Going on holiday is supposed to be more rewarding than buying stuff for yourself because the happy memories last longer. Or something like that. I can believe that though which is why presents for big birthdays and all anniversaries are always trips. And this was a big birthday for me, being the 30th year and all that. And the destination was Sikkim. I wanted us to rough it out.
And rough it we did on the dusty, bumpy, hilly, twisty road from Bagdogra where our flight had left us. We were in a jeep going to Gangtok and had been awake since 2:45 am that morning. Our flight was, needless to say, quite early. I love early morning journeys – the panic of whether or not your cabbie will turn up, the thrill of directing him to your address while in the middle of your shower, him not getting it and you finally agreeing to just meet him wherever he is now, stray mongrels gnashing their teeth at you, growling menacingly, and then finally barking until 50 of them are following you in the dark to the taxi. Even cabs in Macedonia have GPS you know.
Anyway I digress. We were in this jeep which we had haggled for (unsuccessfully) at the airport at Bagdogra after we were mobbed by 4598^343 taxi drivers mobbed us. This was another example of economics turned upside down. You would have thought it was a buyer’s market given the number of drivers, but no, they all had one price. Cartelized bastards. So we were in this jeep and the driver kept lowering the window to spit out the copious amounts of tobacco he kept chewing. We were told we needed an air conditioned car because of the amount of dust on the road – landslides, rock blasting and all that. It was more because of other vehicles but anyway. We barely benefited from the air conditioning because after a point he didn’t bother with lowering the window, he just kept it rolled all the way down. At one point, I asked him to roll it up because it was all very dusty. From then on he opened his door every time he wanted to spit. Did I mention he was also a very aggressive driver and was constantly overtaking?
But it was beautiful. The dramatic mountains. The crazy trees. The river Teesta flowing, light blue, in the valley. The white rocks. It was dark by 5 pm. We kept getting tossed about in the jeep. Our flight had already been quite late and we’d spent more time than anyone should at Kolkata airport. We even managed a short trip in the city even though it was only a bus ride to college street, a short walk and then a taxi ride back to the airport. We even got gipped by the cabbie.
It was unlikely that we were going to arrive in Gangtok in time for getting permits to Nathu-la. I kept thinking to myself that a cup of tea would have been great and realised we still had about four more hours on this awful bottom-breaking road. It was very dark outside. The mountains were dark silhouettes against the bright stars. Our driver decided we should have a tea break and stopped at a little shop where others had also stopped on their way. We were given tea and hot, oily samosas which were being made fresh by a woman in a little room inside. I asked if there was a bathroom I could use (even the taxi driver got involved) and one of the ladies took me shyly to a the back of a little house. I realized I was on the edge of a little hill. She was looking at me and indicated I could pee there. The crescent shaped moon was out. I stared back at her dumbly. She explained their toilet fell away with the landslide a few days back. I pretended like that was so normal. She kept looking. And then fortunately she went away. I didn’t want to offend anyone so I pretended to pee. I even squatted. A careful observer would have thought I’d done so in my pants since I didn’t lower them.
I held back for the rest of the bumpy journey. God it was so long. And the driver kept making all these personal stops along the way. Twice to inquire about the prices of eggs (cheaper in these parts supposedly) and once to buy booze (too cold to sleep otherwise). When we entered Sikkim and passed through a quasi border control where they checked our identification, he even picked up a plain clothes policeman. They chattered on in their language about local politics. He finally got off somewhere and finally acknowledged our existence by thanking us.
By the time we got to Gangtok we felt broken. I was worried about the husband’s leg. We were shown to our basic little room in the guesthouse we were staying at. We didn’t know it at the time but this was to be one of the best rooms we would stay in over the next week or so. They didn’t serve food and so we crawled out looking for something to eat. Gangtok sleeps early. It was 9 pm and there wasn’t much going on. We found a hotel with a restaurant and a waiter who treated us like we were precious cargo. Dinner was tomato soup followed by simple dal chawal, all that we could eat after a day of airport food. We walked back down the slope to our guesthouse and went straight to bed. And so ended the first day of our trip.