Scrum bubble of a journey saw us take 19.5 hours to get back down to the settlement of Bylakuppe in the state of Karnataka from the city of Gangtok in the state of Sikkim. Day previous was the last day of our hill tour, a time of checking out a couple of sight-see places on the edge of town, Hanuman Tok and Ganesh Tok with its views of the city, along with the usual strollin’ down MG Marg, although we didn’t spend as much time down there as the day before because it was a Saturday, the day when the shops are shut on the MG Marg because they are open on Sunday instead. So it was an end of journey day, energies now runnin’ a little bit low after a week of roamin’ from here to there up the hills – Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Gangtok – taking in the views, rock n’ rollin’ rides and all that goes with those rides such as a bad stomach from food eaten the day before and an achin’ nut because of the altitude.
Guess in retrospect the wear an’ tear of our trip to the hills took me by surprise. Now nearly 56 years down the line for me in terms of age, so there was sometimes a price to pay for me for all that high Himalayan ridin’. Not that I regret it, no, never, not at all, it was good to go, to make the effort, get an eyeful of scenes never seen before, pack ’em up into the memory box before gettin’ ready to go back down again to the plains. For our final lazy low lyin’ day in Gangtok conservation of energy was key before the final ride to come, so we walked a bit, talked a bit and hung around in our room in what was for various reasons quite a tiring hotel with lots of crash, bang, wallop to contend with each day and night.
We did all that before goin’ down again one last time to the MG Marg for another encounter with some really rather tasty food as served at the Dragon Wok, same place we had ended up the previous night. Put simply, the Dragon Wok was well worth going to again – for the Dansberg beer sippin’, the open balcony sittin’, the food eatin’ and observation of the other people who were there. Fully opened up as a fun place to be – Gangtok, Himalayan kingdom city. Only hope it gets to keep its peaceful ambience for a few years more, ‘coz as we all know, everywhere we go the times they are a changin’. The staggering amount of people in India is more than a little bit mind blowin’ these days, takes you on a trip down the miracle mile just to try to catch your own astonishment at the sights in it, all of which belongs as part of way too big a picture to ever come close to understandin’.
But onto the return, the slim slide back down to the settlement, an’ first of all the trek from Gangtok to Siliguri. Fact of the matter is for me, after spending some time up in the hills, I am always glad to get out of them, guess I’m jus’ not one of those people who can stay high in the sky for ever an’ ever. Scenery is awesome, views fantastic, but the basic fact of the matter is that I’ll take the heat of the plains any day. Jus’ give me that sunshine desolation of those hazy afternoons when a warm wind is blowin’ straight across my face an’ I’ll make do with that, rather than the high abandonment of hill life where temperatures drop a significant degree after the sun goes down. When those hills become shadow worlds which I don’t think I’ll ever come close to penetrating, not that I would claim to know the strange worlds of the plains much better either, but you get my drift.
So, Gangtok to the airport at Bagdogra took a fair chunk of a full 5 hours. It was all to do with the territory we were in rather than the distance, which as the crow flies was really not that far, but due to the windin’ roads by the rollin’ River Teesta meant the hours soon piled onto the clock. Sign on the side of the road warned against speeding – This road is a highway and not a runway.
The chola batura breakfast at a roadside stop on the edge of Sikkim was very, very nice, yum-yum tasty as a matter of fact, always a pleasure when you come across food in India cooked up fresh as that. The surprise came when we got back on the plains once out of the hills and an entry into Siliguri which was chaotic, where we seemed to catch in all its Sunday morning glory the snarl of this town cum city, which meant a slow ride through to reach the airport of Bagdogra over on the other side. Slow enough for me to have the odd paranoid thought or two as to whether or not we would make our flight, despite the fact we had hours to play with.
Guess it is fair to say Bagdogra is an old style Indian airport in that it is a crowded and extremely busy transport hub which when first encountered leaves you completely bewildered in pretty much the worst possible way. One of those Indian airports where passengers are still required to go through a baggage check prior to check-in, only they don’t tell you that, so it all adds to the confusion, as it means there are converging queues of people in a relatively confined space, all topped off by the heat and noise of an overstretched terminal working beyond capacity because of the explosion in cheap flights. Still, in amongst all this, it is possible to stand back and do some mind observance, but it does catch up with you later in the day, or at least it did with me.
All adds up to more time taken than usual in order to perform the needful things that have to be done so as to push you that bit further on down the line. Check-in, the negotiations so as to once again buy an upgrade to SpiceMax for 1000 IR a pop on our Spice Jet flight down to Bengaluru, a bargain if ever there was one. The avoidance of frictions with strangers and luggage in a hot, noisy, confined space, the slow trawl through security with hand luggage in tow, then stepping into the departure lounge to be greeted by a mass of people with hardly a spare seat to be had anywhere you might have cared to look. Takes it all out of you, well it does for me, bit by bit, as the day crawl slowly inches along.
Departure time for our flight down to Bengaluru was supposed to be 3.05 in the afternoon but by the time we finally rose up into the sky it was 4.10 and countin’. Now there were reasons for this, main one being an almighty rainstorm which came from out of nowhere, turned day into night and put a right old spanner in the works as far as our take off time was concerned. It saw us loaded onto the plane at 2.50 but not get to get off the ground until 4.10, during which time the whole situation had more than enough power to seriously get on my nerves, for me to lose all interest in questioning the object, the I of the person sitting there in his seat – little old me in other words – instead just want to be gettin’ on with it. Served to get on my nerves to the point where all guru blessings were banished from my mind, as I just wanted to push the time away, to ask, to shout at someone to get us up, up away and into the air, to push the whole damn deal further down the line, to move on up into the sky so as to jus’ get outta there, out of Bagdogra.
