal of Bangladesh 

“Ssssh...be quiet... the tiger is coming...”. Jaget, our guide was nothing if not theatrical. Holding one finger to his lips whilst striking a dramatic pose against the front of the safari truck, he craned his neck to get a better view.

Twenty passengers in the open-top jeep immediately shushed and froze in their seats as one in the silence of the forest. Then, suddenly... mayhem!  There was a cacophony of terrible screeches as monkeys scrambled to the tops of the trees. Wrapping their arms round spindly branches chattering nervously, they gazed across the lake.  “They’re sounding the alarm,” Jaget explained. “They know the tiger is near.”

We knew that we would be lucky to catch a glimpse of a tiger. This was no drive through safari: it was Ranthambore National Park in northwestern India – 400 miles of forests, lakes and mountains, the last great hunting ground of the maharajahs of Jaipur. Nowadays, the park is home to around 22 Bengal tigers increasing in recent years thanks to the conservation scheme Project Tiger and the area presents a chance to see the great predators in their natural habitat.

 We had travelled to our hotel through Rajasthan the day before along the single track road where dust was so thick it created a dense fog.  Accommodation was clean, but basic. In the evening we had a buffet in the lawned gardens, dining on watery curries at long bench tables. Entertainment was provided by a boy with a false handlebar moustache who jiggled about in a rather disturbing way before treating us to a spot of (even more disturbing) fire eating.  The fuels used in the mouth to create the “dragon’s breath” flame, we later heard, contained carcinogenic properties.

We sat next to a Danish couple who had been at the resort all week. They had gone out every day on the jeeps in search of the tiger and had not seen one yet – tomorrow would be their last chance. Our hearts dropped - just a little.

Tickets for the safari could be bought at the hotels to save queuing at the entrance. Next morning, we rose at the crack of dawn to join a crowd of fellow tiger spotters in hotel reception to be divided into three separate jeeps. The number of vehicles and people allowed daily entry to the park is limited. Each jeep seated around 20 people and was equipped with a guide. Ours was Jaget, a Freddie Mercury look alike without the teeth. We soon discovered that Jaget must have missed his breakfast - his grumbling stomach could have frightened away a whole den of lions.

Off we went, grateful for the advice from our Danish friends to wear warm clothes in the freezing morning air, rattling through the slowly lightening streets, past a stray elephant gently swaying his trunk and past the tourist hotels to Ranthamboure Park three kilometres distant.

We drove at a rapid pace, regardless of the growing number of people who were trailing along the road on pilgrimage to the Ganesha temple which lies within the ancient Ranthambore fort. As we arrived an incredible scene greeted us - teeming hordes of visitors, motorbikes and assorted vehicles. Hanuman Langur monkeys who live there perched on top of sandstone temple ruins looking as if they were in a set from an Indiana Jones movie. Trucks jam packed into us on all sides as the driver inched his way through forwards within a hairsbreadth of other vehicles, under the huge banyan tree through the stone entrance to the National Park.

Inside the park, the contrast could not have been more marked.  A peaceful, deciduous forest, dotted with lakes and mountain ranges, we tracked through jungle which sometimes opened out into savannas. Each of the three trucks took a different route through the forest in search of the tiger. Evidently some friendly competition was ongoing as to which team could spot a tiger first. We were told to keep quiet in case we frightened them away and our excitement began to mount.

It wasn’t long before Jaget called the jeep to a sudden halt. Leaping over the side, he excitedly pointed out a fresh tiger print in the ground and we all gazed with due reverence at the slight indentation. Jaget warned us that it could be the closest we would come to a tiger that day but never mind –in the meantime we could content ourselves with spotting sloth bears, hyenas, chitals, nilgai, wild boar and sambar – and over 247 species of birds.  Sadly, we didn’t see many sloth bears or hyenas but we did see an awful lot of spotted deer and the occasional water hog.

We continued our roundabout search, turning back on ourselves, reversing in impossible places at Jaget’s instruction before arriving at the largest of the lakes, the beautiful Padam Taleo. As we waited with baited breath, the monkeys sent their alarms around the forest, but the only distant rumble was the sound of Jaget’s stomach and there was no sign of the tiger. Doubling back to the other side of the lake we came across one of the other jeeps and exchanged news – they had spotted the tiger at side of the lake from whence we had come and were on their way over there. Jaget wasn’t so sure. We parked up by the side of the water and waited...

