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Embedded Photos: 1.Mani Stones, Tashiding Monastery, Sikkim 2.Monks making yak butter statues , Tashiding Monastery, Sikkim 3 Tashiding Village, Sikkim 4.Children, Tashiding Monastery, Sikkim 5.Kanchenjunga from Pelling, Sikkim
Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

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December 27 - January 2. DARJEELING  The papers were covered with news about the tsunami and all news channels were focused on the disaster.  We called home the day after we arrived back in Darjeeling to let everyone know that we were fine.  Of course we were far away from any effects of the tsunami but we weren't sure if everyone knew just exactly where we were.  The world can seem very small when you look at a globe and all people can think is that they know someone in India and something bad just happened there.  Fortunately the international coverage was just starting to kick in with details of what had happened and our families were pretty sure that the Himalayas weren't going to get flooded bMani Stones, Tashiding Monastery, Sikkimy a tidal wave.  Sri Lanka had the most coverage in the early part of the disaster and then we started to hear more about Thailand, Tamil Nadu, the Maldives, and just when we were wondering how Indonesia faired they began to report the catastrophic impact there.  India's remote Andaman Nicobar Islands went totally unmentioned until they announced one of the island had permanently disappeared!   So the reports were gradual as the remote places were investigated and damage could be assessed.  When we talked to our families on the 27th the reports were predicting that over 10,000 people could be affected.  In our day and age it is incredible that they could have been so far off the mark!  It was a humbling reminder that nature is boss.  

We began to think about the people we had met in recent months; the man on the train in Sri Lanka who relentlessly encouraged us to visit his coastal town, now devastated; the shop we bought silk at in Kanchipuram, now probably flooded; and countless other faces came to mind of people we didn't really get to know but now suddenly seemed more vivid.  The islands of Lakshadweep were never mentioned in the news and from the maps it looked as though they had been too far north to feel any serious effects.  But, people as far as Somalia died from an earthquake off the coast of Indonesia!  It was mind boggling and these places weren't dots on a map to us aTashiding Monastery, Sikkimny more, they had many dimensions with layers of life and cultures.  But, in addition to the empathy we felt for the victims we also had a selfish chill over our own random fortune.  We had been in Tamil Nadu just a month earlier and Sri Lanka before that.  We looked into various ways to get to the Maldives and after our disappointing experience in Lakshadweep we looked into flights directly to Thailand.  Taking the last few weeks on a beach in Thailand seemed like the perfect cure for two weary travelers.  Our plans had always been fairly loose and we just went where we wanted when it seemed right.  Fortunately for us we couldn't easily get to Thailand and after more consideration we decided that we would regret not going to the Himalayas.     

We had planned to move on from Darjeeling as soon as possible but we didn't expect to encounter such difficulty getting a train from Siliguri down to Kolkata.  It was Indian tourist season and Darjeeling was full of Indian tour groups.  There had been a marked increase in foreign tour groups as well.  It made Darjeeling a slightly less relaxing place but if we were going to get stuck somewhere I was glad it was Darjeeling.  The soonest we could get a train ticket was almost ten days out, on January 5th, so we got an onward flight to Bangkok for the 6th.  That meant we wouldn't spend any time in Kolkata but the city received rather mixed reviews and we had met enough Indian tourist from Kolkata anyway.  We also wanted to make a quick jump over to the Indian/Bhutanese border town so our last days in India promised to be pretty hectic enough.      

With our extra days in Darjeeling we went back to many of the same cafes and restaurants, caught up on our reading, and shopped, shopped, shopped.  We spent quite a bit of time at the Internet cafes as well, looking for hotels in Bangkok.   We made some calls to Bangkok to make bookings but the connection was pretty poor.  When I called Citibank to confirm that my paperwork had arrived the telephone connection had been good so I suspect Thailand was suffering with communications problems after the tsunami.  Initially we were conflicted over whether we should go to Thailand since it was still in the tsunami aftershock.  Foreigners had been filling the hotels in Bangkok as they searched for lost family and friendTashiding Village, Sikkims who had been vacationing on the west coast when the tsunami hit.  Reading postings on LP we knew we weren't the only ones with this conflict. There were those who'd had their trips planned to Thailand for a long time and were now wondering if they should go.  Some of the received caustic responses about how they were selfish to worry about their holiday when the people of Thailand were suffering.  But, in reality, not all of the people in Thailand were suffering from the tsunami.  There were many more that would suffer economic hardship from loss of revenues because people were afraid to come or felt guilty about coming to Thailand.  Many areas, including the whole north of the country and the east coast had not been directly impacted.  And, even some resorts that had suffered damage were working quickly to get back to business.  They had to survive.  So, we decided it would be fine to stop over in Bangkok on our way home.  It really didn't do the Thais any good if everyone changed their plans to vacation somewhere else because they didn't want to be faced with the unpleasantness of the disaster.  People enjoying a holiday wasn't celebrating what had happened, it was life going on.  

Since we were just going to blow through Siliguri on our way back to Kolkata we decided that we should ship all of our souvenirs from Darjeeling.  The DHL package I had sent to Citibank arrived safely so we had no reason to think our souvenirs wouldn't be fine as well.  There was a flat rate on a 10kg box so we shopped for things until we didn't have room in the box or our backpacks for anything more.  Rob had been eying some Ghurkha knifes since before we left for Sikkim and ended up buying two.  They were newly made but fine workmanship and the blades were resourcefully made from metal that came from railroad ties or jeep springs.  The DHL office couldn't guarantee they would make it through customs but were pretty confident that they would be fine (they never made it).  The rest of the stuff was a mixture of tapestries, our Sri Lankan lamp that had been lugged across India, and other odds and ends.  Rob had to make a day trip all of the way back down to Siliguri to get the bag we had left at the hotel.      

