Pelling, Sikkim

Sunrise from the hilltop monastery.

Sunrise from the hilltop monastery.

Pelling was listed as a “must see” by several different people on internet forums. The Lonely Planet guidebook discusses its “jaw-dropping” morning view of the mountains, which make the trip to the otherwise kind of un-exciting town worth the trip. So at a time when it is raining and you can barely see through the fog, there is not a whole lot to see. I am sure it would have been beautiful, though.

As the crow flies, Pelling is about 12 miles from Gangtok but it was a 5 hour long drive up and down the sides of mountains. It was quite a dramatic drive looking down those cliffs. On top of the cliffs and mountains, our car got rear-ended on the road. In India this is handled, by an argument and exchange of money. The offer started at 300 rupees and the matter was resolved at 700 rupees (about $14) for a broken bumper. Then we were back on the road.

The entire day it was raining and cold and we spent the day huddling in our hotel waiting for it to stop raining. We decided to grab a bite at the hotel. While there was chicken on the menu, they were not serving it due to what we think they said were reasons related to bird flu (I really hope we didn’t understand that correctly). So we spent that time being vegetarians, as we did many times in India.

We went into our room and it was so dirty and small that we honestly considered eating the cost and finding another hotel. I would say, “What can you expect for $12/night?” but we stayed in some okay rooms for about that price. We decided to suck it up since we were just staying one night. Unfortunately, our electricity went out that night so we just sat in the room with a candle. We both slept fully clothed so our bodies touched the dirty bedding as little as possible.

Also, we just decided to skip the shower there and waiting for our next hotel. There was a window in the bathroom and you could see right in with no shower curtain to cover up or anything.

In the morning, I set the alarm for about 5 to peek out the window to check if we might be able to see the sunrise and the mountains. Unfortunately, no… And as I was laying back down I hit my face on the corner of the TV stand. It hurt my eye really bad and I actually had scrapes on my eyelid. It hurt and I like to think I got a little black eye from it but Sean wasn’t too impressed with my wound.

We had a car picking us up at 8:30. We were awake so early we decided to walk up the hill to the monestary at the top. Even with the clouds and fog, we wanted to check it out. As we reached the top after a steep climb, a child ran out of a house and yelled, “Tourists!” He couldn’t have been but 5 or so and he came out and followed us around while eating a snack out a plastic bag. He kept acting silly and trying to show us things at the monestary that he thought were neat to see.

There was a dog up there who decided to bite me and I was terrified. He was trying to get food from me, I realized in retrospect. The little boy had offered me some food and I pretended to take some and eat it. The dog grabbed my scarf and I reached and grabbed to get it back from him. Then he bit my coat and I pushed him away. Then he bit my arm and my leg. His teeth didn’t break through my jeans or coat, but he did scrape my skin and leave a huge bruise on my elbow. Sean was far away and I was screaming for him. I am all about kindness to animals but I kicked the crud out of that dog to get him off me. Then the little boy threw his food at the dog and we ran off into the monastery and shut the gate. I guess I am just used to domesticated dogs…

After I recovered, we got some beautiful views of the area, even if it wasn’t of the snowy mountains. The clouds made for some beautiful pictures. And I got that story about the dog… Overall, our trip to Pelling was kind of pointless…

Gangtok, Sikkim

Prayer drums

Prayer drums


I am going to try and get some posts up this week. We had such a busy two weeks of travels that I think I will divide each post up by location. So my first post is about our trip to Sikkim, specifically Gangtok (because we also went to Pelling, which will be my next post).

First off, I should explain where Sikkim is. It is a state in the north of India, bordered on the west by Nepal, the north by Tibet, and the east by Bhutan. It is a hill station in the Himalayas. Because of its proximity to Tibet, a majority percentage of the people that live there are Tibetan refugees that have lived in India since the exile. To get into Sikkim you have to have a special permit that is granted at the border. To do any sort of trekking there, you have to have an even more extensive permit (which we did not get) and some places you just can’t go unless you are an Indian citizen (such as the India-China border).

We had to fly into the Bagdogra Air Force Base in West Bengal and rent a car with driver to drive the 5 hours to Gangtok. This drive was as bouncy and twisty as any ride I had ever been on. We got an ab workout bouncing around in the back seat, trying to maintain our balance.

Our hotel was Tibetan-owned and very nice. It was cozy and had an amazing view of the Kanchenjunga mountain range if you are lucky enough for the fog to clear. Unfortunately, our entire trip the fog was thick. For about 5 minutes early our first morning, the clouds cleared and I got a beautiful and clear view of these giant mountains. I didn’t take a photo at the time and Sean didn’t come see because he didn’t have his contacts in. We had no idea these mountains would not show their snowy tops again for several days.

We hired a car to take us to Rumtek Monestary, which was about an hour and a half drive away. It had rained the night before and we were stuck on the road waiting behind a car trying to get up a very muddy incline. Needless to say, I was terrified when it was finally our turn as if we slid off the road, we would fall very far to our miserable deaths. And boy were we sliding around getting up that mountain. I was so relieved. All I could think at the time was, ” I can’t believe I am in this car doing this right now.”