I‘ll never forget my first sight of the tiger, slowly swimming towards us across the looking glass lake from the red sandstone ruins of a hunting lodge, ripples fanning out behind.

For a moment, we were silent; dumbstruck and awed. Then, we remembered that we were tourists; the truck nearly tipped over as we all rushed to one side, cameras at the ready.
Slowly the tiger came in to land and strolled nonchalantly up through the tall grass, seemingly oblivious to the leaning truck and its gawping inhabitants. It was as if we weren’t worth bothering about – not even to eat.

We stayed for a while watching before our three hours was up. On our way back, we encountered he Danish couple – they hadn’t seen a tiger. But for us, the timing was impeccable - it was as if both men and tiger had laid on a show for us tourists, but never mind. At least the tigers are being preserved and cameras are better than guns.

Ranthambore National park is closed to visitors from 1st October to 30th June.  The park is open for morning and evening trips of up to 3.5 hours. Safari tickets are around Rs7-800. The easiest way to get there is to take a train to Sawai Madhopur from Jaipur, Bombay or Delhi. The airports of Jaipur and Kota are nearby.

Recommended hotel:  Hotel Tiger Safari Resort www.tigersafariresort.com

Photo by Hannah Bailey

The amazing photos of the tigers at the beginning and end of this blog post were taken by the photographer Hannah Bailey. You can see more examples of Hannah's photos at flickr.com/photos/130536352@N02/16829503540/

This travel piece was inspired after going to travelwritingworkshop.co.uk/ with Peter Carty, who is the founder of Time Out's travel section and regular contributor to many esteemed publications including The Times and The Telegraph. The workshop which is held in the Indian YMCA, 41 Fitzroy Square, W1 (where there's an excellent lunchtime buffet of North Indian cuisine), is full of valuable information and thoroughly recommended for any aspiring or published travel writer. 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Happy Holi–days with the Curry Life Taste of Britain Festival in Chennai

The Curry Life Taste of Britain Festival got off to a colourful start in Chennai, India this year as chefs and guests celebrated the Indian festival of Holi together.  

Running from 6th to 14th March in the Spice Haat and Focaccia restaurants at the 5-star Hyatt Regency, the festival sees Michelin starred chef Mark Poynton of Alimentum in Cambridge join top curry chefs from the UK to create a spicy smörgasbord of British curry dishes.

The team of chefs is headed by the veteran festival performers, Chef Partha Mittra, consultant chef for Curry Life, and Chef Abul Monsur of Taj Cuisine in Chatham Kent, who combine their expertise with Chef Mohammed Awal Miah of Spice Club in Bridgwater, and Chef Syem Uddin of Bengal Spice in Crook, County Durham. The British team is working alongside the chefs at Hyatt Regency headed by Executive Chef Subrata Debnath (see previous post for one of chef Subrata's recipes).

At the launch attended by the British Deputy High Commissioner, Bharat Joshi, festival organisers, Syed Nahas Pasha, Syed Belal Ahmed, and chefs Mark and Subrata Debneth introduced team to members of the press who were also able to sample some of the signature dishes featured on the menu.

Nahas Pasha, Mark Poynton, Bharat Joshi, Subrata Debneth, Belal Ahmed
Afterwards, the chefs were able to let off a bit of steam at the colourful festival of Holi - a Hindu celebration when it's customary to smear your friends with colours.   

Now, all chefs are looking forward to showcasing popular dishes from the UK including Chicken Tikka Masala and (aptly, for the city of Chennai which was formerly known as Madras), Madras curry.

Chef Mark looks set to change the commonly held perceptions of bland British food by serving up some Alimentum delights. His signature dishes, inspired by traditional British and European foods, include cod rolled in onion ash with onion salad; roast sea bass with cauliflower textures and Pedro Ximenez sauce, and roast breast of duck, charred and pureed broccoli peanut and lime with crispy black rice.

In between courses the chefs are looking forward to sampling some of the local culture and cuisine. Chennai is home to beautiful beaches, temples and historical sites. From the gastronomic point of view, Tamil Nadu is known for its spicy vegetarian dishes, sizzling street food and lunchtime buffets or canteens featuring fiery sambars and Keralan-influenced foods.  

