<<  Darjeeling, 9-Mar-2013  >>

Kangchendzonga in sight

Kangchendzonga - 8598m, back streets of Darjeeling, monastery, ZOO, bar, porto and travellers

Darjeeling is famous for its fabulous views on Kangchendzonga, 8598m, world’s third highest mountain. After 4 days of omnipresent haze and fog, which hid everything, including Darjeeling into light grey ocean, the sky finally cleared up this morning and so I wake up immediately after the sunset and went to “Observation Hill” and I SAW IT. Amazing view! Kangchendzonga rising skyward from the surrounding landscape. It looks beautiful. For the first time I’ve seen a mountain over 8000m. It’s difficult to realize the height of the mountain. It’s still far away and due to the fact that viewed it from height of 2200m I would probably guess it to be maybe 6000m high. But probably I’ll get closer to it during my planned short visit of Sikkim and the closer I will be, the larger and more impressive the mountain will look like. So, the third highest mountain in the world – check. Now what remains is Mt. Everest and K2 :-)
I stared at the mountain (which is considered holy by the locals) and then, enjoying the warm sunrays, I roamed around the backstreets of Darjeeling, where the locals live, visited local gompa (small mountain Buddhist monastery) and then went to see Himalaya Mountaineering Institute and ZOO. Yes, ZOO :-) It’s a package with the Mountaineering Institute, but anyway I wanted to check it out, because if was my only chance to see some anything from Indian Himalayan fauna, such as snow leopards and them tigers. You probably think that I must be nuts to go to ZOO in a country like India – considering the quality of living of average population, from ZOO I could expect nothing short of concentration camp, right? Well, Lonely Planet said that it’s one of the better and “humane” ZOOs in India so I gave it a try. And actually, it was indeed quite acceptable ZOO I have to say. All animals had generously large areas to live in, no tiny cages. Paradoxically, the quality of living of these animals by far exceeds that of most of the Indians. Not even mentioning that their reserves where probably the cleanest part of India I have seen :-) I think that many Indians would happily change their positions with the animals in this ZOO… So I had a little bit of childish entertainment today.

Darjeeling is also the first place in India where I’ve been with a genuine bar. You know, the western kind of bar: with stocked up bottles and solid selection of booze on sale. And it’s also the only place in Darjeeling where you can warm up - it has heating. The bartender is cool looking Nepali-Indian guy with Elvis hairdo. The first time I walked it and felt the warmth, saw the bottles of booze and heard the music – they played blues classics – and I ordered glass of port wine, man, in 5 seconds I knew where is my place in this world. Roaming through India is great experience, probably the best thing I have ever done (although it’s impossible to rank it against it my trip in USA with Samo and Asia/Pacific with Zuzka), but I could hardly survive in the long run without a cozy bars like this. I felt like I would give away my kidney for being in Memphis or San Francisco or Amsterdam or at least Bratislava in that moment. Blues and booze. Well, as I hardly drink here, it was actually not the alcohol that cheered up my spirits, but simply the overall atmosphere. The port wine I had was Indian, 1 EUR pre glass, but it was surprisingly acceptable. It was my first sip of “wine” (although it’s not really wine) after more than 3 months. Aaaaaahhh. I think I could spend rest of my life without beer, maybe even without rum – my most beloved distillate, but wine, oh, I would probably dry up without it in my life. By the way it’s interesting how 3 months without alcohol change your limits. At my goodbye party I drank hectoliters of booze, and now I’m almost drunk after 2 tiny glasses (definitely less than 100ml) of port wine. At least my liver has gone back to normal after the self-destruction weeks before my departure from Slovakia.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that the gompa which I visited is “home of Tibetan Book of Dead”. Lonely Planet claims that the original Sanskrit script of the book - in reality called Bardo Thodol, aka Great Liberation by Hearing on After Death Plane – amazing how 2 Sanskrit words can pack up 8 English ones :-) Right at the entrance was a paper which said, that the book is NOT in the library or possession of the monastery and that they had no idea why LP said so, so they conducted research and found out, that the scrolls which the first English translation was based on, had been provided by one lama who lived in the monastery, but the monastery as such does not own the book now. Anyway, it was funny to be at a place where the original of that book WAS present (at some point of time) and from which it entered the Western World, given the fact that I just read that book.

There’s lots of travelers in Darjeeling and I met some interested people and finally escaped the trap of “How long in India, where In India…?” stereotype conversations which keep on killing me.
I especially like this piece of a conversation with one couple of travelers from England:
Traveler 1: “So what do you do?” – asking me
Me: “Well, right now I don’t have any job, but I used to be a project manager in implementation of IT systems in banks. Sounds horrible and boring - I don’t really want to describe it. And what do you do?”
Traveler 1: “I grow weed”.
Traveler 2: “And I trim it”.
FUCK! Some lifestyles are so much more exciting than others!!! :-)

There’s lots of interesting people roaming around, and finally also some Americans. There are very few Americans in India. I’ve met much more people from Canada. Overall, in number of travelers, French win by a mile, followed by Brits and Australians, then Germans and Russians and then Canadians. From the few people I’ve met from US, most of them were from Seattle. So, almost Canada :-) I guess it’s the infamous weather of Seattle that makes them travel so much.
I also met here a very sympathetic couple from USA who are planning to go to Burning Man and they invited me to come with them. Oh yeah! My life long dream! When I was leaving Slovakia I thought that it would be great to be on the road long enough to make it to Burning Man, the greatest post-hippie desert festival in the world. It sounds pretty improbable, but it would be great to meet up with these guys there. It’s at the end of August, so it might work out. Ho ho ho! Santa Claus is coming to town! Maybe…

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak