Sunday, November 29, 2009

The one where 'Gangtok steals my heart'

4th October 2009. Its 7.40 pm and tis pissing down in Gangtok. I'm sitting in a cafe called 'Cafe Live & Loud' and even stole a coaster from there. Its up Tibet Road and definitely a good find.

We started this morning at 6.30 am and waited till 7.30 until our share taxi to Gangtok got completely full. Nice ride to Gangtok- we kept passing the Teesta on our way from Darjeeling.

Took us about 4.5 hours from Darjeeling (not helped by an army convoy on the way). Our hotel Mintokling is a palace compared to Birds Eye in Darjeeling. Running hot water makes all the difference in the world. It has a very nice view (not as nice as the Khangchendzonga from Birds Eye) but lovely place and kickass food. Had something called Dhoe - Bamboo shoot with chicken and roti. The dal fry was awesome too...

View from our room balcony

Slept after a fulsome lunch and headed towards M G Road - which is a kickass High Street. Its like something out of a English small town's version of High Street.

We were walking around deliberating which travel agency to choose from for our trip to the north of Sikkim. We finally picked Lama Tours and Travels for our 3 day, 2 nights trip scheduled to Gurudongmar and Yumthang Valley. We are going to be paying about 12k altogether which sounds decent for exclusive transport, food and lodging at Lachen and Lachung. Touch wood this goes well.

Tried to find a place recommended by a friend and gave up. Ended up at Cafe Live and Loud instead and drinking beer called 'Dansbery Blue' - a local brew and waiting for the rain to dissipate.

Beer done am headed back towards the hotel. A full day in and around Gangtok awaits.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A city called Bombay

The Taj, originally uploaded by KittyKaht.

The Taj on 3rd March 2008. My world was right. This was taken at a early morning concert - one of those pre-dawn things for which you get up at a random time, take a train with the fisher folk and get to Gateway. I gave up on the Hindustani classical concert happening at some point of time and went wandering with my camera. It was peaceful and lovely at the hour without the usual cacophony of horns.

The Taj on 26th November 2009 - this night changed how I viewed my city forever. I wrote several posts trying to understand the outrage that had been perpetuated against my city. You can find them under 'Once Was Bombay', 'The Aftermath' and finally 'Retrospection'. I read those posts and realise that the anger and outrage has disappeared under the routine of everyday life. What happened to all those people on Facebook who added themselves to various groups against terrorism? What happened to asking the government to make a difference? What happened to plain ole voting? Are we so indifferent that we think about making the difference only when an anniversary approaches?

Suddenly the newspapers are full of stories. People. Victims. Kasab - that man (I can't be logical about this I am sorry) should be hanged. The Indian government is wasting our hard earned money on someone who has no right to live. I walk into VT for the past week and I imagine him spewing his venom through his machine gun on innocent bystanders. Which God tells you it is right to blow people up and you will win your piece of heaven for this?

I am still angry, I am still hurt. I can't get over the pain I felt. I cried. I ached for my city. The HOW DARE THEY question still makes me want to hurl things in rage. All of it lies suppressed under my routine life. I made it a point to send a sms to the two guys I was drinking with that night it all started. Toto's will forever be etched in my memory because of 26/11 and all its associations. You realise that life is too short!

I didn't lose anyone during the carnage of the four days but it was as personal a loss as any for me - my city bled. Her much touted spirit was in shatters. And the people - we carried life on as before. Tommorrow's newspapers are going to carry stories about how much people cared by lighting candles...yes and we know that is going to change the world. Cynical but true no?

My city will survive long after I am apathy, indifference, pain, anger, hurt - all of it will melt into nothingness. But what will keep is the pleasure of knowing this is my home and no one will ever take that right away from me - to walk down Marine Drive at 1 am with a friend super drunk, to eat the over priced kebabs at Bade Miyan, to think about taking my parents to the Taj for their upcoming 30th wedding anniversary - all of these are affirmations that life in Bombay goes on in its own peculiar way and baaki toh 'sab chalta hi rehta hai' :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

My life sometimes

The one where 'Tiger Hill goes bust and shopping happens'

3rd October 2009. Happy Valley - a visit rudely (at first interrupted by a landslide) but later taken up by Orjun, our taxi driver. Happy Valley is a tea plantation and factory whch exports tea exclusively to Harrods if you please. But I'm getting ahead of myself here....

