Travels in Gorkhaland and Sikkim Part II

It’s cold. After playing guitar around the fire and chess with a guy from Israel named Amos I retire to my room. I haven’t showered in a few days so I decide to take advantage of the hot water shower. Once under the steamy jets I didn’t want to turn off the water. I could already feel my hair freezing while still showering. I jump into my freezing bed under two wool blankets and two bulky divans. I cannot get warm. I think I slept for an hour total through the night with my feet feeling like ice cubes. I got out of bed with a terrible headache and ate breakfast. Gul, an Israeli, invited me to check out a local monastery with him.

The walk up is intimidating. The monastery sits on top of the next peak over from the town. The road up looks like what you’d find on a Japanese Tapestry, with the path zigzagging up the mountain ahead of us, but we get to the top before we know it. The views are peaceful and incredible, the mountain falling away abruptly from where we sit. Gul and I sit and talk about the stupidity of wars and the possibility of religions living peacefully with each other as we listen to the wind blow through the Tibetan prayer flags.

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After losing again to Amos in chess I go back to my cold bedroom and pray I can sleep through the night. I wear all my clothes and specifically wrap my feet in my jacket shell. I am warm finally under all the blankets. I fall asleep only to be wakened at eleven by a whining dog. This is no ordinary whining dog. He sounds like a human woman mourning the loss of her baby. I want to find the dog and kick it; I don’t even care about animal sensitivity. After a couple hours of fighting it I fall asleep till early morning when it starts up again. This time I wake up, my entire body is sweating. I am feverish. The dawn comes and I join Gul and some others on the roof to watch the sun light Mt. Kangchenjunga off in the distance.

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A group of us are hiring a jeep to take us to the famous Khecheopalri Lake (somehow pronounced catch-a-perry lake). The driver takes us to a couple waterfalls before eventually reaching the lake. I stumble around, coughing and wishing I wasn’t feverish. I sleep in the jeep at the second waterfall as others eat snacks from the stall on the side of the road.

We reach the lake and walk the five minutes down the path to reach it. BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT EVER! This lake is so hyped around Pelling. It is nothing more than a mud puddle surrounded by trees and prayer flags. I was so put off I didn’t even go out to the lake and slept on a bench by the path. I hate how you never know whether hyped sites in India are actually something to see or a two-foot waterfall. They all get the same amount of hype.

A young boy at the parking lot for the lake.

The jeep pulls off the side of the road about halfway back to Pelling. “It’s a rock garden,” the driver explains. They want us to pay to get in, so we just walk along on the road above. It’s another infamous Indian attraction that I don’t know why it exists except to get a few rupees from passing tourists. I elect to walk the rest of the way back to Pelling because I want to take portraits of the people I see. So many beautiful people had passed thus far on our drive back and I couldn’t take it anymore.

I cross the bridge and start up the hill along the road. Where are all the people? For about the first hour I don’t see another soul. There were so many people walking before I decided to walk. My whole reason for walking was not to get exercise, I am sick, but to take portraits of people.

I have an affinity for making kids cry.

In a small village after taking portraits of a group of people, a man demands I take some tea. I sit and enjoy the tea then take some more portraits. The man says to me, “You need to come down.” Ok? I’ll follow you? “You need to see the village.” He leads me down a steep path through the middle of the village and…back down to the road that I had just come up. “There’s a temple there you need to go to. I’ll be here.” The temple was simple and uninspired. A leper warms a meal over a fire in the courtyard. I then have to walk back up the mountain the way the man led me, bypassing the long switchback I originally took.

After three hours of walking I start getting cold and my legs are tired of walking uphill at 2,000m above sea level. I know that the same jeep that took my group is picking up a group of girls from Canada that walked to the lake and should be coming back about now. Just at the right time I see the familiar jeep come honking around the bend in the road. The girls gladly invite me to join them the rest of the way back.

