I woke the next day and thought that I must have been knocked out during my sleep as everything seemed to be blurred. Luckily no concussion but merely bad weather, so bad that it had ventured into my room through the many holes in the door. It was hard to find the way round the guest house it was that bad. It was certainly going to make the 4hr drive up to Gangtok interesting. A short walk into town to get a jeep to Gangtok was the easy part.Holding on tight to anything in the jeep, we set off into the mist of the hills was the hard part!
As per usual the jeep was rammed full of people. So rammed in fact that there were four people in the front seat and the driver was squashed against his door while his co-pilot operated the gears. After an hour of driving the fog cleared and soon I had full few of the precarious roads we traveled along and the steep falls below us. The driver actually kept to a steady pace and by lunchtime we had arrived at the border. Being so close to the bordering nations of Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet / China the amount of military activity is crazy. Floods of armored vehicles and trucks swept by us and scores of army personnel on PE duty marched and ran past us.
By around 1pm we arrived at the very modern and clean capital city. As a capital city it is very small and very spread out over a steep cliff but the most cleanest place I had been to in India so far. In fact Gangtok actually means hilltop in Sikkimese and and apart from the views there isn’t much to see or do. In fact it was quite an expensive place and catered for Indian holiday makers with not much activity. I booked into a nice hotel, this time with lot of hot running water and set out to see the one sight i had come to see – Mt Khangchendzonga. Unfortunately the cable car to one of the ridges was broken and I could see the late afternoon mist rolling in so thought best of wasting money on a cab. I instead checked out to see if there were any short treks that could be done. Unfortunate not or could be done but a great expense.
Looking at the great mountain not so far away I would have to settle for the view instead but at that point made a personal promise to either come back here to trek the Annapurnas or to head to Nepal and Everest Base Camp. When you see the first hand how impressive and beautiful even the 3rd highest mountain is from 80 miles away and the 200mile stretch of the Himalayas before you and it gives you goose bumps it now goes in the bucket list. Settled with the fact that I could conquer it one day I headed back to luxuries otherwise not associated with trekking like HBO, warm water and a nice duvet. I spent around two and half days in Gangtok wandering around, keeping warm, booking my way to my next destination, using incredibly slow Internet, reading and hanging out around town people watching.
It as at that point that i decided that Indians are truly a fascinating and lovable race. At first many Indians appear to be rude, never saying thanks and generally being a bit arsey, but underneath that there are slight mannerisms that warm you to them. Their open affection to each other, men holding hands and linking arms whilst talking and walking. It was in Gangtok that encountered my first Indian head wiggle. I was speaking to local Chai lady on the street he answered me with her head rather than her voice. It was a soft head roll from side to side finished off with a very small smile. I had read about the wiggle but not been subjected to it until then. I felt proud to be acknowledged in an Indian way and thanked him in my best attempt at a wiggle back and my best Hindu – “Shukriya” – she laughed at me calling me English Baba (Brother)!! Another special thing about it Indians that sets them apart from most other nations is their love of Paan.
Paan is a mix of betal nut, lime paste, calcium and spices and usually consumed and chewed in a leaf which aids digestion and bad breath. Paan is also a mild narcotic which induces the average Indian (man and woman) to consume vast amounts of the stuff at all times of the day. The effect of Paan, apart from a slight hit works the saliva glands and then turns their mouths red. After a few minutes of chewing the saliva becomes too much, so it is spat out with great accuracy and distance into any spare space on the ground. Speaking to any Indian when they have a mouth full of Paan spit is frustrating and impossible as you can’t understand what they say and you don’t want to get too close in case you get covered in red juice. And if things couldn’t get any worse Paan also stains the teeth and gums red and is a major cause of mouth cancer. Paan spitting aside I was content on trying Indian sweets, reading and people watching the rest of my days in Gangtok where nice and relaxed and before long it was time to head back into the heart of the country where a short 16 hour train ride lay ahead. First a ride down through the hills on another jeep to the train station, this time we passed many interesting signs on the road, I guessed there had been many accidents here as the signs read – “life is short don’t make it any shorter” and “don’t make it end on the bend” and the most poignant “if you sleep your family will weep”. Next stop was one of the most holiest and ancient cities on earth – Varanasi – where the great mother of the Ganges breaths life and death into millions of Hindus. India was about to get tougher, I just didn’t know how tough.