I am here in North Bengal. It's at the borders of Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. It's really nice here. The plane flight was good, and when I arrived Dr. Das' graduate students picked me up at the airport. That was nice! They are all very, very nice. Dr. Das is super friendly and really kind. He sat down with me yesterday and we set out a tentative itinerary for India. He asked a former student to try and locate P. geminiflora for us in Darjeeling, and we are going on Sunday and Monday. Then Tuesday back, then 10-11 to Sikkim to use the herbarium there. Back for the 12th, which is the big festival of lights here, so there will be lots to see. His student, Chandra, is going to take me around. She is really nice and will accompany me in the field as well. Then, perhaps on the 16th, I will fly to Chennai in the south (Madras). From there we go to Nilgiri Hills and look for Passiflora leschenaultii. Then back north by train (36 hours). Then we go to Assam, to Shillong, which is in the Khasia Hills region. This is where I hope to find P. perpera.
All of this is contingent on getting permission from the right people, by Dr. Das has lots of contacts and he is fairly optimistic. The first step will be getting lucky with P. geminiflora in the north. The prices for everything here are so cheap its unbelievable. I am paying about 1 USD per night at the guest house, though frankly it's not worth much more than that. There is no electricity now, and no water either. They lost power several times in the two days I have been here, and the water is apparently connected to the electricty, so no toilet or showers for me. I can handle it for a while, but it may get old pretty soon. The guest house provides dinner and breakfast, and with all the walking I am doing I will surely lose some of the weight I gained from eating garbage in PNG. The schdules here are very different, though. Breakfast at 7, then I sit in the hotel for three hours until 10-11, when most people eat lunch. Then when they finish they go to work, and then a light lunch again at 1-2 pm. Then tiffen again at 5-6 and then dinner at 9-10 pm! Thats way too much food for me, and I can't deal with eating at 10 pm. That's when I am already sleeping! So they are giving me dinner at 7, which is really nice. The food is way spicy, but it's ok. Also, they filter all the tap water, so I have been drinking it successfully. I am also trying not to obsess about the mosquitos, since there are more than I have ever seen (except the time I took the field trip for Local Flora to Cedar Bog and we were swarmed). They are really agressive but I have a good mosquito net in the room. The tea is great here, too. I normally dont like sugar in the tea, but they put just a little in, so it's just right. They add milk and its really good, very different from any I have had before. I asked the guest house people how to do it and they are going to give me a lesson tomorrow morning at 6:30. I can't wait! People are really nice here, once you get to know them. Otherwise I get the same odd stares that I did in China. So it's not too different that way. I haven't been sleeping very well, but it's been hot without the fan working. The weather here is nice, not too hot, and cool at night but keeping windows open is not an option! I learned that the first night, since the next morning at 6 a swarm of mosquitos filed into my room. Never again. There is a lot of poverty here, too, which is disturbing. Children collect money called aims giving, where the public gives money since there is no welfare. I have seen the so-called untouchables, too, and it's really sad entire families are living on street corners, about 1 meter square, and they sleep upside down and are covered in dirt. I dont fully understand it, but I am sure I can have time to ask more questions. Chandra offered that maybe I can go with the other students one day to Nepal if we have time! It's only 45 minutes drive. I would love to get some gifts there! It seems a waste not to go since we are so close.
Well, that's about it for now. I hope I can continue the lucky streak and get the passifloras I need. Dr. Das doesnt' seem worried about the permits and I am going to try and go to Calcutta herbarium, the largest in the country, when I return through Calcutta on my way home. I should be home early, but I am not sure by how much. Probably 1 week. So far no penalties for changing tickets, but I think United and Delta flights will have some fees.
Thanks for the emails, I really appreciate it!