Friday, 19 January 2018

#36 A lake, a yak and a whole lot of tea

I suspect the last blog of any trip is perhaps the hardest one to write. This one certainly has been.
Not only is there jet lag and post holiday blues to deal with, but reliving the memories so soon after getting thrown back into reality turns out to be quite difficult.

So, instead of moaning, I’m forcing myself to get on with it and write about what happened during the last month of what was the most interesting and challenging year of my life so far.

Our happy little threesome - the three hungry meditators  - became the two hungry meditators when SNAG left us to continue his travels sometime in early December. A couple of days after TBMF and I coughed up some cash and decided to hire a jeep to go to Changu Lake.

Changu Lake is a mountain lake very close to the China/Tibet border north of Gangtok. TBMF had heard that all we needed to do was actually get a permit and then we could simply hire a taxi and avoid having to go through a tourism agency. Sadly this was not the case and it was impossible to get the permit as individual tourists. So we had to hire a jeep, a guide and a driver all just to see this lake.
Luckily we asked around and found a place that would take us for a reasonable price. So off we went. We hadn’t been doing many touristy sight-seeing things since staying in Gangtok so it was nice to get out of the town for a bit.

The landscape was stunning and the road was very narrow and windy as we climbed high into the mountains at the very edge of India. It still didn’t really feel like India. It wasn’t busy, or colourful or chaotic. It was much more serene like Nepal, and cold, very cold.

When we reached the lake there was a very woolly, slightly depressed looking Yak standing next to the road which could give tourists rides. We opted to just take a photo and then wandered around the lake with our guide David (who told us very early on he was a ‘believer’). The lake was much smaller then we had imagined but the light and the colours were beautiful and there was snow on the hill side.

TBMF was itching to go for a proper adventure (one of the reasons I like her so much) and she headed off the beaten track up the biggest hill she could find as David and I followed slowly along behind.

 “I feel like you’re the guide and I’m the tourist!” David said as he scrambled higher and higher up this snowy hill. “I’ve never been here before!”

Walking got more difficult due to the altitude but we pressed on. Once we reached the top of the mountain we got a spectacular view of Mt Kanchenjunga which made it all worth it. There was a ropeway/cable car that took people up and down the hill and we snuck on it for a ride down which we weren’t charged for because no one suspected anyone would be mad enough to actually climb the hill on foot. We were very pleased with ourselves.

After lunch we were all very tired and we hopped back in the jeep for a quiet drive home.
TBMF had booked a helicopter ride that would take her from Gangtok to Bagdogra Airport near Siliguri for the next day but she was only allowed 10kg luggage. Luckily my bag was only about this weight and I didn’t want to go on the helicopter. I had already flown over the Himalayas twice during this year and couldn’t justify another expensive flight.

I suggested I take her 19kg bag with me in a jeep whilst she could take my 10kg one on the helicopter. This worked fine and we met each other in Darjeeling the next afternoon after her lifetime dream of flying in a helicopter had been accomplished.

We had found ourselves a nice little hostel to stay in but were taken by surprised by how cold it was in Darjeeling. Darjeeling is even higher up than Gangtok and the hostel had no heating. We piled on all our clothes, thermals, jackets, gloves, woolly socks and shawls before hopping into bed and laughing about how ridiculous we felt.

The next day we ventured out to explore our new environment and did what TBMF and I do best. We found a tea and cake shop and sat there using the wifi for a good while. Our time in Darjeeling passed quickly compared to when we were in Gangtok and we didn’t really do anything that touristy. We intended on going on the toy train however the price had gone up a ridiculous amount so we walked everywhere instead. We also had planned to go to a tea garden but that also was quite expensive and to be honest I was suffering from sight-seeing fatigue again. There just wasn’t anything I wanted to see that really excited me. I was quite content to just sit around drinking tea, talking and occasionally marvelling at how incredibly beautiful Mt Kanchenjunga looked at this distance. The closer we got to it, the more beautiful it was.

One afternoon TBMF convinced me to walk with her around this pretty little road she had found. As we were turning a slight bend we heard a rustle in the bushes above us and all of a sudden an enormous bolder crashed down in front of the people walking just in front of us. A few women screamed and ran for cover whilst the rest of us just stood in shock at how close we had come to both, almost being crushed, and to seeing someone else almost get crushed. The bolder made a large crack in the concrete and was stopped by the flimsy metal railing on the side of the path. There was a small altar nearby and a very grateful man made an offering to the gods as a thank you for not letting anyone be harmed that day.

TBMF and I hurriedly walked past before any more rocks could fall. ‘Annicca, annicca.’ ‘Impermanence, impermanence’ is what Goenka, the Vipassana teacher, would have said. The rock was a very clear reminder of the impermanence of life. It was as if the universe was just making sure we really understood the teachings of Vipassana.

Eventually it was time to leave Darjeeling and head down to New Jalpaiguri or NJP to catch a 25 hour train to Delhi to meet my New Zealand Friend who was flying in on the 11th. Unfortunately TBMF and I hadn’t been able to get a train on the 10th so I would be a little late meeting NZF. 

Of course our train was delayed any way because...well...India. First only by a few hours, and then a few more hours, and it got increasingly later the longer we were on it. It was like a form of torture. Every time we would check our arrival time it was about 30 minutes later than it had been. India was really testing our patience this time.

Usually it would have been fine, but because this time I was actually meeting somebody, and that person had limited time in India, and I was becoming increasingly aware that my time was limited as well, I was getting rather impatient.

Finally we made it to Delhi about 11 hours later than we were first meant to arrive. We found an auto which drove us on the wrong side of the road down some very busy streets towards our two separate hostels. We said our farewells standing on the side of a dirty street somewhere in New Delhi at about 11.30pm and that was the sad ending to what had been a wonderful time travelling with TBMF - who I'm very glad turned out not to be so temporary after all.

Changu Lake, Sikkim

Mandala in Darjeeling

The magnificent Mt Kanchenjunga

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