Sunday, April 26, 2009

No chicken no egg

Everywhere in Sikkim when we try to order food, we are told "No chicken no egg". Sometimes there's not much else left on the menu. The problem lies in the neighbouring state - an outbreak of avian flu in West Bengal. Ironically we had no problem finding eggs or chicken there. In Sikkim we have become 'pure vegetarian'. On our way back to meet Ruth in Yuksom we have a transport problem - there are 7 of us waiting when a jeep with only two spare seats pulls up. A local man gets in and the jeep drives off. We are left in the company of three Poles, two dressed as Buddhist monks. One of them, a well-fed, bearded and pony-tailed man pops out his mobile and starts trying to summon up another vehicle. The problem seems to be that so many jeeps have been seconded for 'election duty'. That is, they are being used to ferry party cadres and voters to campaign meetings where food and drink is laid on to enhance their appeal. We are stranded. But fortunately, the monk has a silver tongue. "How much? Eight hundred rupees? Tell him when I see him I'm gonna kick his ass! No, of course I'm joking!" Eventually he agrees a better price and a jeep appears sometime later. They've been here to study? No, to practise. Practise what? Well.......... They tell us that they purchased 130 local goats in order to save their lives. The goats are still kept by the local farmers, but have been bought in order to save them from slaughter. We have visions of farmers surreptitiously pushing goats down the steep hillsides whenever they feel like a barbecue. But pony-tail monk is not a vegetarian - he describes himself as a "meat monster". They seem to have an adaptable approach to Buddhism.........
Our last stop is Gangtok, the current state capital, a large but fairly peaceful city that, like Darjeeling, sits on a ridge. It's hard work wandering around when there's so much uphill. In the centre is a pedestrianised main shopping street, full of benches and plants and completely clean and tidy - extremely un-Indian. Ruth and Laurence are on the hunt for presents and souvenirs to take back. I'm on the hunt for chicken or egg. Finally we head back to Kolkata, and catch the Darjeeling Mail overnight. We arrive at about 9 in the morning, almost three hours late, and it's already hot. Laurence is flying out in the evening and Ruth departs tomorrow morning so we have a quick shopping spree. The thermometer is pushing 40oC. Even the locals are sweating.
Saying goodbye to Laurence and Ruth makes us quite sad because we've really enjoyed being with them. It's only been a short while but it comes at a significant point in our journey - just as we are about to leave South Asia. It feels like we've just had a little holiday from this tough business of travelling. So we say our farewells to them and our farewells to India. The ride out to Kolkata airport early in the morning is a classic - with people up and about performing ablutions, setting out stalls, getting a snack to eat. A taxi driver is laid out comfortably across the bonnet of his Ambassador, oblivious to the city's awakening. We love India, for all of its faults, but it's time to move on.

time to pack

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