#11 India, Northern India and Sikkim, Sept. 24, 1998

My plane went from Bangalore to Calcutta, then I took another to Bagdogra, and a taxi to Jaipalaguri to see about taking a scenic train ride to Darjeeling, but the train was not running. So I got another taxi and spent three hours, of which the last hour was in the dark, going over a mountainous highway that was tiny, potholed and washed away in places, with innumerable hairpin curves. What a ride! But the driver was skillful and we arrived Darjeeling about 7:15 PM, all in one piece! I checked into the New Elgin Hotel. My room was outstanding with a fireplace, sofa, roll-top desk and windows on three sides of my large room.

Walking downtown the next morning, the temperature was moderate—about 74 degrees F.

Darjeeling is pretty in a kind of run-down Indian way.




I hired a taxi to take me to two Tibetan monasteries, Ghoom Gompa

and Sonada Gompa. When the taxi and I left Sonada Gompa, the fog rolled in and we could see almost nothing on the mountainous 18-km drive back to Darjeeling, another hair-raising experience, but once again, we made it!

While in Darjeeling I visited the Himalaya Mountaineering Institute where Norgay Tenzing (first of two persons to reach Mount Everest summit along with Sir Edmund Hilary) is buried.




A bureaucratic afternoon was spent in going to the District Magistrate’s office to get my permit to visit Sikkim; then to the Foreigner’s Registration office to have it validated; and back to the District Magistrate’s office for a stamp. After stopping at the Hindu Dhirdham Temple I went to the bus depot to buy a ticket to Gangtok, Sikkim for the next day. I was not reassured about the safety of this trip when I learned that the private bus company wasn’t going because of ‘bad roads,’ caused by the rains, but that the government bus would go anyway. To take my mind off of this, I went souvenir shopping in a lovely Tibetan shop, buying some trinkets and some Darjeeling tea.

The next day was sunny in Darjeeling but I still couldn’t see the snow-capped Himalayas because of cloud cover. There were only four passengers on my bus and those got off before reaching Gangtok. The ride was scary but the driver was careful and skillful, and we reached Gangtok about 5:30 PM.


The next morning I awoke to see a tiny portion of the snow-capped mountains through clouds; eventually these cleared somewhat so I could photograph the snow-capped Himalayas for a bit, before the clouds moved in again.

On the local mountains there were terraces of beautiful green rice fields, and then these became clouded over, too.



I went out on the street, which was exotic and bustling. I visited the Lall Market, and enjoyed seeing the local women wearing elaborate jewelry in and under their noses, which extended down to their mouths.












The Namgyal Institute made an interesting visit to see all the ‘books’ of Tibetan history that reside there and the people who used it as a place of study. I also saw the chorten and gompa nearby.

On to the north end of town to see the Enchey Gompa which had a ceremony in progress using long oboes, short oboes, conch shells, drums, cymbals, and some other wind instruments, with chanting, but alas, no photography was permitted. I enjoyed a bonsai exhibit at the Whitehall Flower Center and tried to buy a bus ticket for Siliguri for a few days hence, but nobody showed up to sell me one, even though the hours posted included these hours.

Gangtok is a pretty town in a gorgeous mountain setting. The people are a mixture of Sikkese, Napalese, Indian and Tibetan.

The older people wear traditional clothing; the men all wear western style. The younger women mostly wear salwar kameezes.




There are many Tibetan prayer flags and many flowers.






It rained softly all night, continuing the next morning with visibility almost zero. I did get a bus ticket for the next day, and at breakfast chatted with a man that I had seen at my hotel in Darjeeling. He is Tibetan, came to India in ’59 and now lives in Washington, DC. Later I walked up to see the palace and then had lunch at my hotel—chicken momo, a Tibetan version of dim sum dumplings.

The next morning I had a big breakfast in preparation for the five-hour bus ride. It was Chicken Sha-Bha-Lay (deep-fried dumplings) and Chicken Dre-Thuk, which was chicken bits in porridge. The bus left for Siliguri at noon.




An hour later we were in a long line of buses, trucks and jeeps that had to take turns on a very slimy one-lane road up a hill. It had been raining and the road was a clay mess with a thousand-foot precipice on one side.  Amazingly, when the traffic was stopped because of the road conditions, vendors sprang up instantly to sell refreshments by the side of those muddy roads!

A car ahead of us couldn’t get up the hill and had to back down again, twice, but finally some men pushed it up and away. After 2 ½ hours it was finally our turn. It was all very stressful! This all happened again later with only a half-hour delay, but by and by we arrived at Siliguri, three hours late, in the dark and rain. I checked into a hotel, had a double gin, dinner, and went to bed!

With having seen only a bit of the snow-capped Himalayas, and the rain being too much for me, the next day I taxied to the Bagdogra Airport and got a flight for Delhi. In the air, I did manage to see Mt. Everest, that tallest of snow-capped Himalayas, which I attempted to photograph. That evening I got a flight back to Bangalore.

While conditions were hardly ideal, I did get a glimpse of Tibetan/Himalayan life in northern India and Sikkim.


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