Hours before the trip to Northeast India, the most ambitious trip I was to undertake, Vijay and I felt we were almost caught off guard as the temperature prediction for NE kept going down with every new person we met. While I knew December in NE was going to be cold, I did not want to only end up battling the weather during the course of my trip to this already unknown place. While we were ready with thermal wear and other ammunition to battle the weather, we would know if the firepower was enough only when we reached there.
Every trip has fucked up moments, irritating moments, moments that make you question why you had to step out of your comfort zone (the topic of an earlier blog). For good or bad, we were faced with a relatively milder version of this on the very first day when we took a tempo traveler ride from Siliguri in West Bengal to Gangtok in Sikkim(I love mentioning these far off places like I travel there every third day).
The prayer flags in Sikkim
Three of us had barely cramped into the back seat of the traveler knowing well this is how travelling happens: with multiples of the actual seating capacity stuffed in the vehicle. The multiples vary depending upon how ambitious the driver is. Just about when we felt we had barely fit in (I am not the fittest person around), the back door was pulled open with such ferocity, that the guy sitting in the middle – whose back rest was attached to the back door – almost tumbled down.
We looked behind to an ambitious sidekick of our driver standing with another man smiling ear to ear. We tried to make as scornful a face as we could since we knew what was going to happen. We looked at the sidekick in disbelief. The sidekick told the smiling guy ‘baith jao’ pointing towards our seat with conviction that would make Pratibhatai Patil proud. The guy looks at us, we look at each other. I muttered something to the effect of ‘kahan baithega ye’. Before the words had reached the sidekicks ears, the funny looking guy had already parachuted into the car.
By that awesome law of physics operating exclusively in Indian tempo travelers, the guy managed to squeeze in. We could curse under our breaths till the cows came home, but the guy was not only seated, he was on the phone to someone directing where he was. As we look at him bewildered, the dude not only managed to give his co-ordinates on a busy Siliguri road, he was now half leaning on Vijay, waving out to the guy he was directing on the phone. It was a little vertical opening of a window carrying silhouettes of four cramped people at the back of a moving car, but the power of foolish optimism.
After being cramped like ill sized peas in a rickety pod, the next thing you hope in such a circumstance is to see the vehicle zoom off. (Or maybe that another person is not packed off to this little space which the powers that be feel is elastic) But then remember that bastard Murphy? Yes, the vehicle doesn’t start because once the driver is there and the sidekick is not. And then the other way round. We look on helplessly.
Well to cut a long story short, when the vehicle stopped at Gangtok I was not sure if I was touching my legs or some random stumps left behind. I couldn’t confidently deny the possibility of the next two days being spent in nursing an injured back. I think the only silver lining in the pitch black cloud that we found all around was the random unverified trivia blurted out by one of the fellow commuters like 70 % of people in Sikkim are Nepalis and so on and so forth. And the second silver lining: I had my birthday in a few hours 😀
The first high of the trip (apart from a loving birthday gift that really made me both happy and highly emotional) was the fact that at 12am on December 17, I was chilling with three people, the existence of two of whom I was oblivious about till December 16, 11.55pm. So we saw two people chilling outside our hotel room, invited them in and the four of us brought in my birthday. Nothing fancy but I was kicked by what was happening.
When a friend called up asking how the birthday was going, I replied “this is the most ‘different birthday’ I have ever had.” I loved it. And I will tell you why: Before starting the trip, I had asked myself what did I want the most from the trip: one of the answers was I wanted to interact with a lot of new people. I wanted to know how people lived their lives outside my little social circle. And hence I asked many questions to whomever we met during the trip. And so in my head, this box was ticked off. Here I was, of all things, celebrating my birthday with new and interesting people.
Well here I have to mention this funny hotel manager we met. We would remember him through the trip for the funny encounters we had with him. During a conversation with us, when the manager was boasting to us his friend’s drug taking prowess, he held his hands at a distance of a horizontally held brick and said, ‘itna ganja khaaya woh’. Vijay and I were aghast. I mean he could smoke that up but as we enquired in unison ‘khaaya?’ wondering what beast eats up a brick full of dope.
He attempts to clarify his claim: ‘khaaya nahin khaaya’
We look on.
Then it strikes him we are not bongs: ‘khaaya matlab piya’ hum log piya ko khaaya bolta hain.
This episode would generate us a journey full of lame jokes.
Another funny episode with the guy happened was when he realized Vijay deals in foreign exchange. He got 1000 Vietnamese dongs, some 500 Tanzania shilling and other relatively decent amounts in foreign currency that he got as tips from foreigners. Looking at him one felt that he was secretly hoping that the money will secure his old age. He was hopefully looking at Vijay as the later did his calculations. After a few minutes Vijay tells him: they are worth around Rs 30. To rub it in Vijay says ‘ tum ek time ka khana kha sakte ho isse’ (it is enough to purchase lunch once). I will here not attempt to describe the look on the poor man’s face. I can say with some certainty that the next batch of foreigners that go there will not be well served.
The next day we went for a ‘local sightseeing tour’ which began on an interesting note and ended up on a rather funny one. We went to the directorate of Sikkim handicraft and handloom where we had a good time. Of all the awesome things we saw, I think worth mentioning is the cute little typewriter which was actually used as a calculator back in the day. It had no alphabets only numbers and the calculation signs. I had no clue such a thing existed.
The second interesting thing was a preserved beehive dating back to 1937. As it is bereft of any honey, one can actually see the structure of a beehive. Like there are little floors in it and small pillar like things. I was blown away by it.
I could have had a photograph of it because of Narendra Modi. No, no, I am not some random Muslim blaming him for everything 😛 He had visited the place a month back. He told them to stop photography as repeated clicks could impact some of the paintings that had paints made out of fruits. So well depending upon your political affiliations you can decide accordingly.
Passing through some waterfalls and ‘view points’ we reached the funny part of the tour: the flower exhibition. Someone on a blog had rated it pretty high on the to-do list. What we found on reaching there were some dead flowers (to be fair some were alive)!!.
In fact there were so many flowers refusing to look at us, relegated to dejection that Vijay quipped ‘dude this is like ‘phoolon ka kabrastan’ (a graveyard of flowers). I think I agreed with him. We also clicked some dead ones for proof !But an awesome photo exhibition by the Sikkim photography club on the same premises more than made up for the earlier bereavement.
Some of the dead flowers
The alive ones
However the one thing that accompanied us throughout the day were prayer flags. Sikkim is full of prayer flags. Seen in the background of the blue skies it is such a picture of serenity that ironically I could not hardly resist the temptation to go bonkers with my mobile camera. The day ended on another high: a Nepali rock band performance. The trip was going well so far. Some fuck ups were on their way though…