Thursday, 28 August 2014

N 22.33.30 E 88.21.15 Two weeks in India: from Nepal to the Tropics

We travelled through North East India August 3 to 19 from the border crossing near Siliguri to the hill stations of Darjeeling and Gangtok (Sikkim) then south toward Kolkata where we left our faithful Calypso as well as one of our crew, Nico.  From here on, it will be public transport.

Actually, it felt more like one more week in Tibet and then a week travelling through the plains of India.  The people around Darjeeling and also the entire state of Sikkim are predominantly Nepali or Tibetan.  Food and architecture reflected what we had seen in Tibet and indeed many of the monasteries that were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution were transferred to these areas.  Even the dominant language is Nepali rather than English or Hindi.  The other dominant presence is the British Raj.  Uniforms of the police and the army are reminiscent of 1930s Britain and were worn with pride by all.  We listened to morning practices in the stadium of a very British sounding pipe and drum band.  The best schools remain those set up by the British and all students wear formal uniforms, including blazer, tie and polished black shoes for the upper classmen.

Check where Darjeeling and Gangtok are.
No wonder there is a heavy police/army presence.
Darjeeling wants to separate from West Bengal
and the entire state of Sikkim would like to separate from India.
As we headed south from Siliguri, however, we were almost at sea level, the mountains were only in the distance and it became hot, humid and much more impoverished.  We began to attract crowds because western tourists were so unusual.

Stopping for breakfast on the side of the road.
127 watchers in 5 minutes.

What I wish to remember:

Darjeeling.  Tea estates, incredible mountain scenery, Himalayan Mountain Institute. Trekking along the Nepal border (literally criss crossing it along the 8 km hike uphill and then back) in Singalia National Park including breakfast, tea break(s) and lunch with local people. Discovering Ava Devi’s thread paintings.
Red panda (actually a raccoon not a panda

Cool spider webs were everywhere

Himalayan bear.  No cage around his enclosure.

Tenziing Norgay (Hillary's companion sumiting Everest)
set up the Himalayan Mountain Institute in Darjeeling.

Heading down to check out tea plantation.
Hey, it is monsoon season.

"Man of the East" by Ava Devi.
Hand stitched with fine silk thread.
Got to see many of her original art.

Hiking.  Sorry, tree is sleepy today

The leaves that make hand made Nepali paper

Photo outside Chitray monastery.
Cal is standing in Nepal
I am still in India

Prayer flags being raised

Chitray = houses made of woven bamboo walls

Army base camp just before lunch.
We had to officially leave India and reenter Nepal
Yes it was ok to take the photo

Megma "Mother of Clouds"
 (where we had lunch with a local family because the tea house was closed)

Meet and Greet  at Hotel Elgin

Mark, doing what comes naturally (taking photos)

Bruce looking exceedingly dashing
Just rotate 90 degrees


View from our window the last morning.
Yes the Himalayas were there all along

Gangtok.  The road to get there. Figuring out how to organize our own touring – including bartering for taxis and being delighted with the places we visited. Survived my first leech bites while exploring the zoo.  Retail therapy which sometimes didn’t work out – no size 11 shoes to be had here. Early morning practices in the stadium outside our window.The snow lion with attitude in our hotel restaurant.  I believe he may be related to the Gregories we saw in Tibet.

Cobra near the Tibetan institute that we almost walked past

Still getting requests for photos 

The official protector of Gangtok

On the road to Kolkata (Malda and Murshidabad). Horrid roads and traffic jams (average speed 20 to 30 km per hour), abject poverty, crowds of people, subsistence farming using man/woman power and occasionally water buffalo. Heat and humidity. Remembering to appreciate what I have.
Calypso's mirror was shattered as she was passed on the right.
Yup, that close

Watching us leave Siliguri
The "hat" is actually his hair wound around
and around

Calypso's light taking a beating.  By now
we just self manage.  Cal's Leatherman,
Jason (assisting) and Jordan doing the actual repair
and Tina providing advice.

crossing the river Ganges

Funeral Gats on the Ganges

Drying and storing your fuel source

Turmeric being harvested by hand

Independence day parade
Local cadets

More locals wanting photos with us

Beautiful photo
Just don't look too closely at the sludge..

Kolkata.  Indian Museum.  Went on a city tour of Kolkata and discovered WHY you see groups of tourists following a guide like puppies. Guide had done all the research and gets you to the right places. He tells good stories to make it interesting. And (especially in a hot and humid place) arranges air-conditioned transport. Best piece of trivia. Most of the 1800s buildings are direct copies of British buildings. The High Court, however is a copy of a building in Brussels that then burnt down. They used the blueprints of the Kolkata building to rebuild it. So, says our guide, we have the original and they have the copy.  Saw Mother Theresa house, a Jain Temple, Monument to the Black Hole of Calcutta.  And the Idol Makers lane, where artisans were busy creating the statues for the next big festival in October.  Got to wander the lanes watching the process. Tea (twice) at Flury’s – an institution in Kolkata that the upper caste Indians have taken as their own. Purchased a notebook computer which turned into an afternoon of great memories.  Happening upon the Hand Weavers of Murshidabad retail outlet right next door and finding the perfect hand woven and hand printed silk sari fabric.

Flury's tea room established 1927

Jain Temple apparently there is no conflict between
over the top glitz and glitter
with a religion that is totally non violent and ascetic

Idol Maker's lane
Getting ready for the next big festival
in October

Bamboo scaffolding tied with cloth.
We saw this everywhere

Yes, you can still see typewriters everywhere.
And cel phones

Leaving on a jet plane. The wild taxi drive to the airport. A totally positive experience at the new airport, including the staff of the budget airline (IndiGo) going out of their way to fix a problem the booking agent made and sending us on our way.  Security where ladies are scanned in a separate curtained booth and the gentlemen have the usual process.  Apologies from the security person when he had to take away our knife that we had forgotten to put into checked luggage.


Given that India is a strong economy with desires to move with the first world nations, I was taken aback by the lack of infrastructure and of what we would consider essentials of life. Clean drinking water does not exist for most.  In the small villages we passed through, pumps brought water from the stagnant ponds nearby that had been defecated into by animals as well as humans, where women were washing clothes and where runoff from the rice paddies passed through piles of rotting garbage.  Even in Kolkata there is no safe drinking water. There was no garbage removal; piles of garbage were allowed to rot where it was thrown or was removed by hand. Health care is available to those who can afford to pay for it; otherwise, diseases that we do not see in the western world run rampant:
When we were in Gangtok it was national diarrhea recognition week – remember to add zinc to oral rehydration salts when treating enteric diarrhea (not lets work on clean drinking water for all)
If you have leprosy, treatment is available (at a cost)
A cough for two weeks is likely TB – get it checked out (if you can afford it)

Slogan for the recent Krishna festival:
Don't kill the girl child"

Poster from the early 1970s
Still common practice today.

Roads and housing were in poor to unusable condition.  We got used to heavy traffic on narrow winding roads that were less than one lane wide. Head on collisions or buses rolling off into ditches or hitting trees were an everyday occurrence. Many people living on the streets of the villages as well as the cities, because it was a better living than to remain in the rural villages of even more impoverished areas.

The sense of class/caste remains very much in evidence.  The rich can educate their children well so they can have good well paying jobs and/or move to a western country.  The poor cannot afford school fees so their children can never hope to improve their lives.

I will certainly never forget my time in India.  It isn’t an experience I wish to repeat.

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