Stop Before You Get Off

Gangtok, Sikkim
Even as regulars, finding alcohol in Pelling was difficult. Whilst it was tax-free in Sikkim it had been removed from many menus. We couldn’t get to the bottom of the drought other than to surmise it had something to do with a new national ruling (to cut down on drink-driving) that alcohol could not be served within 500m of a main road. Pelling was all main road, so I guess that was something that played a part. Only thing was, the whole state of Sikkim was exempt from the 500m rule. But this confusion left us dry, unless we walked all the way up to the heliport and bought warm beer (or rum and coke). Like Dan Ashcroft in Nathan Barley, we couldn’t place the Indian red wines correctly….so avoided that, like the plague.

Thankfully we were saved by our neighbouring restaurant, the Kailash Hotel. The owners found us some nice organic thongba and we chatted to Ruby and MK about life in Sikkim, and elsewhere. Sikkim is very big on organic food and everything we ate at Ruby’s was amazing. Everyone in Sikkim was so welcoming and friendly and their outlook on life was positive and forward-thinking. It was enlightening to hear the varied experiences that had shaped them to their current life together. Breakfast, dinner, alcohol. They gave us what we needed!

During a quick visit to the neighbouring downhill town, Nickiy chatted up a local hotel owner so that we could get mail delivered to their address in Geyzing. We figured the bigger town would be best for couriers. I ordered the recently-broken clutch lever mount using a UK BMW parts supplier and FedEx, god bless them. It would be a few days until this very important part arrived, so Ruby suggested we headed briefly out west to visit the villages of Uttarey and Dentam.

Once again our friend Google routed us like a twat, drunk on satellite power and no local knowledge. The asian continent’s second-highest bridge was between us and the village of Uttarey. And without telling Google, it had been closed to vehicles for years. We drove randomly up river-bed roads until eventually we found a much smaller bridge and back-tracked until we found the correct road to Uttarey. Once in amongst the handful of shops and eateries, we enquired about getting to ‘Limbu Homestay’. We didn’t get much to go on, and many local people were Limbus, so it didn’t narrow things down. I battled the bike up a slippery track until some security guards called the number Ruby had given us. We were on the wrong road. I skidded back down to the main road and a lady came to us from a shop. This was Durga, the owner of ‘Angel Homestay’, which was the homestay we were trying to find. With much difficulty I followed Nickiy and Durga up a rutted, cobbled and mud-soaked track to a misty mountain top.

We settled in for a few days with the family and enjoyed the community prayer-singing in between the mist and rain. Once again we were fed to bursting with delicious paneer thalis, spicy potatoes, momos and thukpas. We walked one afternoon up to the Tenzing-Hillary memorial with Durga. I think she was afraid of us getting lost and, given the shortcuts we took, this was entirely possible. Death by leeches was also highly probable, but she took us to some of her friends’ dark huts and we were welcomed and served tea and chang (an alcoholic corn drink – much like the infamous chicha frutilla of Peru). At one of her friend’s houses they presented her a huge bunch of lillies, which they harvested and sold every year.

That night I awoke suddenly to a cold, damp feeling on my back; I scratched with my hand and grappled with the light switch. This was not another vivid dream. Here was a leech crawling in the bed. Nickiy awoke and checked herself; blood running down her forearm. A fat leech from a rainy trip to the toilet had hitched a ride back into our comfortable bed and filled up on Nickiy’s wholesome blood. This leech was no longer interested in humans, he was ready for the 6 month sleep before his next feed. So I sorted him out with 30% DEET and 70% alcohol.

Sliding once more down into town, we headed next to Dentam and checked in to a hotel overlooking the main square. Even though smoking is illegal in Sikkim, our hotel not only served beer but allowed smoking in the restaurant downstairs. This gave a great atmosphere and we attracted a group of drunken locals (from the road planning department), one of whom decided to show off his yoga headstand in the bar. Knowing this is yoga no-no top 10 material we caught him just before he toppled and snapped his cervical vertebrae. Dentam also afforded us the opportunity to taste Sikkim alpine gouda which, to me, felt like doing Dutch ice climbing.

Our side trip complete, we checked-in to our spacious hotel in Geyzing and excitedly awaited the doorbell to ring, with our express FedEx consignment from the UK. If you ever have a global operation, do not expect it to work at the local level. FedEx INDIA require a customs form (known as the Know Your Customer (KYC) form) to be completed before it passes into the country. FedEx did not, and do not, tell you this in advance. They also don’t keep you informed of a package’s progress, or lack thereof. The Kentucky Fried Chicken form requires proof of ID and proof of address in the country you don’t live. Global couriers for residents only! So I shit out and sent them my demands and they released the package. But the package was in Delhi, thousands of kilometres away. So hanging around Geyzing wasn’t going to get it to us very quickly. Adding to this annoyance was some poor truck driving which converted the vertical, parked Stein into a horizontal oil gushing machine. Also rain was a daily occurrence and at some point the roads out of Sikkim would become impassable, to our little road motorbike.

Predictably, as we began to head back to the Sikkim capital, we managed to topple over in a huge waterfall. Lacking a mirror (because FedEx did not deliver when they said they would) meant that this time the bike rolled over and bashed the instrument binnacle off of the river rocks. Now the irreplaceable, instruments collected water like an otter’s pocket. Yet again, the fix-it-all grey RTV paste would need to make an appearance. Back in Gangtok we relaxed for a few days attempting, and failing, to ride the cable car and attempting, and failing, to walk the scenic way into town. But the city was relaxed and offered us the shops we had only dreamed of in mainland India. Also, for the first time during our gazing into the distance, we saw the mighty peaks of the Himalaya; Kangchenjunga at 8586m shining in the rising sun, wedged between Sikkim and Nepal. This mighty tower is only a few hundred metres shy of the really big fella, the mountain most people have heard of.

After our few peaceful days here, we realised the clock was watching us. The monsoon rain would be causing landslides all over the road of the north, our FedEx consignment would be heading closer and our long-lost post destined for Darjeeling was somewhere to the south, within our grasp. It was time to head to Siliguri.

3 comments

  1. Wonderful! This is my favorite post yet: Full Toss, chang, meeting the locals, spooning with leeches – it has everything! And sounds like you were having more fun, despite poor Stein’s ongoing affronts. I want to read his blog!

  2. These riding conditions look very challenging. You should definitely sign up for the next series of Kick Start.

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