KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
After staying in Patna for a couple of days we loaded our luggage and headed for the train station around 10:00 pm. The traffic was horrendous in front of the apartment and all we could locate to take us to the station was one autorickshaw. He was quite willing to take all four of us plus seven pieces of luggage. Anil was convinced that we would never fit, but somehow, we did. I sat in the middle of the seat with my feet up over our suitcase and sticking out the side. Anil sat on one side of me and Neena on the other. The two small suitcases and our packs were stowed in the small space behind us and Arun sat up front with the driver clutching his bulging gym bag. It was a great photo opportunity but we were crammed in so no one could get out to take a picture.
We arrived at the train station in no time and had a short wait for the train. It was running a little late, not a good sign, but we were able to find our berths easily as they were at the end of the car, next to the door. Our bedding was already there so we made up our berths for the night and settled in to sleep. Anil and I drew the top berths, something we are quite used to, but the air conditioning was turned up so high we froze for most of the night. Anil tried turning off the fan on the ceiling, but couldn't find the switch. We even turned our heads so that they were pointing towards the aisle and not the window, but there was no getting away from the cold blast from the AC vents. Unfortunately, when you are that cold, more frequent trips to the toilet are necessary, so we were both up and down all night. It was only in the morning that Arun learned that he wasn't the only one who was cold through the night - he showed us where the fan switch was located - no wonder Anil couldn't find it - it was across the aisle behind the curtain between the side berths.
In the morning we took advantage of the many peddlers who came around selling hot tea, coffee and snacks. I took a couple of photos of two of the young boys because their foods were so interesting and tasty. The first young man was selling "bhel puri" which is a mixture of puffed rice and chopped vegetables to which various chutneys and spices are added before the whole concoction is tossed together and served in a small bowl made of dried leaves (bio-degradable). The other youth was selling sprouted chick peas (channa actually, like a smaller version of chick peas). The sprouts are doctored with fresh lime, chopped coriander leaves, minced onion and spices to suit the taste of the customer. This was served on a folded piece of newspaper with another smaller paper folded to use as a spoon.
All of this activity served to pass the time and take the sting out of the fact that our train was running three hours late. We pulled out the Scrabble game and played a game with Arun, the guru of Scrabble. I continued to suffer from "inflammation of the vowels" and lost horribly. I don't know what is happening to me but for the past ten games at least, all I seem to draw is vowels and for anyone who knows the game, it's impossible to play a great game without at least some great consonants. I'm getting discouraged so will put the game to rest for a while and see if my luck changes.
At last we arrived in New Jalpaiguri and we negotiated with the taxi for a ride to Kalimpong. We had originally intended to head straight to the capital of Sikkim, Gangtok, but the late train meant that we would be negotiating the winding mountain roads after dark if we followed that plan so we decided to make the small side trip to Kalimpong and spend the night there first. It's a place Anil and I have both heard of and wanted to see but originally felt that there wasn't time on our itinerary with Arun and Neena. It seems the train was late for a good reason after all.
The drive up was amazing. We followed along the Teesta River and saw the large dam that is under construction on the river. It's quite a sight. We passed through Teesta Bazaar, a town that is featured in the recent Booker Prize novel Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai. We turned off the main highway to Sikkim and drove northeast to the small town of Kalimpong. The road is incredibly steep, we spent much of the way in second gear and at one point the road passed through a small tunnel in order to make a tight complete 360-degree turn. I've been on a lot of roads in my travels, but I don't think I've ever experienced that before.
We studied the Lonely Planet and decided to see if there were rooms available at the Cloud 9 Hotel. It turned out to be a great decision, because not only were there two rooms free out of their five rooms, but the manager asked for less than the suggested price listed in the Planet. It was such a delightful place that we decided to spend two nights there instead of one - you will be able to see from the photos why we enjoyed our stay there so much.
After a great night's sleep in the fresh mountain air, we hired a taxi to take us around the small town and see the Buddhist monasteries high along the steep roads. We visited the Tharpa Choling Gompa which was built in 1926 and then the lovely Thongsa Gompa with its 219 prayer wheels wrapped around the four sides of the building. These were terrific introductions to the Tibetan architecture and decorative murals painted on the exteriors. The garden of the Tharpa Choling Gompa was ablaze with flowers, particularly pink and purple blossoms and I was over the moon to see huge banks of colourful sweetpeas along three sides of the terrace.
After lunch we headed down to the Hat Bazaar - a huge outdoor market that comes alive on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I couldn't resist taking photos of things that were new to me, things I haven't seen in other markets like the one in Mysore in Southern India. Neena was busy buying fresh spices and Arun couldn't resist a new tool from the hardware peddler next door. Each market seems to have a flavour all its own, and this one was different yet again. It made for a great afternoon of browsing.
Editor's Note: Not being much of a shopper I settled for a few juicy oranges!!!