Young Holi revellers in Chennai

View from Hyatt Regency Chennai

The chefs plan the menu

The team celebrates Holi

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Bangladesh's Beautiful Cox's Bazar

Ask anyone where the world’s longest and, arguably, most beautiful natural beach is located, and the chances are they’d say somewhere in the Caribbean, Australia, Brazil or maybe New Zealand.

They’d be wrong. The world’s longest stretch of sand is, in fact, located in the southernmost tip of Bangladesh on the Bay of Bengal at the fishing port of Cox’s Bazaar. Designated as one of the seven new wonders of the world the silvery sands, known as Palongkee or “yellow flower,” slope down from a fringe of forest to a shining sea and stretch for over 93 miles.

In spite of its considerable beauty, Cox’s Bazaar has yet to become an international tourist hotspot. At home, it’s a different story. During the winter months around 10,000 rooms in the hotels remain occupied almost seven days a week due to the huge influx of Bangladeshi natives and visitors from neighbouring countries.

The area is well-equipped to welcome an international market; hotels catering for all budgets are in abundance with the gleaming and sleek 5-star Seagull and Hotel Sea Palace leading the way in terms of luxury, beach front position, cleanliness and cuisine. Night life may not be swinging yet, but there are many restaurants serving Bangladeshi, European Chinese and Thai cuisine and fresh seafood is a major source of revenue.

When we arrived, in early November, it was a week before the start of the high season and the place was all but deserted. From dusty Dhaka, the road trip to Cox’s Bazar had taken 18 hours of hard driving (we’d been warned against taking the rickety planes which operate two or three times a day from Dhaka). Our journey was not for the fainthearted; kamikaze coaches and lorries are par for the course on potholed Bangladeshi roads and our safe arrival was down to the considerable skills of our driver, Selim.

But what an arrival! Through the waving branches of the Tamarik forest, planted after the end of British rule to protect the town from tidal waves, we wandered down to a panoramic, jaw droppingly vast vista of sea, beach and sky that seemed to stretch into infinity.

A neat line of beach loungers topped with umbrellas looked out to a blue sea sprinkled with dhows and boats; the shore dotted with shell painters, fruit and drink vendors, fishermen, a few tourists and the odd horse or two. The only sound was the rise and fall of the waves and the distant phut-phut of quad bikes as they rode back and forth along the crest of the sand.

As we were staying at the Hotel Seagull, we had access to a private beach and the services of a personal guard, who was of more use getting rid of unwanted hawkers than in fighting off more threatening interlopers (fortunately absent). The sea was perfectly warm, clean and shark-free – what more could you want? 

A quick quad bike ride up and down the shore and a fully clothed dip and, having purchased an inordinate amount of shell jewellery, it was time to contemplate the horizon and relax – a little known luxury in Bangladesh.

Cox’s Bazaar is named after Captain Hiram Cox; a philanthropic captain in British India who earned his place in the hearts of locals after helping to rehabilitate Arakan refugees fleeing from the Burma, at the end of the 18th century.  Although the entire stretch from the Bakhali River on the north and the Teknaf peninsula in the south is best known as Cox’s Bazar beach, I learned that there are three beaches to enjoy. Laboni - the main beach closest to town is the busiest in the high season; Himchari - 18km south of Cox’s Bazar, is a wild place with waterfalls, the famous ‘Broken Hills,’ The Himchari National Park rain forest has many species of animals including tigers, leopards, Sloth bears and elephants which inhabit the Himchari National Park rain forest. Finally, Inani beach in the south is known for its more golden sands strewn with rocks and coral, a peaceful lagoon and tall palm trees against a backdrop of lush, green hills.

With more time available, there’s also plenty of scope for island hopping. Saint Martins, the most famous of these, lies five miles south of Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula. It is the only coral island in Bangladesh and home to many turtles. A good centre for snorkelling, scuba diving and fishing, the island is accessible by a three hour ferry trip from Teknaf and there are several hotels and guesthouses for an overnight stay.

On the last day of our visit, we travelled southwards along the spectacular coast towards Teknaf and the borders of Myanmar, stopping en-route to visit Daria Naga where 14-year-old freelance guide, Moyna Akhther led us through a natural gorge, grotto and up to a panoramic view point. From there, the far-reaching vista was one of untamed natural beauty. Cox’s Bazar is a holiday destination, unparalleled anywhere in the world and it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world discovers it - make sure you get there first.

