Travels in Sikkim-3rd Part
So what is the first thing you do when you hit the north east? You give into the clichés and eat momos right? And of course that’s exactly what we did once we exited Bagdogra airport. But first there was a minor kerfuffle in locating our driver who was supposed to pick us up at the airport. Not having visited the north east before we had to trust travel websites to decide our place of stay and itinerary. Thankfully a friend in Kolkata gave us the contact details of a well-established travel agency conducting tours of the north east and we made the arrangements – even paying the fee upfront for an airport pick up to airport drop trip entire travel experience.
And then when we landed at Bagdogra we couldn’t locate our driver outside the airport. I kept getting calls on my mobile from an unknown number – someone called Pandey (according to true caller) who kept saying something in Hindi, but as the only Hindi I knew was limited to Baba Sehgal singing “aaja mera gaadi mein betja” I couldn’t understand what he wanted me to do. I mean, I had expected the driver to stand outside the airport arrivals with a big board bearing my name – as seen in numerous movies. I hadn’t expected him to call me and give me directions (in Hindi) to go somewhere. So laden with luggage, I did the only possible thing which came to mind.
I looked around till I could find a south Indian looking army officer (it shows in our faces right?) and I explained my predicament to him. The army officer (he was keralite by the way) took the next call from the driver and gave him an earful in Hindi such that the driver was present in front of us within the next five minutes. We learnt that he had parked way down the road to avoid the parking fees at the airport parking and had hence been giving us directions to exit the airport and walk down the Siliguri road to where he was parked. We communicated to him in our broken hingilish that we didn’t mind paying the parking fee in future if it means avoiding the long walk uphill dragging heavy luggage. And with that sorted out we began our journey into the hills.
Now the first order of business was to get some hot food inside as we had travelled by a budget airline in economy class and they basically will give you nothing but water for the entire flight. So as we travelled on the road to Siliguri we broached the topic of a late lunch/early evening tiffin. Meanwhile our driver asked us the passport size photographs the travel agency had recommended us to carry for applying to get a permit to travel to the Tibetan border. As a couple of us were not carrying two passport size photos per head we decided to get it taken in Siliguri itself along with all the Xerox copies of the various documents required and so, we first made for a fast food joint were we ordered momos with hot sauce- authentic Tibetan style and meanwhile got our pictures taken.
I have never had much taste for momos, but given the cold weather and our empty stomachs since breakfast, those momos disappeared fast. And then we had that most magical of drinks- authentic Darjeeling tea for after all we were in Darjeeling weren’t we? And then we were on our way hoping to reach Gangtok in time as the travel time – optimistically from Siliguri to Gangtok up in the hills was five hours when there were no landslides or accidents. We had travelled a long way to get to the Himalayas and just couldn’t wait to see the famed hills.
And that’s how our trip up that long, narrow treacherous road into the hills began. But you just had to roll down the window and look outside to forget all the dangers and get mesmerized in the beauty of the landscape you were passing along. The mighty Brahmaputra roaring out of the gorges, the long beautiful tea plantation’s everywhere, tiny streams and thundering waterfalls everywhere. Not to mention the cold, the bone freezing chill as went ascended up into the hills, clad in singleton t-shorts appropriate for hot and muggy Kolkata from where we had come.