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Darjeeling to Bagdogra, and Home!
The morning sun chased away the shadows on the face of Darjeeling:
One of the first things I did was to see if those magnificent snowy peaks were still suspended in the sky—yes, they were!
We were treated to that incredible view during our breakfast at the hotel. Our food server was male. As with about half of the male servers I had encountered so far in India, he gave preferential treatment to Ben’s requests while almost completely ignoring mine. By now in the trip, I was finding means to work around this disparity, generally consisting of having Ben make my requests for me. (Why engage in exercises of futility by repeating the requests myself or—heaven forbid--cause an ugly scene?) This morning, however, I arrived at the breakfast table about 15 minutes before Ben, and I asked the server for some coffee. Fifteen minutes later, no coffee. Then Ben sat down and asked for some coffee. In less than a minute, the server had placed a steaming hot cup of coffee in front of Ben. For me, still nothing. I just reached over and snagged Ben’s coffee, with a smile of course.
From our vantage point on the hill, we had a clear view of the clock tower, which had some type of bamboo and rope scaffolding over the clock face:
Below us, a man was washing his clothes on a rooftop, swishing the garments vigorously in a bucket of water, then wringing each item out and smoothing it flat to dry in the sun:
Some children were playing on a nearby school balcony, and then lined up to go inside:
Our time in this beautiful city was brief but unforgetable. We would be leaving this morning, riding down the mountains to the city of Bagdogra, which had an airport for our flight home tomorrow. Once again, the ride would be much too short—only 40 miles. But those 40 miles were excellent!
Before throwing our legs over the bikes, we took one last look at Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak:
Riding out of Darjeeling, we scooted between cars and around trucks and were soon winding along the mountain range. Our first stop was at an informal snack area on the side of the road, in the middle of a switchback:
The woman who was making tea asked us if we wanted the “local” style or the “tourist”:
As usual, we all chose the “local”—sweet milky tea that made me close my eyes and say “mmmmm” with the first sip. I am not even a tea drinker at home, let alone a sugary tea drinker. Perhaps the sense of place changes one’s taste buds. There had definitely been something special about the tea we had enjoyed at almost every rest stop since the start of this trip—deeeeelicious.
It took a second or two to realize that the snack area was right in the midst of an old cemetery, with many raised cement grave-tops:
Ann met a group of women carrying tea baskets:
These dusty pink flowers were growing in patches—the circular openings looked like mouths waiting to be fed:
The snack area gave us our final view of the distant Himalayas:
Here we are on our bikes—Paul, Marian and Glynn, Ann and Dave, Ben, Fred, and me:
Continuing onward, our road skirted the edge of the border between India and Nepal. We stopped at the Nepalese border, and I snapped this photo before seeing the “photography strictly prohibited” sign:
One of the men seemed quite taken with Ann—she is very tall and striking looking, with her thick reddish hair. He invited her to cross behind the security barrier and take some photos of the gateway to Nepal. We tagged along like shadows:
Welcome to Nepal:
On the India side, we had noticed that many of the vehicles in this area have license plates that start with “GL”:
The “GL” stands for Gorkhaland. Even though India has refused to allow this northeastern area to be an independent state (named Gorkhaland), the people have taken initiative and shown their independence by implementing many acts of self-governance, including the issuance of Gorkhaland license plates.
This batch of drying laundry was laid out on the grassy hill near the border gate:
Our next stop was the town of Marik, where a sign let us know that we were entering the “Land of Floral Beauty, Mandarin Orange, Aesthetic Ambience, Breath-taking sight of Water Body, and Cordial Hospitality”:
We never saw the “Water Body”, but the town itself was pretty, with clean streets and well-maintained buildings.
Jagjeet’s restaurant provided a nice lunch:
Afterwards, we sat on the steps across the street and watched these men playing a shell game next to us:
Ben and I took photos of each other:
The road from Darjeeling to Marik had woven down the mountain, with many tight switchbacks. We hadn’t seen any large buses. Instead, the public transportation seemed to consist of white 4x4 vehicles, which were often crammed full of people, with “overflow” riders clinging to the top or hanging onto the back. While we were in Marik, this vehicle stopped to allow more people to squeeze inside, with one man left to hold onto the ladder.
Back on the road, we stopped again across from this small hotel:
There were large “boom” noises in the distance. I climbed an elevated area with a stone platform at the top, and discovered Indian army units doing military exercises in a river bed on the other side. I didn’t dare whip out my camera for photos, but here is one that Ben took of me standing near the bottom of the stairs:
A woman walked by balancing a full basket on her head:
Our guest house in Bagdogra was very modern compared to the surrounding buildings. Here is Ben in our room:
We even had a ceiling fan—a total luxury!
We also had this sweet little guest on our ceiling:
From the second story of the hotel, we could see a view of the street:
More photos taken at street level:
Even though this one is blurry, I love the colors of the women’s saris:
Dinner was a quiet affair at the hotel restaurant. There comes a point in every journey where the focus switches to “going home”, and we had reached that point. I felt like my sensory receptors were full. Our plane didn’t leave until tomorrow morning, but I was ready to board the plane tonight.
The next morning, we said “goodbye” to Gyan and Sono—two men whose warmth and mechanical expertise added greatly to the joy of this trip.
First, there was Gyan, always ready with a smile, and who could probably build an entire motorcycle from scratch, blindfolded:
Then came Sono, who was not only was an ace mechanic, but he had some kind of energy force that was in tune with my bike—if I had problems kicking my bike to life, Sono would just come and stand quietly by the bike’s front tire, and the engine would roar to life on the next kick. Thank you, Sono, for your awesome magic!
Our guide, Rob, would be leaving with the bikes before our plane departed. From left to right: Rob, his driver, Gyan and Sono:
The back of our taxi expressed a sentiment that my heart echoed:
In the U.S., I would probably be a bit concerned if my taxi appeared to be on a head-on collision course with a bus, but in India . . . no worries!
This woman was beautiful, with her erect posture, strength and grace:
The airport was surrounded by tea fields:
The primary purpose of this journey had been to see and experience Bhutan, and our ride through that country had indeed been incredible. Even better than I had imagined. As an added bonus, we had enjoyed a small slice of India. And I had been completely unprepared for how India—with all its enchantment, contradictions, and intensity—would worm its way under my skin . . . deep into the secret place where dreams start. Even two years later, India is still calling to me, in a voice that gets louder with time. I know that I will answer. And I know that the experience will be worth the wait.
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