Rumtek was gorgeous and we got our first glimpse of Buddhist monks, dressed in their red and orange garb, doing every day things such as reading and chatting, as well as chanting and blowing large horns and playing drums. Sean was the most amused at the monk talking on his iPhone while his cohorts were just on the other side of the door chanting.

In the afternoon, we strolled around town, rode the ropeway (a large cable car that runs over the city), and visited the Institute of Tibetology.

Overall, Gangtok was my favorite place we went of this particular trip. It was so un-Indian for an Indian town and so cool after the awful heat and humidity in Mumbai. The town was just small and not very tourist-y. The little “downtown” area was so cute and all painted green. Unfortunately we were only there one day and two nights. Next was Pelling (post coming).

HOME!

We arrived home in Los Angeles last night and were so happy to see our little apartment and our own bed. Posts forthcoming with pictures of our last trips! Stay tuned.

Leaving…

See those white specks to the right? Those are some big mountains. :)

See those white specks to the right? Those are some big mountains.🙂

Happy (almost) Easter! We leave Mumbai this morning for good. In just a couple of hours, our bags will be packed and we’ll say goodbye to the 90 degree weather and 70% humidity. Sean and I are both sad to leave and excited to get home. We finally land at LAX on Friday, April 17. See you then!

P.S. Posts coming soon from our trip to the Himalayas and our upcoming trip(s) to London and Paris.

Last day of work

Today is Sean’s last day of work here in India. And this evening kicks off his two weeks of vacation before arriving back home. Last night we were taken out to dinner by Sean’s co-workers. We went to an open-air rooftop restaurant called Sheesha, where we had some tasty Indian food (especially enjoyed the Chicken Tikka). There were about 20 people and it was a really nice and fun dinner. And they bought me a present (a cute red top I plan to wear tonight)! Unfortunately, Sean and I had gone down into the city earlier in the day and had spent hours drenched in sweat and feeling miserable. As a result, I’m not posting any pictures of us here. Someone told me I looked tired and told Sean he looked sweaty…

The best picture we could get in the dark.

The best picture we could get in the dark.

Tonight we are going to a screening for Fast & Furious 4. Not number one on my list to see, but Sean’s company did the affects for the opening sequence so the whole office is going to see it in the movie theater next door to celebrate. This will also be the last night we’ll see the Mumbai office gang so we’ll say our goodbyes. Sean may or may not have any other contact with them regarding this project. Most likely not.

In other news, Tuesday was my 30th birthday. Thirty has been looming for some time and seemed quite depressing, but now that it is passed, I am doing alright with it. Sean took me out for dinner, but other than that it was pretty low key. I spent most of the day knitting a hat for our trip to the mountains this weekend. It turned out really cute. Anyway, thanks to any and all for the birthday wishes via Facebook and email.

Watch for more pictures but it may be a couple weeks.

The rest of our weekend

Sean with the elephant

Sean with the elephant

Well, I already wrote about our visit to the Taj Mahal, but that isn’t all we did this last weekend. Agra is actually quite a long distance from here, and it is really expensive to fly into the local airport. So we chose to fly to the next state over, Rajasthan, and flew into Jaipur (which, if you watch Amazing Race was featured on Sunday’s episode).

We had arranged to have a taxi pick us up at the airport, take us to Agra (about 230 km ~ 140 miles), spend the night in Agra, and drive us home again. One way took about 5 hours. Five hours of Indian “highways” and incessant honking. When I say that one third of the drive was spent honking, I am not exaggerating. I thought I was going to lose my mind. Our driver honked constantly and sometimes I could not even see who he was honking at. It made for a difficult time in napping as well. In addition, a lot of the roads are poor quality and there was this parade of people walking for miles and miles. It seemed to be some sort of Hindu celebration or holiday, but we never figured it out. But it pretty much blocked half the road during the drive for about 30 km.

We made it Friday night to our hotel, inside the Taj Ganj area (closed off to cars, and to honking, thank goodness), grabbed a bite and zonked out since we would be getting up at 5:00 am. If you missed it, se about our visit to the Taj Mahal here. After visiting the Taj, we left at about 10:00 am and grabbed a bite just outside before we got back in the car. On our way out of town, we chose to stop at Agra Fort nearby, which offered an impressive view of the Taj Mahal from afar.

When we finished at the fort, we got back in the car and headed for Jaipur. We were all exhausted and dozed off and on for the trip back. But the honking continued and we weren’t very relaxed. We stopped a road-side stall that had drinks and chips and snacky items. We are not sure a foreigner has ever stopped there and everyone just sat and stared at us. It was kind of funny. Kind of uncomfortable.

When we finally made it back to Jaipur, we got checked into our hotel (Hotel Arya Niwas), which was the nicest hotel we have stayed in during our stay in India. On the rooftop of the building next to our hotel was a restaurant called Mediterraneo that serves Italian food and specializes in pizzas made in a wood-fire oven. The food was tasty and it was our group’s first experience of “Special Tea.” Basically, certain cities and areas are dry and Drew wanted some beer. It wasn’t on the menu, but it turns out that you can order some Special Tea and they bring out beer in a teapot. We were really amused by it.

