We got a (chaotic) night bus from Pushkar to Agra, arriving at 5.30am. There was some sort of mix up with our ticket which meant that we ended up in a single berth sleeper for 9 hours with all of our luggage! We dropped our bags at the left luggage office at the station and headed straight to the Taj Mahal for sunrise. Even though its so visited and we felt almost obliged to go, the Taj was breathtaking and well worth the visit. The rest of Agra didn't have much to offer us, it was pretty filfthy and polluted!
That night we got a night train to Varanasi. We stayed here 4 nights. It was a very interesting city, still very busy but built along the Ganges. There are ghats all the way along that pilgrims come to and bathe at, the Ganges water is thought to be very holy, even if it is heavily polluted, they still use it for everything, including drinking, laundry, scattering ashes (sometimes whole bodies) and washing buffaloes! This makes the ghats really interesting to wander and to watch the goings on, especially early in the morning with sunrise. You can really feel how spiritual the place is, even as an outsider. It is definitely one of the more relaxing place we have visited in India. There was a ceremony with lights and music every evening and one evening we took a boat down the river at sunset and lit lotus flowers on the river (trying not to touch any water!). We stayed slightly longer than planned because Alice got sick, but it only lasted 24 hours.
We got a night train from Varanasi to Siliguri in the West Bengal Hills. The train was delayed by 4 hours before we got on it, and we arrived into Siliguri 6 hours later than scheduled. We were pretty knackered after 24 hours of travelling but found a jeep with some Canadians we had been travelling with up to Darjeeling (3 hours away). Due to our train being delayed this meant we didn't arrive in Darjeeling until 11pm and by this time everything was shut. Luckily our jeep driver had a friend with a hotel which turned out to be pretty nice, with wood lined rooms and balcony and hot shower (when requested) for 2.50 each which isnt too bad.
Darjeeling felt like another country with much cooler (often very cold!) weather and no autorickshaws and the people look very different (lots are from Tibet and Nepal) and are much friendlier and give you much less hassle than in all other parts of India we have visited. It has also been very nice to be up in the mountains (Darjeeling is at 2300m) even if clouds obscure most of the views, and to be in the home of tea. This morning we even got up at 4.30 am to get a taxi with an Aussie guy up to Tiger Hill where you can watch the sunrise from a high point looking out over the Himalayas, including Everest and Khanchenjunga, the 3rd highest peak in the world. Unfortunately it was very cloudy but we did manage to see the very top of Khanchenjunga above the clouds, and may have seen Everest but it was probably just a big cloud. It's been nice to explore Darjeeling. The tea is good, we wandered through a plantation, although it wasn't picking season. The food is quite different here but again very tasty!
We head to Nepal tomorrow, taking various jeeps and buses (maybe even a ferry due to bridge damage) to cross the border and get to Kathmandu. It will probably be quite a long journey and Nepal night buses don't have the best reputation for safety but hopefully it will all be worth it!