Welcome to the Himalayas!

March 30th, 2013

Country/Day:        India/53

Bikes Fixed:                  65

Bikes/Day Avg:               1.23

If you’ve seen Monsters, Inc. you know exactly how the title of this post is supposed to sound.

Let’s do some visualization too.

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– – –

So last Saturday (a week ago today) I left for Darjeeling, India to go trekking in the Himalayas  Those of you who read regularly will remember I have catching up to do elsewhere. I want to update this trip while it’s fresh in my mind, then I’ll go back and finish the bicycle-training tour of India.

The usual note to my donors: This trip was covered out of pocket. I mean, duh. It doesn’t have much to do with bicycles. But I want to share all the same, because it was an awesome experience. I’ll keep it to two posts though, and then return to bicycle-related things, because this is supposed to be a bicycle-related project.

– – –

 

About a month ago Prabhat (my host) mentioned he was going on a week long trek through the Himalayas and invited me along. For one week the trip cost less than $900, ticket included, and I was already in India (which is the expensive part). I decided I could still do 90 bikes in 90 days even if 7 of those days were spent in the Himalayas… so I went for it.

 

Now yea, $900 per week is a lot of money — I biked across the country for about $900 per month not too long ago — but I had never hiked before, much less a hike in the Himalayas. I decided worst case I spend more than I should have and had a great time anyways.

 

– – –

 

We flew into Bagdogra and were met by one of our guides, Nam Dya, two drivers, and the rest of the crew. There were seven of us total: Prabhat, his son Nishith, and myself; three other Indian guys named Mitish, Bharat, and Murali; and an American girl teaching at the American Embassy school in Delhi, named Cristi.

 

It was a three hour drive to Darjeeling. The first hour or so was pretty standard Indian roadway, but then things quickly became windy and vertical, until we looked down and saw this:

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The usual signage discouraging speeding on windy roads was present, including classics like “Speed Thrills/But Kills” and “Looking for Survival?/Do not believe in Fast Arrival” along with new ones like “Hurry Burry Spoils the Curry” and “Don’t Donate Blood on Road/Donate Blood on Hospital.”

At some point we stopped for lunch…

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…which was dal, roti, and rice. By the way, that’s becoming quite a comforting combination for me. It’s easy to eat, it goes down well, it’s good for you, and it’s almost always delicious.

 

Anyways, at some point (after driving on Tenzing Norgay Road, which is apparently a famous road… though to me it just seemed narrow and extra windy) we made it to the hotel, and hung out and got to know each other a bit. We didn’t really know each other yet, but it was nice to spend the day with a group of new people, and it became clear we would get along at least for the next week.

 

The view out the hotel window was spectacular… it had never occurred to me that so many people could live so high up.

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On Sunday I got up early and went for a walk. At some point I realized that, looking down for as far as I could see, there were mountains and houses and farms, and looking up for as far as I could see, there were mountains and houses and farms. It seemed never-ending. Darjeeling also had relatively few cars, so the honking was minimal. It was really nice… it almost felt magical, in fact, in the way that I think India is “supposed” to feel magical. But every now and then a car would honk needlessly and ruin things.

 

After breakfast we left the hotel and drove to the edge of town, on top of (another) mountain, or so we thought. On the way we picked up our guide, Dawa, who turned out to be a really cool guy. Not only was he an intelligible guide, he was just an intelligible and fun human being. Oh, and he had a great sense of humor.

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(Nepalese Accent): “Who is that handsome man?”

All the company cars (cars belonging to a touring company) had various decorations and signage (where they were from and where they were going, among other things — for hitchhikers and law enforcement), but another thing they had in common was football. Almost every company car we saw had either “Arsenal” or “Man U” written across the top of the windshield. I asked Dawa: “So, Arsenal or Man U?” to which he replied “Liverpool!” Apparently soccer is big in Darjeeling. I thought it was funny, because the few fields we saw were on the edges of cliffs, and few of the goals had nets. Don’t miss!

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From left to right: Murali, Mitish, Bharat.

We had to drive to the starting point via Tenzing Norgay Road, which, as I mentioned, was narrow and windy. Hardly wide enough for one car in some places — twice we had to back up or caused another car to back up to a wider part of the road, where we could pass each other. Above is a photo taken while our driver argued with an oncoming car about who was going to back up and who was going to go forward.

Something else unique about Darjeeling — the people. Dawa said that Sikkim, the state Darjeeling is in, used to be its own country, with “about 20 mud huts.” When the British colonized the middle east, they realized the potential for tea trade in Sikkim, so they brought in about 1,000 Chinese tea farmers and 20,000 Nepalese laborers (I guess it worked, because Darjeeling tea is now world famous). The British-Sikkim tie was weakened by British taxation, until in 1849 two British physicians were detained by the Sikkimese, leading to a British Invasion and the annexing of Sikkim into India.

Anyways… it was interesting to be in India, and yet to see the people look so… well, Nepalese, mostly, but also Chinese, Tibetan, and everything in between.

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They can also carry stuff like nobody’s business.

SO — more culture later. We had to check in with Forest Patrol, including paying a fee for our cameras (Rs 100 each) and ourselves (Rs 50 per Indian, 100 per foreigner). Then we drove up a really steep hill that switched back every 200 feet… and then we started walking.

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Only we were at 2300 meters above sea level.

Nishith and I had a long discussion about whether it was cloudy or foggy. We decided it was foggy. Anyways, we hiked… and hiked… and sung, and talked, and hiked. We saw prayer stones —

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— which always have to be passed by on the left, since that’s the way the world and the universe rotate in Buddhist doctrine. We saw water-powered prayer wheels (or just “water wheels”) —

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— the prayer wheel being in the roof; it spins as long as water flows through the structure. And we saw rhododendrons everywhere.

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Including in front of us.

We stopped for lunch in a town called Tumling, at 2900m. There were some other American trekkers there about my age, all from Ohio or Chicago. We ended up spending the night in the same tea house as them, only they were a bit rambunctious and didn’t go to bed until after we did… *aherm.*

That was, I think, our longest day. We spent the night in Garibash, at 2621m.

– – –

The next day we hiked to Kalpokori, at 3108m. This was again one of those days where you could either see very far up, or very far down, but not a lot was very flat. After about an hour we turned to see where we had stopped for tea the previous day:

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It’s that pixel between the two humps in the middle top of the photo.

That day was fairly short, especially compared to the previous day. Some of the older folk were having troubles, including Mitish, whose shoes were too short, so he was developing some blisters. In any case, it meant we had the better part of the afternoon to freeze to death. I mean, sit and chat and read. But really, after 12 the clouds rolled in, and the sun disappeared, and it got cold.

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“Here, let’s put on all our layers and drink tea” cold.

 That night for dinner we had pizza, which was a surprise. I mean, we also had rice and sabje, so don’t get too excited, but still… pizza… in India… in the Himalayas.

The next morning there were goats that wanted to be fed.

IMG_8045Fe-e-e-e-d me!

And I’ve just been called to lunch. But I think that’s halfway anyways… so, more later.

2 thoughts on “Welcome to the Himalayas!

  1. Marilyn says:

    Fascinating, well written, great photos. I love hearing about the history and culture. What’s a prayer stone? Where was the young woman from?

    • Kyle says:

      Hi! Thank you! I hope you’re feeling better by now and back to work.

      A prayer stone is a stone inscribed with mantras (arguably a type of prayer) placed near roads or passageways as an offering to the spirits who pass by there.

      Cristi was from Texas.

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