For new journeys like this India trip, we purposely never make detailed plans, so we never know exactly what to expect. For us, it's the serendipitous experiences and sights that we cherish.
India is a multi-cultured country and most everyone has and speaks their own language or dialect but it was welcoming to find we never had a problem conversing as English is taught in schools and spoken by almost all.
It's a land of intensities and extremes that can be observed in its geography and in the nature of its inhabitants. The foods are spiced with rich and exciting flavours. They dress in dazzling and vivid colours and paint their homes and buildings from a riotous palette. It's as if their bold displays compensate for and escape from the hopeless poverty that afflicts the multitude. But penury hasn't affected their friendliness and generosity.
Hyper-chromatic you can feel
A painter's paroxysm you can see
Colourful curries you can taste
We are quasi vegetarian and many in India are too; the availability was abundant so we had a great variety to choose from.
This is the quintessential tea growing area so we sampled and really enjoyed all the many different flavours available including the locals' favourite, masala, which is a milky and sweet tea, usually with cardamom and ginger. To most, this does not sound very good, but it is actually quite tasty.
We were expecting cool to cold nights at the high altitudes but we weren't expecting the hotels to be so chilly. Electricity is expensive and non-reliable so they don't have heaters, but they do provide blankets aplenty. Many evenings we spent wearing our down-filled jackets until we crawled into bed. Most hotels did not have double beds or larger, only single. We of course pushed them together or cuddled in one of the single beds for the extra body heat!
Fortunately the weather was favourable and dealt us mostly sunny days. We carried rain gear but only needed it once for 2 kilometres.
This area is at risk for seismic activity but one wonders, looking at the building standards, what would happen if "the big one" hit.
Fodder for the Earthquake Gods
India has recently implemented a clean-up initiative and in Darjeeling we saw it in action. The state of Sikkim has its own set of standards and it was interesting to read signs stating that smoking is not allowed and considered an offence as well as spitting or the possession of a satellite phone! We only noticed one elderly woman puffing away on a cigarette indifferent to the law.
But the most impressive memories of this trip were the Himalayas. Considering that their peaks and ridges stretch across many hundreds of miles, to be presented with our grand earth's third highest in the locale that we chose to visit was certainly serendipitous.
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above.
One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer; but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know. (by René Daumal)