Friday, October 24, 2014

INDIA

We were off to experience the majestic Himalayas by touring the intrepid back roads on a rented Royal Enfield motorcycle.

Jordan added this to our bucket list about 6 years ago when our friend Stan told us about this type of trip. So our anticipation was growing the closer our 3-legged flight took us from Bangkok Thailand to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) then Guwahati and finally Bagdogra. All 3 flights were far from being full.

The Himalayas boast the highest mountains on earth (with Everest of Nepal as the most commanding). Stretching from Pakistan, they weave their way through northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan. We were headed to intercept them in the Indian state of Sikkim. On a map of India, you will see it squished in between the eastern end of Nepal and the remote, shy mountain nation of Bhutan.

After landing in Bagdogra, we were immediately immersed in the frenetic culture that Indians are known for when we had to negotiate a taxi ride up into the mountains. There was a lot of fevered talking and gesturing including the unique Indian head wiggle, which incidentally can mean just about anything like "maybe" "yes" "no" or "no problem" as Jordan learned the latter when he asked the taxi driver "Do you have a spare? Your tire is bald."

The 2.5 hour ride (for a distance of only about 70 km) which included a generous amount of horn blowing began in the low fertile flatlands with fields of tea plants. Soon we were introduced to a wall of green mountains. The pavement abruptly transitioned from flat to steep, narrow, and winding.

Without barriers, the road hung on the side of the sheer slopes as it zigged and zagged up into a rarefied atmosphere. We passed through towns that speckled the vertical land and clung apelike to the slopes. This road to Darjeeling at times would best be described as Jar-dealing! But we were oblivious to the portentousness of it.

About two thirds of the way into our journey, the road doubled and crisscrosssed with the curious train (called the Toy Train) running on a narrow 2-foot gauge rail, a leftover from the English occupation as are many of the roads carved into these mountain sides. These arteries serviced their hill stations of which Darjeeling was one, and established their presence in this area being a strategic route to Tibet.

Slowly chugging along

There were never any "Railroad Crossing" signs or barriers. The train continually crosses the road and vehicles are just expected to look before proceeding across the tracks. The train also loops to navigate steep climbs.

Before getting our Visa to enter India as a tourist, we had to have a hotel booking of several nights. So we had found and booked 1 online and our taxi driver delivered us to the doorstep. Substandard is putting it kindly. But is it Standard by Indian definition? We were tired and didn't want to trek the town to find out, so we took the room knowing that soon our sleep would be ignorant of the cold musty ambiance of the windowless bunker...

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