Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gangtok and Darjeeling (Part I)

Last year, during our summer visit to India, we decided to spend a week in Gangtok (Sikkim) and Darjeeling (West Bengal) in the cooler Northeastern states.

From Delhi we flew into Bagdogra via Deccan Air. For those who have not yet experienced India, watch out for that concept of lines. The concept of “waiting in line” along with the concept of personal space is almost nonexistent. It exists but only in the minds of visitors from abroad. Deccan Air had first come first seating. Never mind how many people had been patiently waiting in line, but when the gates opened, all those who had not been in the line, shoved and pushed and nudged and got inside the waiting craft. Naïve us who had the poor foresight to actually wait in line and were so busy being aghast at being shoved around, were the last few to board the aircraft. The flight itself turned out to be very comfortable, with freindly crew and actually landed on time.

At Bagdogra, we rented a 4X4 to Gangtok, medicated ourselves with Dramamine and started our trip. The drive from Bagdogra to Gangtok was approx 5 hour long, very winding and incredibly scenic. The drive was dotted by villages and little hamlets the entire way. Many times along the way we stopped for a breather, some hot Chai and Momos (dumplings). You can’t skip them momos.

At first glance, Gangtok was a really small and overcrowded town. The hills were covered by concrete buildings seemingly built haphazardly upon each other, the roads pretty steep and full of cars. The fumes from the cars constantly driving in low gear really got to us. There was not much to see within the town other than the local market but once we got beyond the town, the natural beauty was breathtaking. The Buddhist monasteries, the terraced rice fields, and the rivers overflowing with clear water were incredibly beautiful.

The people were warm, friendly, and always eager to strike up a conversation. Since we were in Gangtok for only two days, and that too in the middle of the monsoon season, we did not venture into the smaller (but highly recommended) towns of Pelling and Yuksom. And for the same reason, we did not even attempt to go for whitewater rafting or hiking. Our only regret is that, it was too cloudy the entire duration of our stay that we did not get to see the Kanchenjunga; the 3rd highest peak in the world.

Our most talked about incident involves our visit to the Rumtek Monastery. While at the monastery, we went to see the monks-in-training’s meditation and classroom area, and in the process we became friendly with a few young monks there. These monks invited us for chai and being tea lovers we readily accepted. The monastery kitchen was closed so I am not sure how they managed to make tea but their version of chai included boiling water with milk and ghee (clarified butter) in equal parts. No matter how much sugar we added, the tea was absolutely unpalatable. Our fear of being rude was so great that we kept on sipping (more like licking) it for almost an hour. We kept waiting for the monks to leave the room so we could discuss our predicament. That one hour was a lesson in the art of body language communication. After about an hour, when we could not take the taste or the smell of “monastery tea” anymore, we excused ourselves and insisted on washing the teacups (so they would not see all the tea we were throwing away) put some money in their donation box and left. I don’t think any of us enjoyed our food that day, even the hot and savory momos did nothing for our ruined palates.

1 comment:

Swathi said...

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