For a split-second I was back in New York City.
It was that smoky smell, the sweetness of frying oil and acrid odor of burning rubber and exhaust that was so familiar. For a flash, my feet were pounding the cement down on the cold sidewalk outside of Grand Central and —
The aroma was overwhelming.
is that ALL cilantro?
Ah. Back to reality.
Outside of the Mumbai-Pune bus window, I spied a whole street lined with bushels of the pungent green stuff — burlap sacks tied at the top of knots, bushels of the leafy strands piled high on the sidewalk. I was being unloaded from the backs of small trucks. Farmers in rough-spun cotton shirts squatted next to their piles — in that particular way I’ve only seen Indian hip flexors and knee joints allow — rearranging and stacking and moving their herbs by the heaping armful.
A massive sprawling crack in the windshield carved a crystallized spider web across the glass.
Billboards on the roadsides kept advertising Sunil’s Celebrity Wax Museum and asked, “Why would you go to Madam Tussaud’s in London?”
Ads for Beverly Hills Apartments, Midori Towers and Glitterati Estates wanted to know if I wanted to be part of the family? (Nah, thanks.)
My earbuds humming to the tune of Ira Glass from This American Life suddenly felt, well, ironic.
Oh, India. I’m baccckkkkkkk!
I had flown in from Boston the night before. I had snuck home (the most elaborate of sneaking) to surprise my family for Christmas. It kind of went something like this…but tack on some hugs and tears. 😉
What a great two-week break it was! Counter-culture shock be damned; it felt like I had never left (minus the hugely negative drop in temperature since I left last August)! To say it was so good to see everyone would be an understatement, for sure.
A day or so after I reached Pune, Lit arrived — and then we were off for a little Himalayan adventure.
I miss the seasons. I miss the cold. It’s hard to feel like it’s Christmas time when you’re always sweaty and eating papayas.
So, we headed north.
Oh, did we get our frigid fix!
My new definitions of “cold” includes:
- Sleeping with socks…mittens…jackets (over four other layers)…hats…a sleep sack…and four blankets…and still shivering.
- When you wake up in the morning and the condensation from your breathe has frozen on your blanket.
- When you can’t drink out of you water bottles because they are solid Nalgene-cubes.
- When you can’t tell if your red and purple toes are frostbitten? Or bruised?
- When you try to conquer a squatty potty that has frozen over night. TMI? Maybe. Life hazard? Definitely.
The trip took us from Pune to New Delhi, Delhi to Bagdogra, a ride to Siliguri and from there, a share jeep up through the mountains to Darjeeling and eventually to Maneybhanjang where we started our trek. Out of the four share jeeps we had (stuffed with up to 15 people, hanging off the back and top included), we had three onboard pukers. That’s a 75% vomit rate: a promising sign for any intrepid adventurer, right?
In three days covered 32 miles, landed at 12,000 feet, crossed into two countries (India and Nepal) and two states (West Bengal and Sikkim) along the Singalia Range — awesome. 🙂
Along the way, we stopped at countless tea houses for some of Darjeeling’s finest brew. The first night we stayed with a family in Tumling, Nepal where we danced in the kitchen to the latest Bollywood hit; the second, a Hitchcock-esque manse a top a hill that was only half-kilometer (read: forever) to go; and the third, another trekker’s haunt in Rimbick where fewer blankets and hot water bottles were needed to keep blood flow to the appendages happy and healthy.
The best part? Early morning day break before the fog rolled over the mountains. The absolute stillness and silence while watching the wind whip snow off of Kangchenjunga‘s face on the first morning was so, so beautiful.
And Darjeeling itself was the perfect place to unwind and thaw out for for a little bit. As a former British hill station, it still retains a lot of that old Raj charm with colonial buildings and views from every sloping street. Best stop: the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Realizing that the first Mount Everest explorers worse less than I do on a winter’s day back home was pretty legit. The delish Nepali food (perhaps minus the butter tea, but that just wasn’t to my taste!) was a-plenty, as were more knit socks and hats than a girl could ever dream. Wish we could have stayed longer to stretch our tired legs out just a bit more — I can’t wait to head north again!