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Embedded Photos: 1.Gompa, Phuentsholing, Bhutan 2.Gompa, Phuentsholing, Bhutan 3.Cloth Store, Phuentsholing, Bhutan 4.Buddha for Sale, Phuentsholing, Bhutan 5.Buddhist Nun , Phuentsholing, Bhutan
Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

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January 5 - 6. SILIGURI to KOLKATA We headed back to Phuentsholing in the morning for breakfast, at the same cafe.  A guard gave us some trouble at the gate and initially didn't want to let us in but we said that we had just been there the day before.  He paused for a moment and then decided to let us through.  The hostess smiled when we came in the door.  She probably doesn't get that many repeat foreign customers.  Our train for Kolkata left from Siliguri that evening so we didn't have too much time to kill but wanted to take one last walk around the town.  It paid off for me because I found some pins at the loGompa, Phuentsholing, Bhutan cal tapestry shops.  We took a closer look at the monastery in the big square but the experience was somewhat diminished by a group of Indian tourists who went around the temple like they were in Disneyland, taking photos and talking loudly.  The Buddhist worshippers just went around them as they humbled prayers and turned the prayer wheels.  Then they wanted to take photos with us for some reason.  It was pretty funny, not entirely unlike the western tourists the visit their Hindu temples I guess, but the noise tended to get lost in a Hindu temple while it seemed to echo in a Buddhist one.  In general, I have just decided that tour groups are often a bad thing, no matter where they come from!  We sought refuge in the gardens in front of the temple and watched as the local people went about their circumambulations.  It was a long loop that they made around the temple and through the gardens.  One older group started to wave as they want past us.  They were good humored people.    

We took a long walk back around town, visiting some of the same stores again and taking more photos.  A canal separated the two towns along the border but there was no fence.  As we began to head back towards the gate Rob was stopped by older Buddhist nun.  She didn't speak English but a young woman standing with her told him that the nun thought she knew him.  He explained that was unlikely since it was his first time to Bhutan but it made everyone giggle and we got a photo of her with Rob.  Perhaps they met in a past life. 

Gompa, Phuentsholing, Bhutan Rob negotiated with a guy outside the gate to give us a ride back to Siliguri.  The public bus would probably have worked but it just seemed safer to take a taxi.  If we missed the train we would miss our flight.  The taxi didn't really take less time, because our driver stopped for a twenty minute lunch, but we felt confident that we would get to Siliguri in plenty of time.  We just went back to our same hotel so we could eat at the restaurant before heading to the train station.  

We arrived early for our train but it was already at the platform.  The numbers were screwy so Rob went to look for our car, passing a stray cow that was just cruising around the platform.  It went as unnoticed as a stray dog would back home, probably less so! We didn't have any expectations about our carriage but it turned out to be quite new and was the cleanest one we'd seen in India.  Only half the carriage was second tier A/C while the other half was first class.  It gave us a chance to look at the first class compartments before everyone got on the train.  They had doors instead of curtains and were decorated in rather plush red material but otherwise they weren't much better than our compartment. Our compartment mates turned out to be an older Indian couple from Toronto.  They were traveling with a young couple from Kolkata.  The Toronto couple had emigrated 25 years ago so they were just taking a holiday with relatives.  We had some good conversation before it came time for us all to go to sleep.  However, the younger couple was very competitive.  We weren't five minutes into talking with them when it came out that she worked for the princess of Bhutan and it was her connections that enabled them to get these train tickets on short notice.  They bought them ten days in advance, the same as us, but according to them we must have been part of the tourist quota seats or we could have never gotten seats.  Apparently they also had one of the security guys on the train keeping an eye on them.  The husband ran his own business which was our dream in life so we asked him quite a bit aboutBuddha for Sale, Phuentsholing, Bhutan Cloth Store, Phuentsholing, Bhutan it.  But, eventually it came out that we had been traveling for a while.  When they asked how long and we said nearly two years, the conversation just kept coming back to it again and again.  We would be on some other topic and the husband would just say "A two year vacation" and shake his head.  He became preoccupied with it.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was hard to call much of our time in India a "vacation".  Vacation brings to mind nice hotels, fruity cocktails, and beaches and all we had was the beaches part, in Lakshadweep.  But., I suppose it is all a matter of perspective and the idea of traveling to learn about different people and places didn't seem to hit home.  

Our flight leaving Kolkata was less than three hours from our scheduled train arrival.  Except for our two day train from Kochi we had had pretty good luck with trains in India so we weren't too worried about making the flight. But, our compartment mates looked skeptical when we told them of our short window.  And, as luck would have it, the train lost an hour overnight.  The flight was changeable so we wouldn't loose our ticket but we weren't keen on spending a night in Kolkata.  We were already mentally geared up for Thailand.  There was nothing we could do so we just hoped that the train didn't lose any more time before reaching Kolkata. We had some more conversation with our Canadian compartment mates while we tried not to think about our flight.  As we were all sitting there a cockroach came strolling across the little fold up table.  The carriage sure looked clean but no train ride would be complete without a cockroach.  It wasn't big but I saw the Canadian woman lung towards the young woman when she saw it.  I instinctively grabbed my train washcloth and smashed it.   In a way it made me feel better. This woman had lived much of life in India but after 25 years in Canada she wasn't happy to see a cockroach either.  Not that anyone would be "happy" but she her reaction was not unlike mine when I first saw a cockroach on a train in India.  In two months I had toughened but I felt a bit less guilty about being prissy.

When we arrived at Kolkata station we moved fast to find a taxi.  There was the normal negotiations but we had little patience.  We just needed to get to the airport.   The narrow congested streets of Kolkata were slow but our driver was even slower!  We tried to convey our sense of urgency without getting angry. I pointed at my watch. Rob motioned to go faster.  He seemed to let anything and everything cut him off, not normal for a taxi driver anywhere in the world.  Maybe he was trying to motivate us to offer more money but I really don't think he got it.  He didn't speak English but certain things seem like they should be universally understood but you could never assume anything.  In retrospect we should have avoided anyNun, Phuentsholing, Bhutan taxi driver with incense burning on his dash board underneath a small deity statue with fresh flower offerings.  This guy was in his own mellow little world.  We did end up getting to the airport in time but they guy didn't have change (naturally) so he got paid a hefty tip for not really doing anything to help us out.  I ran to the check-in line while Rob sorted out the payment.  There were still people checking in so we were safe.  We were still a little frazzled but underneath we were relieved.  Before heading through immigration we changed our money.  The moneychanger limited how much each person could change so we made separate trips and got an assortment of Bhat and dollars.  Immigration was a breeze but customs was a real pain in the ass.  They made every person stand in a booth to be intimately "wanded".  After the female officer rubbed the wand directly over most of my body I felt a bit dirty.  Then they saw the Buddha statue that I had in my day pack when it went through the x-ray.  It must have looked like a hunk of metal but instead of just looking for that object in my bag they made me take absolutely EVERYTHING out of EVERY pocket.  They were snotty about it too. I had to ask them to handle my things carefully.  It was down to just coins and pens in the small pockets and she still wanted me to take EVERYTHING out so I turned the back upside down and dumped EVERYTHING, including dirt and lint onto the table and gave her a cold stare. Rob was giving me a concerned look and said to just take it easy.  As I walked away I told her it was the worst search I'd had, and I think it really was.  With all of the tension built up from the morning it felt so good to get on that airplane!  

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)