Recommended Hotel at Cox’s Bazar: Seagull Hotel, +88 02 8322973-6+88 02 8322973-6

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Recipes from Subrata Debnath, 

Executive Chef Hyatt Regency Chennai

Spice Haat Buffet at Hyatt Regency Chennai
Chef Subrata Debnath, the Executive Chef at Hyatt Regency Chennai, leads a team of around 100 chefs to create amazing culinary experiences across the hotel’s eight restaurants. 
A graduate from the Institute of Hotel Management, chef Subrata hails from the steel city of Jamshedpur. With 22 years' experience in the kitchen, he has been with Hyatt for over a decade working at their hotels in Kolkata, Singapore, Bangkok and Kathmandu. 

As a seasoned gourmand and connoisseur of flavours, Chef Subrata has an adept sense of food styling and presentation. He tries to give both a local and authentic regional taste to each of the specialist restaurants at the Hyatt which include Italian, Chinese and Asian street food.  A self confessed foodie with a passion for perfection, he believes in crafting his dishes with love, passion and an artistic touch.

Here, is Chef Subrata's recipe for Appams and Chicken Stew (Appams are a kind of pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk, served with a range of sides such as vegetable stew, chicken stew, kerala egg curry or chutney):

Recipe for Chicken Stew


  • 250gm boneless chicken cubes
  • 0.30ml coconut oil
  • 0.10gm bay leaves
  • 0.10gm cardamom
  • 0.10gm cloves
  • 20 gm sliced onions
  • 2 Slot green chillies
  • 0.10gm ginger juliennes
  • 0.10gm curry leaves
  • 500ml thick coconut milk
  • 0.10gm Fennel seeds
  • Salt to taste
  • 0.10gm shallots

Heat oil in a deep pan. Add onion, ginger, green chilli and curry leaves. Saute till onion becomes soft (keep in mind that onions should not brown in this recipe). When the onion becomes soft, add chicken pieces, salt and mix well. Add medium thick coconut milk and cover and cook. Stir when chicken is half done. Continue cooking until chicken is fully done.

Recipe for Appam


  • 1kg raw rice
  • 0.5kg boiled rice
  • 250gm Urdall
  • A few Fenugreek seeds
  • 20ml coconut milk
  • 10gm sugar
  • 10gm cooking soda

Soak raw rice, par boiled rice, fenugreek seeds and urad dal for 10 to 12 hours (I soaked it from 6am to 6pm, then ground it and fermented it overnight).

After 10 hours grind mixture to a fine paste. Add salt, mix well with hands. (I ground it with warm water). The batter should be of thinner consistency than dosa batter. Store it in an airtight container, leave it for another 10 hours or overnight to ferment. In the morning the appam batter will have risen nicely.

Before making appams, add coconut milk, appam soda and mix well. Keep it aside for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes the appam batter can be used to make soft appams.

Traditionally appams are made in an iron skillet called appa chatti. If you do not have and appa chatti or appam pan, you can make it in any other non stick pan with a lid.

First coat the appam pan with oil  using a cloth (add a drop of oil into the pan and wipe it all over with a cloth).

Heat the appam pan, then reduce the heat to low. Now, add a ladle of batter in the centre of the pan (pan should not be too hot).

Holding both the handles of the pan, rotate the pan in such a way that the batter spreads all around in a circle. The remaining batter will come to the centre (that is why the appam is thick in the centre and lacy on the outside). After that close the pan with the lid. The flame should be kept low. Once the appam is cookd and the edges start turning brown, remove the appam from the pan (the appam will come off easily if you lift it with your hands).

 How to make Hariali Chicken like Chef Ali Hussain

Executive Chef and Director Ali Hussain

Ali's popular restaurant Cafe Bangla in East Boldon, Tyne & Wear

My first taste of Chef Ali Hussain’s Hariali Chicken was at the Curry Life British Fusion Festival in Dhaka in 2009. It was one of his award-winning dishes which had earned him a place at the festival and was certainly memorable – simple yet full of fresh and zingy flavours. 

Executive chef and director Ali has been busy creating many mouth-watering dishes ever since 2003 when his popular Café Bangla restaurant opened in East Boldon on Tyneside. He’s renowned for his inspired fusion dishes but Chicken Hariali is still one of his great signature recipes, guaranteed to go down well with customers. Here, chef Ali Hussain shares his famous recipe with us:

 Ali Hussain’s Chicken Hariali


Hariali Paste –

Fresh coriander
Fresh mint
Green pepper
Garlic ginger paste
Green chilli

Blend together to make marinade.

