For ten days, Erez, the brave photographer from Judea, was my constant companion. My limit for wanting companionship was about 4 days. After that I needed some time on my own. What can I say, I was a lone-rider long before I rode a motorbike solo through India. Erez seemed to sense this and always disappeared for a few hours just before I was getting a little smothered. He did this, I suspect, for my benefit only and I was grateful.
We spent the first few days, of our 10 days together, in Darjeeling and went for walks, talking, taking pictures and stopping occasionally for a chai or a plate of momos (filled dumplings, delicious). It rained constantly (typical for Darjeeling, Monsoon or not) which limited our explorations but I loved Darjeeling. Erez and I were both planning to travel to Sikkim, a tiny little state just North of Darjeeling and decided to stick together.
Sikkim is a small state, part of India but independent from her and we needed a permit to enter. From here we would be surrounded by 3 borders, all just a few kilometers away, Nepal, China and Butan. This we could see in the people (most were either Nepali or Tibetan) and Erez and I indulged in all the Chinese food that was suddenly available on every menu.
Sikkim’s beautiful little place, almost tropical and was very different to the India I’d gotten to know. There was something strange about Sikkim though and for the first few days I couldn’t put my finger on why but then it was obvious and we noticed it everywhere. In Sikkim the people are tiny and everything oddly proportioned. Erez and I were giants compared to the Sikkimese folk and we kept having to squeeze ourselves into the kiddie-sized chairs and had to stoop every time we entered a room. We both bumped our heads enough times that it started to not be funny anymore. The capital of Sikkim, Gangtok, was especially strange. Taxi drivers looked like children and even the taxis themselves looked smaller than normal, almost like toy cars. Another thing I noticed in Gangtok was that all (well, most) of the shops were meat shops, liquor stores, sweet shops or pharmacies (I’m no genius but I can connect a few dots). Having said that, Sikkimese rum is organic, cheap and tastes like honey and we drank lots of it.
After 3 days of exploring Sikkim, without a proper map, Erez and I started bumping heads against each other (not just doorways) and we were frustrated, irritated and suffocated by one another. We enjoyed travelling together and obviously had a good vibe (Erez calls this vibe ‘the Mooza’) but we were now walking and talking on egg-shells around each other. The Mooza, it seemed, had run dry. We made a decision, Erez would continue exploring Sikkim and I would return to my beloved Darjeeling and should we decide to meet up again later, we would. Though we both agreed that it was a good idea, we didn’t want to part on uneasy terms and that’s when we decided to make a movie of our 10 days together before splitting.
Suddenly we were on that same page again, the Mooza (and the rum) flowing. We discovered that we had some incredible photos and reminisced and marveled at each one as we chose which to use. Then we watched our movie over and over again, falling in love with it a little more each time we saw it. The next day Erez left for Rabong and I caught a shared jeep back to Darjeeling.
The plan was to spend some time in Darjeeling, maybe 2 weeks. I wanted to enjoy the tranquility and beauty for as long as I could and the idea was to find a room to rent somewhere among the tea plantations that would hopefully have a little kitchen I could use. It had been almost 3 months since I’d cooked anything and I was beginning to miss it terribly. Also, I wanted to eat some fresh and healthy meals (taking it easy on the momos for a while) and finally put my orange Reeboks to use. I craved fresh fruit and going for a run and Darjeeling was the perfect place to indulge in both.
The jeep-ride to Darjeeling was 5 hours long and terrifying. Once we were on the road I noticed the driver staring at me in his rear-view. I smiled but realized instantly that that was a mistake. Suddenly the driver couldn’t take his eyes off me. Now, I don’t mind being stared at anymore but this guy was driving a vehicle while staring. The jeep started swaying on the road and I gave him a serious frown and pointed to the road, hoping the message would be clear. It was not and the driver was delighted that I was trying to communicate with him. The road was getting winding and the situation was getting critical, life-threatening even. I wanted to shout at him ‘keep your eyes on the road before you drive off a cliff and kill us all!’ but I had a feeling it would make things worse so I forced myself to stare out the window instead. After a while the jeep stabilized and for the next 5 hours I avoided eye-contact with the driver at all costs. I arrived safely in Darjeeling late that night and booked into a cheap little hotel right at the top of the hill. It felt good to be back and I couldn’t wait to start my 2 weeks of Darjeeling-bliss but things would turn out very differently to what I had in mind. The next morning I woke up and discovered that Darjeeling had turned into a ghost town. It was a strike.