Saturday, 29 May 2010

ENJOY YOUR JOURNEY-DON'T COMMIT SUICIDE! Megalaya, Kalimpong and Sikkim

We were ready to travel to the region of Cherrapunjee, the wettest place on earth. It was the best bus trip, full to the brim of people, produce, furniture, and amazing scenery of steep valleys with massive waterfalls streaming down the huge cliffs, and on the other side, the plains of Bangladesh stretching on into the distance.


Cherra
Cherra

Cherra

Us, Cherra

  • OK, here's some facts about Cherrapunjee. On average it has 12,000 mm of rain per year. That's 12 METRES, all within a few monsoon months. In 1974, they had 24,000mm!! To us, having lived in a very wet area of Australia, Mallanganee, where the yearly average is about 1500mm, this is mind boggling!!

Cutie Cherra

The village we stayed in, Laitkynsew, is the base for gorgeous walks through  the "Scotland of the East", with green hills, complete with standing stones, rivers, guys smoking massive pipes, very friendly villagers (second after Tezpur!), stunning viewpoints, butterflies galore, and jungle walks to amazing root bridges, hundreds of years old, built by the ancestors of the local Kharsi people. There are A LOT of steps down to these bridges, but it was so worth it to see how they'd trained strangler figs over 25 years to span the rivers. The fresh mountain water on the way was so refreshing.


Root bridge
Root bridge


Root brodge

Root bridge


Walk, Cherra

The only bad thing about  Cherrapunjee is the lack of budget accomodation (ie.none!), but we were glad we splashed out 600 rupees for a covered tent (!), even after a massive night storm where everything we owned got soaked! We were lucky to see the force of the weather there, but also to have sunny, dry days for walking.


Our "luxury" tent


Next was a hellish journey back to Assam through huge floods in a jeep, then Richard slipping on wet steps and spraining his hand, followed by a trip back to West Bengal on the dirtiest, crappiest, muddiest, black with grime, leaking rain night train we've ever been on (and we have been on a lot of bad trains in India!!)
  • Interesting thing on the trains- transvestites get on and demand money from everyone quite aggressively. They don't actually do anything, so we never give them money (doesn't go down too well), but the Indians all do.

Anyway, we made it to Kalimpong, near the border of Sikkim, via a windy, mountain road with funny signs such as :
"sinking, sliding zone"
"shooting stones zone"
 "watch my curves"
" no race, no rally, enjoy the beauty of the valley",
" safety first, speed next",
"drink whisky, drive risky",
"enjoy your journey- don't commit suicide" !!
"such is the paradox- on our roads, left is right"


Kalimpong is sort of like a smaller, less touristy version of Darjeeling, and it was here we indulged in pork and bacon (the only place we have seen it in India, besides Christian Goa), and yummy local cheddar cheese. We spent hot days walking out to various points around town- the Buddhists gompas (monasteries) have the best views, and chilly evenings on the terrace drinking hot chai and chatting. Mangoes galore here at the moment, but too much scoffing lead to Sal's allergy flaring up in her lips- looked like she'd had a shot of collagen!!

Market day, Kalimpong
Market day, Kalimpong
Kalimpong gompa
Kalimpong gompa
Gompa doors
Gompa roof


Entering Sikkim really felt like we'd left India behind. the Nepali, Tibetan, Bhutia, Lepcha, Limboo and other communities, the Chinese/Tibetan food, the reserved people, the clean countryside and air were all a welcome change. We have absolutely loved Sikkim, especially the villages of Ravangla and Dentam, where we spent most of our time.


Dentam view
Dentam view

Highest suspension bridge in Asia
Sal on Dentam bridge
Heavy load, Dentam


It's hard to describe how majestic and awesome the mountains are here- the snow capped peaks of Kanchenjunga (third highest mountain in the world) and the rest of the Himalaya towering over the closer hills, with the light changing as the sun rises. We spent many mornings just sitting and watching in awe! Trekking is the thing to do here, but not being into organized/group things, we took ourselves off into the hills, visiting various villages, and gompas and gaping at the beauty. Share jeeps are the way to get around in these parts, and they are great- cheap, quick, clean, limited people allowed on and direct. The food in Sikim is pretty much limited to momos, soup and noodles, but they have a lot of local drinks, and being tax free, we have been loving the local beer and port, both at AU$1 per bottle.


Beautiful Ravangla
View of Ravangla
View of Ravangla
Lovely, but dead, wild cat
Ravangla cutie


We hadn't realized how many different communities live here, and it became apparent during one of our Sikkim highlights- a cultural festival in Rinchenpong. At least 25 different communities buildings, traditional dress, music, craft and dance were on display. We were VIPs here (simply because we are foreigners- they obviously didn't care that we were unshaven, sweaty and scruffy-looking!!)


Richenpong festival
Richenpong festival
Richenpong festival

Richenpong festival
Richenpong festival
Richenpong festival
Richenpong festival
Rinchenpong festival
Rinchenpong festival
Richenpong festival
Rinchenpong festival
Richenpong festival
Rinchenpong festival
Rinchenpong festival

A special puja (prayer) day at a small Tibetan gompa in Ravangla- the second highlight of Sikkim. Here we sat in with the monks and listened to their low-pitched chanting to pray for "problems in Tibet". We were lucky to experience these two special days.

Prayer wheels, Ravangla Tibeten monastery

Ravangla monastery
Ravangla monastery
Prayer stones, Ravangla

View from gompa
Monk at gompa

We've noticed a few changes in India in the 5/five or six years since we were last here. Food prices have definitely gone up and accommodation has a little bit. Our cheapest room so far was 250 rupees (AU$6), and the most 600 rupees (AU$15)- our tent! Transport doesn't seem to have gone up at all -a 12 hour train ride costs only about A$5. More things come in plastic now (apart from Sikkim where plastic bags are banned), with the biggest loss being the little clay cups chai used to come in now being replaced with plastic cup. A lot of restaurants now have disgusting chai dispensers instead of fresh cups. It may be the north-east region, but the electric supply seems worse than ever, with power cuts several times a day. There is no smoking in any public place now (enforced, amazingly), and the trains have cleaned up their act (in general), with more security, less beggars, and less people moving between 3rd/2nd and 1st class. But overall, India remains basically the same as when we first visited 13 years ago! The biggest difference for us is how we are travelling now.  Having endless time time means we can take all the time we need and have plenty of "rest" days just to catch up on internet, reading, chatting, or when we've been sick (a lot!)

Just have to include these few more funny sings-
"suspect spot? could be leprosy"
"please satisfy yourself before leaving the counter"
"gold medalist gynaecologist"
"do you have a hunk in you?" (ad for men's undies)
"meet ancestral experienced sex doctor"
"commit no nuisance here" outside many businesses