For Hariali Chicken -

4-5 tbsp chopped spinach
Half a tsp of sugar
Fresh coriander
2 heaped tsp garlic paste
Approx 2tbsp cream
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste

To garnish
Sliced cucumbers
Curled beetroot


Marinate the chicken fillets in the Hariali paste overnight in the fridge.

Cook marinated chicken in tandoor for about 10 minutes (for those cooking at home use ordinary oven turned to highest temperature).

Add 1tbsp olive oil to pan.
Turn gas on low so it doesn’t burn.            
Add 2 heaped tsp garlic paste and stir.
Add 3-4 tbsp finely chopped onion.
Cook for two minutes until onions brown.
Add some salt to taste and stir.
Add chopped Hariali Chicken and stir
Add a little water and cook for five minutes.
Add around 4-5tbsp Hariali Paste and stir.
Add more water if necessary.
Add 1tsp sugar.
Add chopped spinach and stir.
Cook for a further minute.
Finally add some cream and generous sprinkle of fresh coriander.

Let it cook for three minutes partly covered.

Serve in a nice bowl. Decorate with cucumber, carrots, curled beetroot and tomato rolls (to see how to make the tomato rose check out Ali’s video on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jpTpqTlZdo )
Sprinkle with coriander. Serve with warm naan bread.
Cafe Bangla, 2 Station Road, East Boldon, Tyne and Wear NE36 0LD

Chef Ali showcasing  his dishes at the festival in Dhaka

Ali at the British Fusion Festival with Zoe & Peter Renfrew of Curry Life and Chef Abul Monsur of  Taj Cuisine

Friday, 28 November 2014

All Aboard the Darjeeling Himalayan Express!

After a week experiencing the sights and sounds of steamy Kolkata a trip up to the airy Himalayan hill station of Darjeeling sounded like a romantic adventure.

We could have flown or driven there, but why do things the easy way when we had the might of the Indian railway at our disposal? I’m not talking about just any old railway – I'm talking about the Darjeeling HimalayanRailway or, as it's affectionately known, the Toy Train – a World Heritage, narrow gauge track that crawls up impossibly steep slopes to a height of 7,218 feet for nine long hours.

For anyone who wants an unforgettable experience, unparalleled views and a numb backside, the Toy Train is the only way to travel. For a start, it's the most outstanding example of a hill station railway. First opened in 1881 to bring tea, cereals and coal down from the Himalayas, the railway is an incredible feat of engineering made up of a series of loops and reverses which propel the engine up the mountain at gradients of 1 to 20. Rumbling over 554 bridges, the winding track crosses the road 126 times with spectacular changes in scenery, perilous bends and exotic views, all the way up to the Himalayas.

The story of the railway goes back to 1879 when the journey from the plains of Siliguri to Darjeeling took three days via a precipitous Cart Road. Franklin Prestage, the official of the Darjeeling Tramway Company who had the task of finding a way to get the engine up the mountain, was almost on the verge of giving up when his wife gave him some advice: “If you can't go forward, why don't you go back?” This inspired him to create six reverses along the 87.48km route where the train zig-zags backwards before continuing in a parallel fashion at a higher level, thus providing a solution for railway engineers all over the world (as well as proving that the lady always knows best). 

We caught the overnight Darjeeling Mail, to arrive in the sprawling town of Siliguri, as the diesel Toy Train chugged into New Jalpaiguri station for its daily journey. We had been advised to book at least two days in advance – wisely - for despite the train's diminutive appearance, there was nothing small about the number of people crammed into its every orifice. Like the Earl of Ronaldshay who made the journey in 1920, I began to “receive the whimsical idea” that I had “accidentally stumbled into Lilliput.” Think along the lines of Hornby. Lack of space posed less of a problem for locals who seemed to be of a smaller stature but for the rest of us, knees knocking together on wooden facing benches, the seating arrangements offered an unparalleled intimacy beyond the yen of the rumpled traveller so early in the morning. But after all ... what could we expect for a £3 trip of a lifetime? We were cheered to discover that we could order dinner from the station which comprised a rather liquid curry with rice and chappatis. This, although very welcome, was rather cold by lunchtime.    

