Sunday, February 10, 2008

And a few more thoughts on Darjeeling and the wedding before I continue the story of my travels. By the way, don't expect much here tonight. I have a headache and a fever but I want to write all of this down before I forget it. My mental limit doesn't exceed three days.

I spent my last morning in Darjeeling wandering around the town. Very friendly people and no aggressive shop owners or touts. That's such a relief. I hate these touristy areas (like the one I'm currently at in Calcutta) with assholes who won't leave you alone or try to rip you off. It only happens in touristy areas but it bugs me because I know how excellent life is outside these areas. Darjeeling had only smiling faces and helpful people. I even followed a cute puppy up to the top of a building and ended up having chai with a funny father and son and his wife's rather strange collection of dolls.

This town runs on coolies. With roads so steep and narrow that trucks have a hard time, these men with ropes resting on their forehead carry almost everything. Imagine life in New York where barefoot coolies hauled everything that currently gets delivered to the shops in trucks. I even saw one man carrying three propane tanks (aka bombs) in a harness. Pretty impressive.

I returned to the hotel and we went to another aunt's house for lunch before we left. We ate a wonderful lunch with a beautiful view of the mountains and then played badminton with the kids until we left. We rented a taxi for the four hour ride to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, one of the most northern states in the country. On the drive, Subba told us that it's already begun for him. The day after her older brother's wedding, various female relatives have already started telling him about eligible girls that they know. He's got a long hard fight ahead of him to stay single. Stay strong brother.

We woke up early the next morning for a day of sightseeing. We had a solid breakfast (often a hard thing to find) at a great little hotel across the street. I started playing with this giant of a boy, Wong. At only four years old, he looked like a mini Sumo wrestler and fought like one too. We had a number of mock fights and then I would tie him up with his own piece of string, driving him crazy. Next we played a game on the stairs called "throw the hard plastic container at the other guy"(trademark pending). He'd stand up, wind up like a high speed wind mill and rocket the container back at me. Whether or not he hit me, he would rock back and forth roaring with laughter and patting his tummy like a miniature chinese santa claus. Then I'd usually hit him in the face and get him really pissed. But he'd throw again and rock back and forth howling. I could have stayed there all day but we eventually broke the plastic.

We spent the day at the zoo (new fact: red pandas are adorable), took a cable car ride that gave us a great view of the valley (millions to build, pennies to ride, good luck recouping that investment) and had dinner at Little Italy (motto: come for the music get disgusted by our lack of decent food or beer (though it's hard to blame them for the beer because full moons are dry days in this state (what?))). Little Italy actually turned into quite a nice time. I found myself moved at the whole bar singing Pearl Jam's Last Kiss.

Then we met a russophile prince from West Bengal who invited us upstairs to continue the party. So we hung out with him, a giant russian man and a local friend. All three of them went to the north pole together a few years back. We had a fun time and the prince invited us to his place whenever we wanted. Unfortunately, we stayed too late and our cab had already left. Luckily, Tessa managed to flag down some cops who drove us right to our door. She paid them back by coyly touching their arms on the drive home.

We spent the next morning talking to Jenny, a pretty Swiss girl who has been studying the tribal people of North Sikkim. She told us about some of the problems the local people face. Where she works, a number of large dams will be constructed in the next year. Not many people homes will be displaced but it will change the course of the rivers and leave all of the farmers downstream in a bad position. They farm in paddies, terraces of level land that allow the river water to flow down to water the crops, and a changed river will render their land useless. We witnessed a hunger strike being staged by locals to try and stop the dams.

One of my favorite things about this area also causes problems when they move to the cities, especially Dehli. The men and women here interact easily with each other. There's a lot of joking, hugging and friendships. In Dehli, girls do not behave that way with boys. It makes the city boys think that the girls must be very interested in them and they get manhandled. It doesn't help that most prostitutes in the city look Nepali as well. This explains why so many Sikim boys get into so many fights in Dehli. They're just protecting their friends from aggressive guys who read the situation wrong. It got so bad that "chinky eyed" people are banned from clubs except on "chinky nights". Quite sad.

OK. I had a very crappy night last night with a fever and weird dreams and hallucinations. It means I'm quite behind in my writing. Our trip to Calcutta and subsequent adventures (like my birthday) have been quite fun and I look forward to sharing them but for now, I'm going to self medicate with ibuprofen, beer and new books.

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