Gangtok to Bangkok!
Trip Start Oct 27, 2004
35Trip End Aug 17, 2005
After 5 hours of bumpy jeep-riding through the hills, hurtling at unimaginable speeds around blind bends, staring our mortality in the face as we peer over 2000 foot cliffs, we are woken from our semi-slumber by a fellow passenger: "Bye Bye mountain!" sings the jolly, probably drunk, Nepali man to my left. "Mmmh, what?" we look around and are faced with the immeasurably flat expanses of the Indian plains. Smells, heat, memories and mosqitoes come flooding into the jeep and everyone wrestles with each other for a moment as 12 people all rush to take of their coats, gloves, hats and jumpers
Siliguri greets us with a thousand Rickshaw-wallahs clinging to the jeep "taxi", "Hotel", "Where are you going?".
Do we love this country; or do we hate it?
We take the inevitable rickshaw ride to the train station, the colours and smells of the streets seep into my head and fill me with both longing and dread. What if Thailand is boring? What if the people wear black and don't smell of incense and sweat? What will we do if our senses aren't overwhelmed like this again? What if they don't drink tea there?
We make it to the train, the clock in the station reads 8:30, it is 8 O'clock. We are directed to platform 1, the train is on platform 3.
On the train we both enjoy a hot cup of chai, the milkiest most sugary tea imaginable. Our fellow passengers eye us with facination and suspicion and we eye them with wonder as they rubbish our meagre provisions of eggs and biscuits by producing trays of chapattis, dahl, rice and curries from their bags
From the gangway emerges a brightly dressed transvestite. These guys dress up as women to shock the majority of conservative Hindus and Muslims into handing over money, just so that they will go away. Quickly the whole carriage flips out their wallets and pulls out their change. The guy flicks Lauren and I a quick knowing glance, I think he knows that this kind of stuff doesn't really shock us, so he's happy enough just fleecing the Indians. Makes a pleasant change when somebody DOESN'T just rip of the whiteys! Yeah, we love India.
The next voyager to emerge into our midst is a policeman carrying a 3 foot long "Lee Enfield" 303 rifle. Perfect for close quarter combat! We are at an unlit train station in the middle of nowhere...
"Please step off the train sir"
I look at him, he's young and I think he means to take some of my budget for today.
"What do you want?"
"My duty, must ask questions"
"What questions and why outside?" I'm actually s$/@+ing myself, but the dark train station scares me even more, so I'm not moving
The cop makes some muttering about drinking alcohol on the train, which we both know is rubbish. The other passengers are all staring at their feet, corruption and bribery is rife in this country and none of them want to be sucked-in. After 3 minutes he just wanders off, possibly looking for another way to make a quick buck. Can't blame him really. I think I hate India.
We have a relatively good night's sleep on the train and awake in Calcutta, our Indian nemesis...
A quick bleary stumble off the train tells us its hot and smelly, the usual greeting to any big Indian city. We only have a day but there is bound to be some way in which we can be impressed by Calcutta. Enter Obi and Lambi, AKA "Mr. Johnson"...
We met these two up in the hills in our hotel in Gangtok, Obi is the architype of an old Indian hippy. Short guy with a long beard and a knowing look on his face. Lambi has more of the trendy southern "Bangalorean" look about him, both have a way with words that could floor you with laughter. I believe Obi used to write for the "High times", which in itself says something of their humour and manner
An offer of a house with a shower, followed by beer and live music is all we needed at that moment. This is exactly what we got. Nothing on this earth can beat eating fish fry with Calcuttan mustard and chasing it down with cheap Indian Rum at 10 in the morning. Makes you feel alive!
The rest of the day passed in a blur, before we knew it we were landing in Bangkok and the sun was rising for the second time in our day. What happened after that is a different story for a different day...