With our noses pressed against the windows and heads sometimes lolling out of them at risk of decapitation and horn blaring, the train began its meandering journey from the outskirts of Siliguri. Houses, iron huts and shops festooned with faded packets of crisps warming in the sun, passed within touching distance, as in a series of vignettes, we peered in on people's lives as they washed, shaved, had their hair cut, hung clothes out, waved at the train or even chased after the train. This was done with an inordinate amount of excitement considering it passed every day. However, with maximum speeds of 13km an hour, it
wasn't very difficult to catch it up.

After leaving the plains of Siliguri at Sukna station, the landscape began to change with an ascent through forests of teak and giant bamboo, dotted with fuchsias and orchids as we trundled past tea gardens and signs that told us (as if we wouldn’t notice them) to watch out for elephants. From Chunbhati we travelled to Rangtong, location of the first and longest reverse, where the steepest climb of the journey pushed us up to Tindharia. In the old days, passengers would stop for tea here for the spectacular views with glimpses of the foothills of the Himalayas; nowadays it holds the workshops of the railway and locomotive sheds. 

Many Europeans perished of jungle fever in the past and Tindharia also marked the point that was considered to be above the Terai Fever level. Leaving the station, we encountered Agony Point, the fourth loop with a minimum radius of 59 feet, where the train almost hangs over the hillside and then travelled up to Gayabari and the last reverse, to Mahanuddy 4,120 feet above sea level. Mad Torrent marks the half way point; a stream that can turn into a deluge during the rainy period. In July 1890 almost 800 ft of the road and line were washed away here. Near Mahanuddy station is a waterfall with a drop of 150 feet as the train then plods on towards Kurseong station passing jagged rocks and glorious views of the plains.

Our journey was enlivened by locals, schoolchildren and hawkers who hopped on and off the train for a free ride. Even more welcome invaders were the enterprising vendors who boarded with tiffin dishes full of steaming dumplings, brandishing huge kettles of sweet tea and coffee. The majority of paying passengers were Indian tourists. From time to time, a desultory sing song would start up but mostly, people chatted happily or attempted to sleep in contorted positions, resting on the shoulders or backs of friends and strangers.

Conversation was inevitable and as we were the only westerners on the train we were the object of some curiosity. We chatted to Aruna, a frank young girl travelling to visit relatives in a nearby village who had been married a month to a husband in Nepal. “Marriage is very horrible,” she confided cheerfully, “Arranged marriage is bad; love marriage is good. I don't like my husband - my life is so boring.” An elderly Nepalese man opposite was so fascinated by the maps in our Lonely Planet Guidebook that he nursed it lovingly until we got to Darjeeling when it took some persuasion to get it back.

Bordering on Nepal and Bhutan, the indigenous population of Darjeeling is made up of a mix of cultures and as we climbed higher there was a marked change in people's appearance to the striking, high cheek-boned features of Nepali and Tibetan origins. Clothes also changed,due to the colder climate with more functional wraps and cardigans worn over saris and traditional Tibetan woolly hats providing much needed warmth as the air became chillier. 

Seven hours into the journey and the end was in sight. From the thriving village of Kurseong the railway runs right through a bazaar. Stallholders had to whisk their wares off the tracks to let the train through as it travelled through Sonada towards Goom, the summit of the line and the highest station in India. Nearing Darjeeling, surroundings became more prosperous in contrast to the poverty we had left behind in Siliguri. Houses looked almost Alpine or resembled faded Victorian mansions, a legacy from colonial days. Catholic churches and schools alternated with lines of Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the breeze. Children boarded the train wearing smart uniforms complete with blazers, reminiscent of the old British Grammar schools. Posters proclaimed support for a Gorkha homeland - in the 1980s, the region was a stronghold of the Gorkhaland National Front separatist movement who used to target the DHR as a symbol of central government with many riots, protests and even assassinations taking place.

 At the famous Batasia Loop, the train worked its way round a switchback track created in 1919 to lower the gradient. We extricated our aching limbs to view the war memorial to Gorkha soldiers who died in the war of Indian Independence with its stunning backdrop of the Himalayas including the world's third highest mountain, Mt Khangchendzonga, before re-folding ourselves back in to the train for its descent into Darjeeling and a welcome cup of tea.

The railway is currently running a limited service because of landslip so please look at www.dhrs.org for latest info.