Sunday, October 28, 2007

Road to Nepal

My trip to Sikkim is absurdly short but then again I'm only visiting these few sights in India as an aside to the real purpose of the trip, to walk across Nepal. Or at least to try! Friday I was able to complete the visa application for Sikkim which required two passport stamps, making it almost a separate country. The trip to Phodong in northern Sikkim started like all of my days at 6am in order to make a 7am shared jeep which was to take me across the hills and valleys from Darjeeling to the former Kingdom of Sikkim. This ride is the reason they make Jeeps. The road is one long extreme grade both up and down with nearly impossible corkscrew loops designed to compensate for areas in which switchbacks would be impossible. It consists of hundreds of blind turns and the entire ride along the unguarded edge of a two thousand foot drop straight down. These drivers navigate by blind faith, literally, and excessive use of one's horn. It makes all the already lawless and organic driving in the rest of India seam tame by comparison. I mean what are close calls all day long if the consequence of a single mistake isn't sure death?

I only spent one day in Phodong but it was filled with many interesting conversations. My hotel proprietor and his neighbor, a police officer shred the opinion that the central government of Sikkim is not at all interested in the welfare of the people or infrastructure of the state. Judging by the condition of the roads they are right. The roads are worse than those in DC in the early 90's. Manny of the roads in the capital are still dirt.

Today I took a few hours to walk to the second oldest monastery in Sikkim but it's Sunday and just about everything is closed. It also appears to be the day to get drunk and talk to me at length about hair brained tourism ideas and political topics that everyone everywhere has already talked into the ground.

I still can't get over the prolific cellphone use! It's no different than being back home. In fact people keep asking me for my mobile number. Definitely not the India I left seen years ago.

Tomorrow at 7am I have a date with my least favorite place in India, a bus station. Bus stations seem to attract liers, cheats and thieves like no place else in India. Yesterday I had someone quote me 1200 rupees for a two hour ride at the jeep park here in Gangtok. The real price for the trip which I was able to get by walking 20 minutes up the road, 50 rupees. I'm heading to north east Nepal, directly west of where I am now but in order to get there I have to travel 100 kilometers south and another 100 back north in Nepal because there is no immigration office in the hills. In all it will involve four of more connecting buses and approximately 20 hours of transit.

Unfortunately I don't have my itinerary for Nepal with me but it will be about a month before I get to post another entry so hold tight and read John Pilkington's book if you haven't already.

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