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West Bengal Backroads to Kalimpong
(Note: This posting continues our journey through Bhutan and Northeastern India in November 2008. Today’s story picks up at the Indian border town of Jaigaon, where we spent the night after crossing over from Bhutan yesterday.)
I slept sporadically last night. Even the earplugs couldn’t completely block out the sound of barking dogs echoing off the walls of the surrounding buildings.
We were glad to say goodbye to our hotel room.
I think that the layout of the room, combined with the light green walls and the large hallway vent over the door, gave the room a dinstinct “institutional” feel. There was an attached bathroom, but we didn’t linger in there. As Ben remarked, “I don’t think anyone has ever cleaned that bathroom--because if they had, it wouldn’t look like that!”
Our room overlooked some homes behind the hotel:
Looking down at those homes, I realized how grateful we should be for even having a bathroom, regardless of its state of cleanliness. Is the glass half full or half empty? We agreed that our glass was definitely on the full side.
Before breakfast, we stood on the front balcony of the hotel and watched the morning activities on the street below.
There were the usual cows walking nonchalantly down the street:
Pedi-cab drivers were hard at work, transporting passengers:
Across the way, two men were using shovels to unload gravel from a beautifully decorated dump truck:
I did a double-take when I first saw Dorji this morning—he was dressed in Western style clothes, instead of the traditional Bhutanese gho that he had worn in Bhutan. Dorji and Ann:
Next to our bikes were a few sheep grazing on some garbage:
After the clean streets of Bhutan, India was quite a contrast. Here, the sheep played a role in the city's garbage disposal system by consuming part of the trash that was dumped by the side of the road.
As we rode further away from Jaigaon, into the surrounding rural areas, I could feel my whole body exhale as the energy around us became much more relaxed. We had entered the Dooars (or Duars), which are the foothills and floodplains of the eastern Himalayan Mountains, next to Bhutan. Surrounding us were miles and miles of tea bushes. In fact, we would continue to be surrounded by one tea plantation after another for practically all of our remaining time in India.
We stopped for some tea in the small but bustling town of Binnaguri.
One person in our group was still suffering from a lung ailment that had started in Bhutan, in the Bumthang Valley, so Rob took him to see the doctor next door to the tea shop. Outside was a sign advertising “Lifeline Diagnostics, Saha Medical Hall”:
Bicycles seemed to be the most common mode of transportation in town:
Two men were loading chickens into a truck:
The road wrapped around a large tree in the center of town:
The men walking by looked back at us with a mild sense of curiosity:
I felt a huge sense of relief that there were no groups of men gathering around to stare at us with an aggressive, soul-sucking intensity, as had occurred in Jaigaon yesterday.
More photos of people in Binnaguri:
Continuing onward, we stopped at a junction near the town of Damdin to switch our gear to a different chase truck. Our Bhutanese truck, guide and assistant could only accompany us so far into India before they had to turn around.
The team quickly unloaded our luggage from the Bhutanese truck:
And piled it into the Indian one:
We bid farewell to our wonderful Bhutanese guide Dorji and the ever-helpful Tsring. Dorji’s openness and wealth of information had been a huge part of what had made this adventure so special. And I had appreciated Tsring’s genuine warmth and graciousness in assisting with whatever might be needed. Here I am in a farewell photo, with Dorji on my right and Tsring on my left:
I would miss them.
In the meantime, motorcycle gurus Gyan and Sono filled my bike with gas:
While our bikes were being taken care of, we watched in awe as a steady stream of women passed by with their giant bundles of sticks:
We took one final group photo before Dorji and Tsring departed:
From left to right, in the above photo: Tsring, Sono, Larry, Dale, Paul, Dave, Gyan, Ann, Fred, Dorji, Rob, me, Ben, Marian, and Glynn.)
Down the road, we passed a sign that said, “Welcome to Gorkhaland”. (Sorry, no photo.) We learned that this area is currently part of the State of West Bengal, which stretches far south to encompass the sprawling city of Calcutta. Not only is the terrain here different from that in Calcutta, but the people who live in this hilly region are ethnically and culturally distinct from the people who live in the southern region. The people here have been requesting (and at times demanding) their own separate state or administrative unit for over 100 years. The name of the proposed state is “Gorkhaland,” and we would see this term a lot during the next two days.
Our road meandered next to a small river:
A bridge in the distance:
Tea bushes covered the gentle slopes:
The road ahead:
Somehow Ben managed to get a flat tire, but Gyan—our tire changing king—made short work of fixing it:
We stopped for a picnic lunch at Garuda’s Rock, a massive rock with stairs. Here I am on top of the rock:
Local folklore tells the story of Garuda, a mythical bird that flew to the Tiger’s Nest dzong in Bhutan. There, Garuda found Rimpoche, who had established Tantric Bhuddhism in Bhutan in the 8th century and is believed to have been the 2nd incarnation of Buddha. Garuda also found a mythical female deity that Rimpoche had transformed into a flying tiger to carry him up to the Tiger’s Nest. Garuda then swallowed both Rimpoche and the tiger, flew to this spot in Gorkhaland, and laid an enormous rock egg. The story declares that when the egg hatches, this borderland will be free.
Above the rock were small mountain peaks covered in green:
Behind the rock was a flowing stream:
The large boulders in the streambed spoke of the powerful strength of the water during storms or high floods:
During our lunch, two local men hung out at the edge of the nearby bridge and kept an eye on us:
The next stretch of riding took us through many quaint villages that clung to mountainsides. We stopped in the small town of Lava for a break.
Here is Ben, resting on his bike:
Down the street was the Orchid Hotel and Restaurant, a fairly modern building that also served as the town bus stop:
Looking back, in the other direction (that’s me in the wings):
Across from us was a house with a ladder front staircase:
I wouldn’t want to lug heavy items up and down that ladder; although with practice, I imagine I would become quite adept.
A few of the homes were adorned with colorful flowers in pots along their balconies:
Metal rooftops flowed down the steep hillside:
This home seemed a bit precariously balanced:
The town reservoir:
After our rest, we continued our gentle ride to the city of Kalimpong, where we were immersed in a bit of crazy rush hour traffic through the downtown area, splitting lanes, and making our way up a small hill. My bike stalled while puttering through the stop-and-go madness. I remained calm, but my heart was adding its yammer to the horns tooting around me. I methodically went through the kick-starting process with my finicky Royal Enfield, and quickly merged back into the stream of vehicles. By now, I had grown used to the bike’s quirks, and had actually developed a genuine fondness for the lumbering beast
We parked our bikes in front of the Kalimpong Park Hotel:
The hotel was situated near the top of a hill, overlooking the city below:
The rooftop patio gave us a magnificent view of the Himalayas:
Here is the mountain Kangchenjunga, at sunset:
At 26,169 feet, Kangchenjunga is the third highest peak in the world, after Mt. Everest and K2.
The hotel appeared to have been originally built as someone’s mansion. Ben and I shared a grand space that we nicknamed “the Winchester Mystery Room”—it was humongous, with many doors, 2 bedroom areas, 2 bathrooms (both clean, and one with two separate sections), and a huge pass-through storage area leading to the second bathroom. We giggled like school kids as we opened doors and discovered “secret” areas.
The main bedroom:
After a quiet group dinner at the hotel tonight, Ben and I heard a knock on our bedroom door. Who could that be, so late? We opened the door and found several members of the hotel staff holding out a birthday cake with a candle. They had discovered while serving dinner that it was Ben’s birthday, and they had searched out a cake for him!
It was a happy birthday indeed!
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