Our room at the Seven Seventeen was comfortable and the laundry service was good, as usual, but the power was a bit spotty this time and the food service was tops.  They still had construction going on upstairs which sometimes went a bit late but we did have a pretty good view.  The only real Tashiding Monastery, Sikkimproblem was the cold.  They still brought the hot water bottles and we paid for a room heater but it didn't do a whole lot of good.  It wasn't as cold as Pelling but we were still at 7000 feet in the middle of winter! It was always nice to get out during the day because the sun was the only thing that really warmed you up.  

We spent a number of afternoons sitting on top of Keventers Cafe, dodging the Indian tourists and their rambunctious children.  They were beginning to wear on our nerves, more than a little bit, but what I really found irritating was the way they treated the local people.  The people in northeast India are generally darker skinned and an air of superiority was definitely given off by the lighter skinned Indian tour groups.  They had no problem interjecting themselves into our meals, introducing themselves and striking up conversations, but they barely looked at the local people.  To be fair, it is a country-wide problem in India, the caste system, but we gradually got so that we didn't really want to talk with the lighter skinned Indian tourists because the arrogance made us think less of them.  But, the Indian tourists weren't alone in their class distinctions.   We were at Keventers one morning and saw a boy throw up on the floor.  His mother just threw a newspaper over it and left it there.  It wasn't her "lot" to clean things.  That wasn't entirely surprising but what I was surprised about was when I came back hours later the newspaper was still there.  The staff in the cafe were also too good to clean up vomit off of their own floor and apparently a lower caste cleaning person wasn't available.  Consequently, the vomit sat fermenting on the floor of a place where people were eating.  There is no way around that being completely disgusting and is where my cultural understanding went entirely out the window!  I didn't stay to have a coffee.  

Our days in Darjeeling were relatively uneventful, except for one evening.  We were sitting in our room, watching some American TV program, when we heard a loud bang and then the lights went out.  Looking out our window we saw a big orange ball of fire radiating from the jeep station area.  That was down the hill and over from where we were but not so very far away. We watched intently as a small fire engine came screaming through town and tried to douse the flames with little effect. When its water ran dry it left and a smaller truck showed up.  It wasn't looking all that optimistic so Rob said we should pack up our bags, just in case.  If the wind picked up, and with all of the wooden buildings, it wouldn't take that long for the fire to spread.  With our bags ready to go we kept watch from the window as another large fire truck came to the scene.  Slowly the fire started to dwindle but occasionally flared up again before they eventually put it out.   It toKanchenjunga from Pelling, Sikkimok some time but as the flames got lower we decided they had it under control.  Given Darjeeling's densely packed assortment of old and often dodgy looking buildings it was amazing that a fire hadn't done the town in so the Fire Department must have been doing something right.  

From our room we heard New Years happen but didn't actively participate.  It was cold outside and we preferred to stay in the relative warmth of our room.  There actually weren't any major celebrations happening in town any way.  What we heard sounded more like someone's wild party.  On New Year's Day we spent some time watching the previous years Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena on T.V.  

All of our souvenirs were sent via DHL but we were also packing an unwieldy amount of books that needed to be unloaded before we left Darjeeling so we made a trip to the post office.  It wasn't busy when we arrived and a very patient man helped us by preparing our books to be sent book-rate.  We were told that someone would be there to pack them for us but we had no idea what that entailed.  We remembered seeing how they packed the books in Fort Cochin but this guy took a much more skilled approach.  He carefully wrapped our books in clear plastic and then in brown paper, cutting a small 2" by 1/5" window in the paper so customs could see the books.  It was looking pretty flimsy to me so I was feeling skeptical about the survivability of our books but then he took out a piece of soft white cloth, maybe burlap, and proceeded to stitch the cloth around the package with a needle and thread!  He had clearly done this before and did it with precision, tucking the corners snuggly and neatly stitching down the hard edges of the package.  He cut another window in the cloth to match up with the first one.  When he finished we wrote the addresses directly on the cloth and he pasted on the stamps.  It looked like a little book pyramid but we were both quite certain our books would make the journey across land and sea to California.    


SRI LANKA Colombo Oct 25 Oct 26 Oct 27-29 Nuwara Eliya Oct 30 Oct 31 Kandy Nov 1-5 (1) Nov 1-5 (II) Polonnaruwa Nov 6 Sigiriya & Dambulla Nov 7 Colombo Nov 8

INDIA Ft.Cochin Nov 9-15 (I) Nov 9-15 (II) Nov 16 Nov 17-18 Madurai Nov 19 Nov 20 Tiruchirapalli Nov 21 Nov 22 Nov 23 Chennai Nov 24 Nov 25-26 Nov 27-28 Ft.Cochin Nov 29 Lakshadweep Nov 30-Dec 4 (I) Nov 30-Dec 4 (II) Trans-India Train Dec 5-7 (I) Dec 5-7 (II) Siliguri Dec 8 Darjeeling Dec 9 Dec 10-13 Dec 14 Sikkim Dec 15 Dec 16-20 Dec 21-23 Dec 24 Dec 25 Darjeeling Dec 26 Dec 27-Jan 2 Siliguri Jan 3 Jaigon (Bhutan) Jan 4 Kolkata Jan 5-6

THAILAND Bangkok Jan 6-13 (I) Jan 6-13 (II) Jan 6-13 (III)