Eight days without a puff. As if India was not hard enough. But we are doing very well smoke-free. Though I have to admit that in the land of Deisel fumes and the suffocating smog of big cities, it has felt a bit like a spit in the ocean to quit.
To sound off a few more nicey-liberal views, it feels good to not be supporting big tobacco in these days of nekkid corporate bloodthirst. (Put the peace sign down, Ms. Sarandon. The ceremonies are about to begin). Do bidis count?
We headed North to Darjeeling on a whim and it was a glorious drive up dizzying mountain roads with crops that looked like bonsai trees, but which I later discovered were - duh - tea plantations.
Darjeeling was stunning with its breathtaking views of the Himalayas and narrow winding roads and steep staircases,ancient restaurants with curtained booths and the most adorable, ruddy-faced Nepalese-Indian schoolkids in bright blue or red uniforms and matching hair ribbons. But the the city was also overrun by roaring deisel-engined jeeps that threaten pedestrians with every sharp turn,gouging taxi rates, and the general feeling that Darjeeling had developed too quickly. Everything from the plumbing systems to the mouldy walls made me feel that the city was busting at the seams.
We did get a chance to stay at rambling, British-era mansions with cheetah pelts on the wall and coal/wood fireplaces in the rooms to keep us warm. We were conviced that our hotel, with the creepy paintings of children, long, empty hallways, and chipping paint was haunted. The first night, a poltergeist made the room shake for several seconds. Ok, it was an earthquake. But scary all the same when you are on the edge of a mountain.
Our last day, our attempts to get a permit for Sikkim was hilarious in retrospect, but it made me want to scream at the time. We had to bring our passports to the Office of the District magistrate (30 minutes walk) to fill in a form, take it 30 minutes up the hill (taxis cost 100 rupees for a 5-minute ride) to have the form hand filled into a book in the foreigners' registration office with no electricity and a harrowing bathroom. Then back down the hill to get the stamp. Then back up the hill to get our bags. Then back down the hill to get our jeep to Gangtok. I completely lost my sense of humour for about 2 hours. I am so ashamed. But ow! my toe was not happy with all the climbing. I maintian that a tin cup on a string between the two offices could have made the procedure much more 21st century.
The drive to Gangtok was worth it. The city is a bit noisy, and our day trip to the country got rained out, but we are in good spirits, heading South to Varanassi tomorrow.