(sorry for the hiatus – several things in flux here)
Its our last day in Calcutta – so we head out early. Bob wakes without ill effects from the window pane and tranc dart. Ellen told me that it was the same brand of darts she uses at home and Bob’s system is accustomed to them. Yet I can tell that Bob is weakening even though he is putting on a brave face. Refusing to give in we plan a good half day of activities before we jet out of Calcutta to Bagdogbra for points North – the amazing past kingdom/present state of India — Sikkim.
As I was perusing the city map I noticed that Calcutta has a huge botanical garden/green space across the river. The major domo calls us a cab and we are on our way. The small yellow Tata cab plows headlong into the sea of mobile flesh and metal that is the living blood of the great city. The blood ebbs and flows never seeming to hurry yet never completely stopping, inexorably moving the living city. We flow with traffic crossing the river and never see a let up to the congestion. People everywhere moving like flocks of birds with seeming telepathic coordination – how thousands of people are not killed in traffic daily at just this city is beyond me! But against all odds we arrive at the gates to the botanic gardens. The city and its endemic congestion is such an extreme contrast to the serene wilderness of the botanic gardens that the gateway to the gardens appears no less to be a teleportation gateway! This illusion is pulled off by the ingenious design of the gardens, the mature trees as well as the large size of the gardens. I estimate the garden is roughly 1.5 miles by 1/2 mile – so it is big. It allows fabulous grand wild scenic vistas. We pay our pittance for admittance and we’re teleported to the Indian Jungle wilderness. From shoulder to shoulder, toe to toe congestion to the nearly deserted wilderness in one step! Even the air changed! Cooler and fragrant with exotic floral scents. We start our walk checking the map and walk along the river toward the giant banyan tree at the other end of the garden. There it is ahead – the greatest of all water lilies Victoria regia with pads 6+ feet across.
That Victoria person keeps cropping up! There are other tropical lilies too with beautiful fragrant blooms.
The place appears as a wilderness but the studied eye of an astute plant person such as I see that it is a garden. As we walk along seeing hundreds of birds I posit that the place must surely also house leopards!
We got to see the langur monkey above cavorting with such great élan and joi de vive that I couldn’t help but think of Kevin as he runs on the beach at camp! Then he stopped and lounged in his favorite tree. I can’t help but think that I had just seen the happiest monkey in all of India! The next vista I got to see brought a great joy to me as well.
This view of a tropic jungle backwater of a river is within the boundaries of Calcutta! This is a garden unlike any I have seen before and I wager that I’ll ever see again. Absolutely fabulous! As I was reveling in my botanical overdose I didn’t notice how much Bob was struggling on our walk on level ground. This is most strange as Bob’s long legs gobble up the distance and he has preternatural stamina normally. Not today though. But he was enjoying the garden as well and he was trying to push through it. We checked the time and hoofed it back to the entrance of the gardens to hail a taxi back to the Kempton to collect our bags and head to the airport and thence to Bagdogbra and beyond. It is to be a long arduous travel day!
We get to the airport with plenty of time and then we read the departure tote board to see that we’ll be delayed and it turns out that we’ll be delayed a few more times too. The up shot – Bob is stressed and there is Airport food in his stomach and we don’t get going for about 6 hours. The pleasures of domestic Indian air travel. This has manifold adverse effects down the road as when we land in Bagdogbra we’ll have a ~6 hour taxi ride yet to Gangtok. So we’ll be on the road all night! Even though Bob is keeping a stiff upper lip I know he is running on empty and I am very anxious that the window pane LSD might flash back on him any moment.
That’s our jet in the background and it would soon take us north to the small airport. After boarding and air-born Bob was able to get some much needed rest. We land to much engine roaring and braking at the Bagdogbra airport’s short runway. We disembark after the landing and settle into our developing travel habits – I gather and shepherd the luggage as Bob secures a taxi ride to our next destination at the state controlled prepay station. His job often time is the more arduous one!
Much to my surprise our next destination wasn’t a local hotel but our lodgings in Gangtok approximately 6+ hours of cab ride away! I felt like the Blues Brothers – “its 11:30 at night, we have a quarter of a tank of gas and we’re wearing sunglasses – our lady of blessed acceleration don’t fail us now..” And so we were off into the night in a nice large Mahindra SUV to Gangtok.
