Day 28, Darjeeling to Sikkim
This is the part of the trip where Suzanne and I separate for a couple days. I really wanted to go to Sikkim and Suzanne wasn’t interested in any more terrible roads (safari roads are the worst), with breathtaking drop offs. The featured photo is of Darjeeling with Kanchenjunga in the background on the way out of town towards Sikkim. The little hillock of trees on the left hand side of the photo is where Suzanne is staying at the Windermere Hotel.
I pulled an entirely lame maneuver in Delhi while we were rushing to fill a new bag with purchases and items out of our checked bags, so we could make the domestic weight limit of 33 pounds. In the rush, I transferred my special Sikkim entry permit and photos to the bag that was to be left in Delhi and picked up before our international flights. After not being able to find the document and photos in Darjeeling, I came as close to losing it as I have the entire trip. Sunil seemed pretty confident that it was no problem, took my photo with his cell phone, had it printed in a little town on the way to Sikkim and somehow obtained a permit, all in about 20 minutes. Guess going to Sikkim isn’t the big deal it use to be…..thank goodness.
The ladies weeding the tea garden above haven’t been paid for 6 months according to a woman selling snacks from a little roadside shed. She also worked in the tea garden, but it hasn’t been doing well. To get by and make some money, she started her little snack business. The women will get paid as soon as the tea is picked and sold. It was just beginning to leaf out with the new growth, that is picked for market. I got a few snacks with Sunil’s help, explaining that I was too upset about my permit to eat breakfast.
We stopped at an overlook on the road out of Darjeeling, to view the Teesta river that divides Darjeeling, West Bengal (on the right) and Sikkim (on the left). Sunil surprised me with a teak leaf bowl of steamed dumplings with chopped, seasoned vegetables inside and another bowl with slices of cucumber for breakfast. Very, very yummy! I’m going to have to learn how to make them.
The trip was uneventful, roads greatly improved over the past several years and the views spectacular. We drove through Teak and Pine forests with ferns and a bit of tropical looking vegetation. There were spots where the hairpin turns were continuous and one area where we were going around in a tight corkscrew for a number of rotations.
Loved this little narrow bridge. A tour bus was stuck unable to cross because of weight. They were frantically trying to figure out someway to get their passengers across and in taxis to complete the trip to Sikkim.
We stopped at the border, Sunil took my passport, photos and India Visa into an office and he walked out with my Sikkim permit. It didn’t cost anything, so I paid Sunil back 100 rupees for the photos ($1.47) and we were on our way to the capital city of Gangtok. Sikkim was an independent country until 1975 when a referendum and the Indian military deposed the Sikkimese monarchy. The country was joined to India as it’s 22 state. Sikkim is valuable to India as it borders China, Bhutan, Nepal and West Bengal. India was mostly interested in obtaining Sikkim to keep the Chinese from invading the country after China’s invasion of Tibet. Today the state has an certain amount of autonomy from India, with a lot less bureaucracy. There is heavy military presence, because of the sensitive border relations with China. The hotel I’m staying in was a guest house for the last, 12th Chogyal (king) of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal and his American wife Hope Cooke. They were divorced in 1980 and the Chogyal died in 1982 in New York City.
March 13th is the Hindu Holi festival or ‘festival of colors’, sometimes known as the ‘festival of love’. This is a huge festival that is celebrated throughout the country. It’s the festival of new beginnings, the victory of good over evil, of the arrival of spring, of the end of winter and thanksgiving for a good harvest. It is a time to make amends, forgive and forget, and to repair relations. The festival lasts two days, and people were celebrating by covering themselves and each other with powdered colors of magenta, yellow, green and blue, as we drove through small villages. The celebration went well into the night with everyone having a good time.