Everything is predictable in hindsight
Everything is predictable in hindsight. The trick being to get the clue as it is presented. We left Nabadwip in an ecstasy of rain, headed for Darjeeling, Sikkim & points N.E. after a not so bad 3 tier AC ride asleep to New Jaipalguri station we spent a good hour deciding to just continue on the toy train all the way to Darjeeling for free, as opposed to 2 & a half hours in a share jeep for Rs.600, reasoning that even though it was an 8 hour journey, it should be enjoyable from our 1st class position. Well, there were no available seats in 1st class & until that moment of embarkation, we'd not actually realized there was less than 1st class. Turns out, there is. Coupled with the description "toy train", one might begin to adjust the understanding of what our next 8 hours were like. Even for the relatively small Indians, it was an inconvenience to say the least. Imagine, if you will, Art, Suzy, Sajal & myself in the cattle car of the Darjeeling Toy Train packed to capacity. The continuing omen presenting itself for all to see was studiously ignored. As we arrived in Darjeeling for some reason we began walking uphill to our chosen guest house out of the Lonely Planet's first budget entry, rather than engaging a porter/taxi. It seemed we were determined to live up to "difficulty is our motto". After utilizing the new cell phone with vigor by calling the guest house owner at least 5 times for continuing directions, we arrived in a cloud (literally) that didn't bother to lift for the 3 days we were there, except for the occasionalpunctuation by drizzly rain.
We did re-find the Tibetan momo house we'd longed for over the past 6 years, although it turned out the "Hasty Tasty" was putting out a better momo product this time 'round. However, the Tibetan joint was unparalled for freshly squeezed orange juice & wide noodle soup, Suzy loved. We found Glenary's had a lovely "heavy cake" for those fearless of eggs & a "chocolate" doughnut that had the taste & consistency of sopapilla's from El Patio in Albuquerque; although
their rendition of chocolate leaves one a-wondering what the hell they could possibly mean by that; if you ignored the color & name, it was quite enjoyable.
After two days of nary a glimpse of the mountains we'd come to see, we headed downhill on foot to the District Magistrate for the permit to Sikkim. They didn't open until 11am & given that we were there at 10:30am we settled in for tea across the way in a building that, had there been no cloud cover, would've sported the most awesome view of Himalayan views imaginable. But alas… Promptly at 11am I ran over with our applications & voila, we were on our way up the mountain (on foot) to the foreign Tourist office for further stampage of the document. Have I spoken of ordeals yet? If so, here then was another of the rascals. Not the actual stamping once arrived, but the getting there. The nice man at the Magistrates Office's description of "a 15 minute walk" was brought better into focus by Suzy's added comment, "for a goat!". Not to mention the constant stream of jeeps hungary for passengers going anywhere, spewing their nasty, non-CNG omissions into the environment/your face. Finally, as we had our stapage & had now only to return to the Magistrate's office for yet further stampage, I prompted Art to approach & hook onto a nice English girl who was heading back down, as well, but by taxi. I thought, "Here, at least, is someone with sense & we can ride down with her." Sure enough. It worked! I had broken the back of "difficulty is our motto" & gotten us to take a ride down. And don't you know miracles come in two's?; she held the taxi & it brought us back up the mountain, depositing us directly down the street from our new favorite, "Hasty Tasty". Gotta love those Brits for knowing their way around an ex-colony. When the driver started to complain that he wanted more than the Rs.100, she just laughed & said, "that's more than fair." & turned away. We now had our way cleared for Sikkim &amp;amp;amp; only l;had to fix ourselves up with a share jeep for Rs.150/head. I determined that we should purchase 6 out of 10 available seats in a jeep (not including the driver & his cut partner). It goes like this: the driver, buddy & two riders in the front seat, 4 in the middle seat, & 4 in the back seat, for a grand total of 12/jeep for 5 & a half hours. Again, let me remind you dear readers, of the bulk of ourselves as opposed to that of most Indians. It is simply a matter of physical not-going-to-happen. Somehow from my idea of Rs.150-200/head, equaling Rs.1200, Art & Sajal ended up commandeering the whole jeep for Rs.1700. Oh well, at least we kept our bags inside & out of the continuing rain on the trip over. Now, on the said "trip over", we were waylayed in a town called Legship by the local gendarmes looking for baksheesh to the tune of Rs.100. we held our ground while the driver desperately attempted to locate his proper permits to put off the inevitable payment. We still don't know if he succeeded, but we were delayed by at least 45 minutes.
At long last, Sikkim!; looking in no way any different from Darjeeling in the sense of nary a mountain in sight, only dense cloud hugging us. It really does boggle the mind to realize fully & finally at the end of it all that we were given clear indication right from the start at the 4am Nabadwip departure &amp;amp;amp; that we could now look back & say, "Oh, that's what that meant." Okay, no more "Mr. Nice Guy". If the clouds don't disperse by the end of the day, (which everyone keeps saying will be the case), we need to move on. I am beginning to feel ever so slightly depressed with this weather; no views, no treks, just sitting around reding a book in the most dramatic landscape ever to not bebeheld!
We decided to hike up to the Pemayangtse Gompa at any rate & it didn't rain, but didn't clear either. As we took to the road (it being about a 2 kilometer hike) a black dog began to accompany us. There was a fork in the road & the dog led us on the one that went to the Gompa, rather than the one most traveled on. It was really rather remarkable.
That evening we fixed a ride with a share jeep that didn't have a buddy with the driver, so Art & Sajal shared the front seat with him & Suzy & I got the far back with two seats facing each other, with no other encroachers. The arranger took one look at us & realized there was no way he was going to jam us in with the 4/seat gang. So the cruise down was not half bad. The best part was that the cloud had dispersed before we left at 5:30am over Khangchendzonga & we were graced with the sight of that dominant visage seen from all points in Sikkim. It was worth the entire miserable trip, after all, just to be able to experience this splendor. Art & I got pics & hopefully they will give a glimpse of the magnificence.
We headed out at 7am for Siliguri & upon arrival Sajal got us the smallest, stinkiest auto available, instead of the more roomy style & we headed over to New Jaipalguri station to see about jumping on a train. In the end, that's what we did. Nothing was available on 2-tier AC until the following day at 5pm, so we booked it; but after a bite to eat at a pretty good restaurant a really long way away from the station, we went back & waited for the Teestatoasta Express TC & we got some berths on that train leaving immediately. Onward back to Nabadwip a full 5 days early due to inclement weather.
I always love the return to Nabadwip, as we invariably arrive late in the evening or early morning when the streets (cobblestone) are deserted & there is only the swish of the bicycle rickshaws peddling to disturb the 3am peace of the slumbering villagers. It feels ancient & magical…until Sajal stops our 4 rickshaw parade, jumps out of his & ambles up to a doorway. He booms out a stream of Bengali through the locked gates & waits, puncturing the silence now & again with further instructions to the unseen dwellers within. Finally thedoor opens & Sajal is handed 3 packages of dhut (milk). We're back.