Crossing Into India
In my experience, the speed of time is always relative. It moves slower when we concentrate right at it. When we are counting days and do nothing while waiting for some important event in our lives, it moves slower. But when we ignore it completely and concentrate on something else, it moves much faster, and in most cases, we don’t actually realized how fast it moves. That is the case with me while travelling in Bhutan. I felt that it was only a few days that has passed since I was in Bhutan, while it was actually almost a month since I touched down in this country. After Bhutan, my plan was to cross into Sikkim Pradesh in India by land. I supposed to cycle and cross into India via Phuentsholing, the border between Bhutan and Sikkim. The Bhutanese side allowed me to do that, but the problem will arise once I face the Indian border officers. It is quite complicated since I’m a foreigner where I need a permit to be in Sikkim region of India. So I had no other choice but to do the long way round, I flew from Paro all the way to Kalkota airport to enter India. Once I touched down, I rushed into their domestic airport to catch another flight to Bagdogra, the nearest airport to Sikkim, which is not so far from Bhutan. In this case, time moves really fast, imagine within only an hour, I had to catch another flight, carrying all my luggage and a bicycle, passes through the endless hassle of security check and long queues in one of the busiest airport in India.
Once I reached Bagdogra airport, time moves a little slower, it was less crowded. After I got all my luggage and the bicycle, I took a taxi to send me to Darjeeling. India is the second most populated country in the world, with over 1 billion people. I would never travel with my bicycle in a crowded place. I still remember the nightmare leaving Urumqi, the busy city of Xinjiang, China with my bicycle. Riding side by side with buses and lorries on a super busy road is no fun. Im the type of person who prefer something quiet, dark and mysterious. I can survive weeks talking to no one, alone in the mountains or deserts, but I wouldn’t survive a big city. So I decided not to cycle from Kalkota or even Siliguri and I took a taxi to get me to Darjeeling while my bicycle is still packed inside the box. The road was super busy and polluted in Siliguri. Its packed not only with cars and pedestrians, but also dogs. Less than 10 minutes we drove out of the airport, the taxi driver already hit a dog crossing the road. The journey took about 5 hours to reach Darjeeling. After half an hour we rode out of Siliguri, the road became calm but the climb started. The taxi driver speaks some English so we chat a little. He showed me his new shiny phone and proudly told me that he just got this phone. Its a big screen smartphone. “This is a very biggest phone and its very good! It is made in India!” he said proudly. I was surprised and asked him what is the name of the brand. “Its Samsung”, he said confidently. I gave him my smile. The climb was very long and steep. The road is very small but still packed with tourist jeeps. Lucky I didn’t choose to ride to Darjeeling right from the airport.
Once we reached Darjeeling, it was already dark. The driver sent me right at the taxi stand and left me there with all my luggage. I couldn’t carry everything by myself and it was too dark to assemble my bicycle in the middle of the busy taxi stand. So another local driver came and asked me to pay some rupees and he will help me to find a hotel. It seems that now is the busy season, there are so many domestic tourists coming to Sikkim from all over India and all the hotels are full. The first challenge came to me right at my first day in India, to find a place to sleep. After asking a few hotels, there was one family run guesthouse located about 3km out of Darjeeling which has just one more room left for only a night. I had no other choice but to take it. It was owned by a Ghurka family, very nice and hospitable, they gave me free food for the night as they sensed that I was tired and hungry. The next day they asked me to join them for tea, again giving me free food for breakfast. Since all the rooms were fully booked, they asked me to change, where they have a store room available for me to sleep for the next few nights while I was trying to find other available room in some other hotels. I agreed and moved all my stuffs in the store room. It wasnt that bad actually, even though its not a proper room but it was very quiet since it was facing the hills. I then walked to the centre of Darjeeling and found some hotels, but I decided not to move to those hotels in the middle of the city since it was way too crowded and noisy. I then told the Ghurka family that I wouldn’t mind to stay a few nights in the store room, plus the charged me so cheap for that. They also treated me so well, always invited me for tea and always eager to listen to my travel stories… and gave me free food while staying there.
I came to India totally unprepared and I expected nothing but the unexpected. So I stayed a few days in Darjeeling, doing nothing but taking a rest, walked around the town, reading books and doing some research about travelling in Sikkim. It seems that its really the wrong time to travel in Sikkim now. It is some school holiday in India until the end of June, most hotels are fully booked and the monsoon season is right around the corner. Most of the time I couldn’t even see Darjeeling even though I’m in the town. The clouds are hiding the town from my eyes most of the time. Sometimes the visibility is as bad as less than 50 meters. But once the clouds gave way for Darjeeling to show herself, its beautiful. I see tea plantation almost everywhere on the hills surrounding the town. I see a very nice colour tone between the green hills and the blue sky surround the town. But Darjeeling itself is a really busy town. There are so many tourists and the traffic is really bad. But I still managed to smile, being in a very high populated country, I’m really experiencing India now and trying to get used to it, its just a matter of time…