Ignorance on my part I am afraid, it has to be said. Just barely did I register the fact of the thunder an’ lightnin’, a pretty big storm goin’ on right outside my window. Fact of the matter was our plane stayed grounded because it was simply too dangerous to take off, yet that was something I was barely willin’ to allow enter my consciousness. Impatience, frustration, whatever you wanna call it, I was full of it. Wanting things my way, moaning at the gods again for throwin’ a spanner in the works, moanin’ to myself at how the cards have shaken out of the pack, whilst all the time aware of havin’ bein’ up since 6.15 am an’ now feelin’ it. Stupid boy, 55 years of age an’ countin’, but still the same old shake down when it comes to training the mind, to see a bit deeper into the situation and accept it for what it was.
As it turned out, when we finally did fly up into the sky we had a lightnin’ strike on the ascent which caused a loud pop and a flash that scared us witless, so it really was no joke, there was a good reason why we had been grounded. But it took it out of me, the waiting game, robbed me of my puff, saw me slammed to the muzzle hills on a climb times five. Fact of the matter is Bagdogra turned out to be a bit of a bad dog of an airport, too many people in too little space in a terminal strugglin’ to keep a lid on things, meant there were consequences as people tried to figure out the what was what in terms of which gate to go to in order to get their flight. High confusion in other words, with more than a little grief for those unsure which way they had to go.
There were plenty of planes from Bagdogra going to the usual north Indian places – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata – as well as other destinations such as Guwahati and of course there was ours to Bengaluru lyin’ deep down south just over three hours away. Carriers were the ones which dominated the domestic Indian airways scene – Indigo, Jet Airways, Spice Jet, Air Asia – all jostling for pole, for runway places to take their punters high in the sky, far, far away into the blue. But it was all a bit of a bad dog with those crowds, baggage checks, check in queues and slow trawl of the security drag, which all added up to a strain on the nerves as we muddled on through and then waited for our plane to take us away from all the madness.
Then when eventually our turn did come along it just so happened the skies opened, an almighty rainstorm came crashin’ on down, rumble of thunder, lightnin’ flashes, strikes, the whole freakin’ deal as we made our way across the tarmac onto our plane. It was when we were seated that the storm show really began, then the only thing to do was to sit tight as we were going nowhere until it blew itself out. That was what we did, sit tight, but after the best part of an hour it ate into me. The storm had long ceased, things looked clear, but still we were not movin’, just sittin’ there on the ground at the edge of the runway. It was time to play the patience game, no doubt about that, but I was finding it difficult to hold on, to keep that precious peace of mind.
I was frustrated, exasperated, as I knew that we had a bus, a Flybus to catch, once we got to Bengaluru in order to complete the next stage of our journey. In that regard I was hopin’ we would hit our destination by 6.30 in the evening in order to give us a fightin’ chance of gettin’ the 7.15 Flybus from the airport to Mysore which would arrive in Mysore 11.15, four more hours down the pipe. From there we would be picked up for the final two hour car ride in the Scorpio, back from Mysore to the settlement of Bylakuppe on a late night shuffle, a midnight shakedown with my brother in law Sonam Tashi behind the wheel, me ridin’ shotgun and my wife Dawa Dolkar in the back seat of the car.
But with the clock tickin’ and us going nowhere it was lookin’ ever more unlikely we would not hit that on time arrival for the 7.15 Flybus. That would mean an extra wait for us in Bengaluru until 9 pm for the next Flybus, a subsequent 12.30 am arrival time in Mysore which in turn would mean an approx 2.30 – 2.45 am return to the settlement, a good 19.5 hours after settin’ off from Gangtok. Time was tickin’ away, I was feet kickin’ no doubt about that, as I just so wanted to make the 7.15 Flybus but this of course is where the problems start, as to hit into a big wall of desire soon brings out the demons, soon opens up the curse game when as times drags on, you begin to see things just ain’t gonna go your way. In the light of the big picture it is such a tiny, infinitesimal thing – whether we got a bus at one time or a little later, barely more than a further 2 hours down the pipe, what was the difference? But once caught in the net of expectation an’ deal makin’ calculation, it can be difficult for me to find a way out with any kinda dignity still intact.
So it proved to be, with the result that when we finally did take off, at something like 4.10, I was feelin’ tired, oh so tired, from all the waitin’, full of frustration from my constant, neurotic watch gazin’, as if it would somehow turn time around, like I was pushin’ a rock uphill for fate to be on my side. It didn’t happen. The 4.10 take off, in what was still a storm popped sky, ensured that our arrival in Bangalore would be just gone 7 at a bare minimum, as it was a 3 hour flight back down South whatever way you looked at it, no matter how many deals you tried to cut with the gods. So I sat back, tried to let it all wash over me, but the waitin’ an’ anticipatin’, had strung me out, wired me up the wrong way, so that I was in no mood to pick up my copy of I Am That, read a few more of those profound words, a chapter maybe, of Sri Nisargadatta’s luminous non-dual wisdom. No way was I in any shape for any of that!
Once in the air I carried on in my strung out state, ploughed on through the meal which came with our SpiceMax seats courtesy of our 1000 IR upgrade purchased back at the check-in counter. I tried to reflect on the fact it didn’t mean the whole world was against me, or that the knives of fate were out to do me in, simply didn’t mean that in any way whatsoever. In fact, as it happened, the delay was for a good reason, the skies were moody broody, it really wasn’t safe to take off, in fact when we finally did we had that lighnin’ flash strike us on the right wing of the plane, which caused a flash an’ a pop, sending us all down shakedown alley for a little while, before things once again got stable and we soared up higher into the deep Indian blue of the heavenly skies.
Header image for this article was a photograph taken by Prakash Aryal – https://www.pexels.com/photo/landscape-mountains-sunrise-travel-38326/