Tiger Hill was a 'Virar' local at peak time and then some. It was utter madness and we paid some 30-50 bucks for some viewing platform thing which was utterly pointless. After a while, I could not bring myself to care if I saw the sunrise or not. The sea of humanity had taken care of that for me. I didn't feel the need to fight with people and their cameras merely to get a glimpse of this...This was taken at 5.25 am in the morning at Tiger Hill. Clouds completely obscured the view and we didnt see no sunrise!

However I did see this and this more than made up for the early morning madness we had indulged in.

We found Orjun by coincidence. We had planned a visit to Happy Valley, Darjeeling Zoo and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. We started at the Zoo and it was very cool to see bears, snow leopards and the like at the Zoo.

But the people behaved atrociously. They whistled, made cootchie coo kind of noises at the animals like they were dogs! I could not understand this kind of behaviour and inflicting this on the poor animals. The cheetah I thought reacted admirably to this!

In the HMI, we checked out the Everest Museum. George Leigh Mallory and his expeditions stood out for us. 'Paths of Glory' by Jeffrey Archer eloquently brings out the story of Mallory's expedition to the Everest to life. It felt momentous to see photos of Gen.Bruce, the equipment they carried on their expeditions amongst other things.

Then off to Happy Valley. We get to hear of the whole process of manufacturing tea and paid 200 bucks(!) for 100 grams of tea. Quite a foolish thing to do I might add but we went with the moment of being at the tea plantation.

Got back and ate pork momos and chicken thukpa at Penang. Small restaurant near the Rink Mall and they were quite delicious. Did some tea shopping at Nathmulls and T did sword shopping at the Mall. Yes yes he bought a 'katana' which he intends to lug back to Mumbai!

Met a talkative shop owner - Nepal Curios Shop on Mall Road who sold T the sword and me some fabulous silver jewellery. Walked back to hotel where I desperately read and finished Ian Rankin's 'Exit Music' - something I had started to read on the 2nd. Packed and got ready for a 6.30 am start to Gangtok.

The one where 'we decide to toss about walking to Ghoom'

2nd October 2009. 6.30 am and we got hold of a Qualis (shared one at that) taking us to Darjeeling. Stopped at Kurseong where I get my first sight of the Himalayas. Sublime experience. They towered over the rest of the mountains - glistening pale. It made me understand why mountaineers do what they do - to conquer that would be an achievement indeed!

Got into Darjeeling at 10 - we were actually stuck in a traffic jam getting into Darjeeling. Reached our hotel - Birds Eye Guest House - which has a fab view of Darjeeling and more importantly the mountains towering above it. Run by a couple of brothers - Uttam and Gautam. Its a lovely place which is reasonably priced and if you ever go to Darjeeling, I would recommend you stay here.

Left almost immediately after freshening up and headed towards Keventers to get some grub. Kevs (as the locals call it) serves the wickedest pork sausages this side of the Himalayas. Brunch finished, we deliberated on how we should visit Ghoom.

Ghoom is the town next to Darjeeling which has interesting monasteries and the like. We tossed a coin and decided to walk to Ghoom. Took us three straight hours but it was kickass fun. We stopped at myriad places and took a whole lot of interesting photos.

Taxi back to Darjeeling and we almost ended up at a beef market because T thought (from a distance) it looked like junk jewellery hung up!!

Glenarys for dinner - well I got interested because I thought I would have a drink but well Gandhiji intervened in my plans... :) Indifferent dinner finished, we trekked back to our hotel. Did I forgot to mention that our hotel is on top of a hill so after eating, the uphill climb was like climbing Everest herself! I exaggerate but you get the point.

Tomorrow morning, we start at 3.30 am to get upto Tiger Hill for a 5 am sunrise. Should be fun..