The jeep driver tells me that I will not get a bus back to Siliguri in the morning because Siliguri, Darjeeling, and other major cities of Gorkhaland are on strike on the 21st. I set up to meet a jeep to the border of Sikkim, then I’ll take another jeep to Siliguri.

I have every reason to sleep through the night. I am exhausted. I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in two nights and I’m sick. The dog doesn’t bark tonight and I am warm. But I have this terrible dream that causes me to wake up every five minutes and fall back asleep into the dream. I’ve had the dream maybe three times before and always when I’m traveling.

Dreamworld: I somehow work for a large company like Enron that nobody knows what they actually do or make. I am brain washed and connected to this computer program that every time I have a new thought the computer creates another version of myself. Straight lines somehow connect all of the versions of myself and I can only travel by these straight lines. But every time I want to get to someplace the computer creates a new me in that place, so I never actually move. I know I have to get up at 6am and I panic because I can’t move. Then I realize if I right click (I have no idea what I’m right clicking) I can select a mode where I no longer have to travel just in straight lines and I can move freely in any direction. Then I woke up for good at 6am.

This dream drives me crazy because it doesn’t seem to mean anything but it keeps me from sleeping through out the night. I am ridiculously tied when I get out of bed, and I’m feverish and coughing with a killer headache. Several of the others are taking the same jeep to the border and we go about 50km in almost two hours.

In Jonegeth I find a jeep to Siliguri and we wait for hours for it to fill up. Stuffed four to the back seat, I fade in and out of feverish sleep. At the Sikkim border I am asked to show my documents, so I have to climb on the roof of the jeep and grab my passport. Maybe ten minutes beyond the border I get out to use the restroom and discover my wallet not on my person. I think maybe it’s fallen into the seat, but it is not there. It is not in the jeep. Three options. It fell out of my pocket getting into the jeep in Jonegeth, fell out getting out at the Sikkim border, or someone saw it sticking out of my pocket and nabbed it while I slept. I have no idea which actually occurred.

Lost contents: Visa Debit Card, BC/BS Health Insurance Card, Indiana Drivers License, ISIC Student ID Card, Indiana Wesleyan Student ID card, Choctaw Nation Membership ID Card, spare key to my apartment, and about $40. But this put me in a fix getting back to Mumbai. I had not eaten anything yet that day and once I reached Siliguri I had no way to get to the train station except walking. I convinced a man with a motorcycle to take me some of the way to the station, then a cycle rickshaw driver insisted that I ride with him despite explaining that I do not have any money. I sleep at the train station till my train comes. I arrive in Calcutta in the morning and use my only 12 rupees in coins to take the bus to the airport. It only gets me close so I take off walking. Another cycle rickshaw insists I ride with him despite explaining I do not have money, but this one thought I could get money and took me to a bank. I try explaining I do not have any money and he takes me to a police officer. I explain what happened and offer to pay him in crackers. The police officer tells the ‘rick’ driver to take me the rest of the way and I give him my crackers.

I get to the airport by 9:30am for my 6:30pm flight. Everyone laughs at me when I show them my ticket. I explain I need to figure out if I can get my boarding pass because I lost my debit card. I have to have a police report. They point me in the direction of the police station where I file a report for my missing wallet and contents. One of the officers takes mercy on me and gives me 20 rupees to buy some tea and instructs me to come back to the officers’ mess for lunch. This is the first meal I’ve had in 40 hours. I pull 1000/- from the ATM at the bank after remembering my pin number for my credit card. This gets me some food before my flight and money to pay a rickshaw driver back in Mumbai.

As I am leaving Calcutta I see the lights from the plane. Calcutta looks like a lovely modern city…at night and from the sky. The crisscross of moderately flowing trafficked streets dotted with street lamps lead to the brightest spectacle of the scene, an impressive cricket pitch (field) in full glory, sitting on the banks of the mighty Ganges River, spanned by illuminated bridges. It looks so clean and peaceful. What a deception the night provides!

I’ve never been so glad to get back to my apartment. It’s a shame the end of my trip was marred by this unfortunate event.