This was serious stuff. We weren’t more than 2 hours into the trip and we stopped to get soft drinks in hopes of quenching my thirst and settling Bob’s rebelling stomach. But it was to no avail, another hour on we stopped to allow bob to evacuate his stomach. I got out of the car and kept my hand on his back and handed him bottled water and napkins with my other. Later Bob was to exclaim that he had no idea how empathetic I was. I told him I was just holding onto his shirt to prevent him from dizzily listing as he retched perhaps going over the bank and down to the ditch some 15 feet below because he had our itinerary and contact list! I don’t think I convinced him. He got through the up-chucking and settled back into the SUV and I think he was able to doze as we bumped our way northward. It was a rough ride, but a rougher ride for Bob..
We arrive in due course at the boarder of Sikkim. This border is not like other Indian provincial borders it is more of a national border. But we came armed with “Line Passes” for Sikkim – the equivalent to a visa. But there are a couple of problems! The border control station that accepts and stamps Line Passes is closed! But Bob and I rouse ourselves from our torpor and unknowingly approach the border offices. After some loud questions that we didn’t understand Bob even in his diminished state kicked into wizard mode. He fixed the official with a stage 7 (remarkably yes, a stage 7) Innocent Unknowing Deer-in-the-Headlights Stupid Harmless American Tourist with Money look. I also sensed exhausted and sick mixed with the stare too. The border official sighed frowned turned on the single 20 watt light bulb (no wonder they close the boarder after the sun goes down) and peers at our papers. I remove my small flashlight from my pocket and shed some light on the subject. Then the second problem – we have no little passport photos on our line passes!!! At this turn of events Bob dials up “the Look” to an 8 and the official totally caves! He is trembling as he shakes his head whilst stamping our line passes. He knows he has encountered a true force to be reckoned with and that he never really had a chance! Bob and I settle back into our ride and off we go on the last 2.5 hours of our traverse.
The last 2 hours in many ways was the worst. There was no traffic at this time of night but the narrow two lane road wound its way through the foot mountains of the greatest mountain range on earth. It traversed the distance with minimal bridges by not spanning any ravines instead turning into the ravine, staying level along the steep slope to the end of the ravine then turning back to the original course at mouth of the ravine. This routine was repeated countless times as well as many places with potholes being fixed. This road had more bumps and grinds than Lili Von Shtupp the Teutonic Titwillow!
But our talented and persevering driver kept us on the right track. We arrive in Gangtok and proceed with a couple small hiccups to our lodgings at the Orchid Glade guest house. Bob is completely out of it and shaking with chills and slight nausea. I exit the cab and grab some of our luggage the remains handled by our diligent driver and go up the ramp to our guesthouse. As with all the cities built on the edge of the Himalayas, they are strung out along the ridge and much of the city is often not occupying the coveted top of the ridge. Such is the case with our lodgings and its neighborhood built on a steep slope. The ramp up to the guesthouse rises approximately 40 feet from the road. Bob has stirred and is stagger shambling slowly up the ramp clutching the railing desperately. I judge that he is managing it ok so continue up the ramp with my load. Even though it is the wee hours of the morn the hotel owners/staff detect our presence before we get to the ramp top and our bags are grabbed and transported for us. I go back to Bob and see that he is flagging badly and is ashen and is trembling when I put my arm around him to help he feels like a limp noodle – I am deeply concerned, I have to get him settled in and resting ASAP. Roshan the hotel Major Domo/facilitator greeted us. I lapse into emergency direct bareknuckle Newton mode and state that Mr. Bob is sick and must get to bed immediately with extra blankets and a pot of hot tea with lots of cream and sugar. Roshan responded to my direct matter of fact demands with a strange head waggle that I later found to be ubiquitous amongst the peoples of the high Himalayan countries. The waggle is neither a western “yes” nod nor “no” head shake. The head is waggled about a point about where the nose is – with the top of the head going to the left and the chin going to the right. In “Newton Mode” hemming hawing or equivocation is NOT brooked — there are bigger issues afoot and the Newton’s demands must be met or there will definitely be repercussions. I am tired so it makes it even worse, I grab Roshan by the arm and premptively apologize. “I am sorry I have no idea what you head shaking means – do you understand my needs and will they be met quickly?” Roshan tells me that it means agreement and compliance. I say “excellent!” and away we go. Bob is soon dressed in his warm night clothes with a sweatshirt and I have him tucked in and sipping on hot sweet milky tea. He is soon off to sleep…..
Morning comes and Bob has stepped back from the precipice of disaster yet is still weak and shaky. But just as an ailing peacock will strut and preen with the best of them even if he is in bad shape Bob awakes seemingly bright eyed and bushy tailed!
Here Bob is in our sunroom enjoying late morning tea and a hearty repast of medications. I will close with this picture – its one of my favorites of Bob – lounging and smiling gamely. It pretty much sums up Bob. Game for anything in any condition and making it look easy in a nonchalant way.