Sunday morning, we got up and headed down for breakfast, meeting up with Shuchi, one of the animators that works in the R&H Hyderabad office, who happened to be in town for a visit. She is a native of the area and was a very helpful tour guide for our day around town. We got a taxi for the day and first hit up a couple of places to haggle for souvenirs. Then we headed just out of town to see Amber Fort and Jaigarh Fort.

Amber Fort is a large palace and fort built in the 16th century for the safety of the emperor and his many wives. It was quite impressive and we rode an elephant from the base to get to the palace. So we have checked elephant rides off our list. Plus, the detail at the palace was impressive and we took many pictures with strangers.

Jaigarh Fort houses the world’s largest wheeled cannon called Jaivan Cannon. It was huge (about 20 feet long) and supposedly shot 22 miles or something like that. Jaigarh also had an armory with some interesting weaponry and armor collected over the centuries. We also got some beautiful views of the city from above. And while Jaipur is called the “Pink City” we saw so much blue that we argued about the name (Jaipur is really called the Pink City because of the old area of town that is surrounded by a large wall and all the buildings and wall are painted a terra cotta color).

After visiting these sights, we were deposited at the airport for our flight and headed back home. All-in-all it was a wonderful weekend, and while we didn’t get to see as much as we would like in both Rajasthan and near Agra, we saw what we could. We are so happy we made it up there.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

This weekend we headed north to the states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. We were joined by Sean’s co-worker and friend Drew, who we were in Goa with last weekend (he is from the Los Angeles office, too). Our main goal was to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra. I will write another post about the rest of the weekend, but this post is just about the Taj Mahal. The building itself is a mausoleum built in the 16th century when the Mughal emperor’s favorite wife died in childbirth. He is entombed next to his wife in the center of the mausoleum.

The area outside the wall around the Taj is closed to cars. There are plenty of people walking, riding motorcycles and bicycle rickshaws. Our hotel was located in this area (called the Taj Ganj) and it was welcome relief to get away from the noisy streets of crowded Agra. After a good night’s rest, we got to the eastern gate a little before 6:00 am. We finally made it in by about 6:30, but since it was overcast we didn’t get to see the pink-orange coloring that the early morning often gives the white marble surface.

We spent a good amount of time just standing/sitting and looking before and after we went inside. Any slight change in light and the marble took on a different hue. It was breathtaking and we discussed how it was both romantic that he built it for his dead wife and a probably a little over the top. It is estimated to have cost tens of millions of rupees at the time, equal to trillions of dollars at present rates. The perfection of its building, the extent of the building materials, the detail of the inlaid flowers and marble carved designs are enough to overwhelm you.

While it is beautiful in pictures, it is incredible in person. Totally worth the visit and the time spent. It would be amazing to visit at night as the best view of it is said to be by moonlight (but is only open at night at the full moon).

Some highlights:

~ Outside the Taj gates, tourists get suffocated by peddlers and rickshaw drivers. While walking from the car drop off point to our hotel on Friday night, we ran into about 10 bicycle rickshaw drivers wanting to give two of us a ride. Which didn’t help because there are three of us. But they say, “Remember me, my name is …” so you can find them the next day. Now, this won’t happen because if I do decide to get a ride later, I won’t hunt for someone else when there are 5 standing there staring at me. But it seems they like to take foreign names so we’ll remember them. So the first guy was named Jonny, and we chatted about how he had chosen an easy-to-remember Western name so he would be easy to identify. Not five minutes later, we were approached again, and he said, “Remember me, my name is Jonny.” We got a good kick out of imagining that all the rickshaw drivers (most of whom looked about 16 years old) had all taken the same name, defeating the purpose (a thought disproven later by meeting Robert and Luke).

~ There are as many or more Indian visitors at the Taj Mahal as there are foreigners. It is not uncommon for them to ask for a photo with you. When we were first inside, a man asked to take a picture with Drew. When I got my camera out to get a snap of it, too, it turned uncomfortable for Drew quickly as this man wrapped his arms around him. Drew felt quite violated afterward. Later, a group of men each individually got pictures with Sean and I. It took about 20 minutes. And I made up for the little girl I had turned down for a picture my first week in Mumbai, when I took a picture with a cute little girl who was nudged by her mom to ask for a photo.

~ The fountains were empty and turned off (for cleaning or repair), so we didn’t get to see them running. As we were leaving they were pumping water back into them, but we couldn’t stay long enough to see if the fountains would be running soon.

~ There is no food inside. That isn’t a big deal as you don’t have to stay in there 10 hours to enjoy it. But we got up at 5:30 (already hungry) and nothing was open to get any food. So I had some chai from a stand outside the gate but that was it. By 10:00, I was so hungry! But I certainly wasn’t going to go out and pay the 750 rupee entrance fee again, so the food could wait.

~ You have to take off your shoes (or wear paper booties over them) to go up onto the marble (but don’t worry, you check them and no one can reach in to take them). There are mosques on either side of the actual mausoleum and you must remove your shoes to go in there.