Pelling Hotel Play-By-Play

8PM-ish, Wednesday, April 8, 2000

While I'm waiting for the geyser to heat up my shower I thought I'd put down a few words.

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After another 5 hour jeep ride through the most beautiful place I've ever been I think it's time to try to describe it. First though, if you want to be here also, here's what you do: Grab a flight to India. If you're already here, take the Indian Airlines flight to Bagdogra, which is just west of Nepal. From there take a helicopter to Gangtok. I know, I know, you might think a helicopter is excessive and you'd be right but it's only about $40 and it takes 45 minutes and you'd be flying over the Himalayas instead of taking a punishing, dusty 5 hour jeep ride with a fat guy sleeping on you. I didn't do it but I wish I had. The flight to Bagdogra is only a couple of hours so you could conceivably go from Bombay to Gangtok in an afternoon. I don't think you could ask for a more dramatic change of scenery in so short a time anywhere on earth.

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Sikkim absolutely, totally fuckin rules. It's striking, it's lush, it's warm, it's friendly, and it wouldn't be good if it weren't impossible to describe. Everywhere you look there are huge steep green valleys, mountain ridges overlap and extend 4 or 5 deep into the misty air. The first one is green, cut with steps for rice fields, huts and roads, the next one is dark gray, then light gray and the final one is just barely darker than the pure white sky. Little shacks where the farmers live are made out of wood from the forests of bamboo, oak, birch, giant magnolia and palm. It's a rainforest so plant life explodes off the sides of the mountain. Every slope is of maximum steepness allowed to support large trees or steeper.

Every building is on stilts. I hear it's a local Lepcha tribe tradition but it also seems that there is no area of land flat enough to have the entire foundation completely on land. As a San Franciscan, I've mentally trained myself to consider the seismic soundness of any building I enter. I do it unconsciously. There must never be earthquakes here because everything would surely crumble. Many places have slopes greater than 45 degrees so the supports under the buildings are longer than the building is deep. I'm a little nervous but I trust these people. They're so nice and friendly. They don't try to scam like Indians do. They speak a lot less Hindi here so even the little language cushion I'd gotten used to: asking directions, ordering food, introductions, has been lost. That's OK. I'd rather do sign language with an innocent guy that speaks Nepali and smiles a lot than some shifty, street smart Indian guy who makes fun of me when I try to speak Hindi.

A Video:
Whistling Monk Kid!
Whistling Monk Kid!

1:07 @ 39.4 Kb/s
click the image or download 2.6 MB

Got to have that shower now 'cause I'm too dirty to be creative. (splash splash, soap soap)

I'm not kidding about the Indian Airlines-copter thing. Given how amazing this place is, it is profoundly ridiculous how easy it is to get here. It's easy 'cause you're rich. I'm almost positive that if you can afford to read this you can afford to come here. It's changing fast. I am in Pelling right now, where there were 5 hotels 5 years ago and now there's 25. There are about 160 actual inhabitants, as a local told me. Every single person has a hotel. But it's not nasty like Kajuraho, where the people are desperately clinging to an over inflated tourist season of 3 or 4 months. When I was there I wanted to setup the equivalent of a tourism methadone rehab clinic for all those pathetic, jonesing postcard jerks.

In the 5 hours I spent in the jeep today I went up and down 3 times over 5000-foot ridges. I positively spotted 6 or 7 places I'd like to build a house and move to. (I don't take that urge lightly) I waved to kids on the side of the road about 30 times. I wanted to stop and take pictures about 100 times (and I only had that urge about 5 times on my way to Darjeeling, which is supposed to be famous for scenery). In order for a spot to qualify for a photo, it has to be sublime in composition, such that it makes a lump in my throat. It has to be individual in character, such that, even after 4 hours I was sure we weren't going to pass another place like it (many of these places are like a redwood grove in Northern California not available anywhere else) or, should I say, "a gorgeously proprietary ecosystem".

Gotta go up to the Kangchengzonga rooftop restaurant. Hungry.

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While I'm sitting in the restaurant waiting for my food, let me say a little prayer that even 2 of the many pictures I've taken manage to capture what I see. I snap them out the window of a bouncing jeep if I have to. You're cruising along at 6000 feet in a rainforest and then as you whip around a ridge, there, perched at the side of the road, ("perched" because the side of the road is actually a 2000-foot cliff) is some unassuming villager just enjoying the scenery. School kids walk by, uniformed and cheerful. Suddenly the clouds part and narrow beams of sunlight scatter on the hillside across the valley. You turn around to look back up the hillside you're on and ferns and tea and cardamom and magnolia seem to be coming down on top of you like a plant landslide. Nobody seems poor. They live in little shacks that may have no electricity but there is no squalor. The surroundings elevate everyone I'm sure.

I'm in Pelling, in west Sikkim, I've only been here a couple of hours and it was getting dark when I showed up but it seems to have the feel of an Ewok village with a Swiss chalet view. And on the TV: the kid is saying, "Daddy, give me 10 rupees please" Awfully cheeky of the young chap, I'd say. Must be the Indian version of "Married with Children" mixed with the "Brady Bunch". My tea is excellent of course. This place is to tea what San Francisco is to skateboarding. Err, or something like that.

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My plan is to make this my base for explorations: monasteries and getting lost up a river / waterfall splashing through a deep channel between ridges.

Gotta eat. My food's here. (Munch munch, slurp slurp.)

Ate it. Ok. I'm really travelling now. I feel like getting up at 4AM I know that feeling is the moment in my journey when I start traveling. Up until now I've been sleeping in until just before checkout time and watching too much Star Movies channel. Watched "Rambo: First Blood" (part one, thank you) last night for the 6th time. Love that movie. Richard Crenna delivers some of the best lines in the history of cinema:

Teasle: Are you telling me that 200 of our men against your boy is a no-win situation for us?
Trautman: You bring that many men, just remember one thing.
Teasle: Oh yeah? What?
Trautman: A good supply of body bags.

All the same, I haven't been living up to my potential. I know it too. I want to be back in Bombay with the Mystery Woman. I feel like I have unfinished business with her. My dream house will have a ping pong table. Hmm, don't know where that came from. I'm going to do all the cool stuff around here. After this, I'm going home. I feel the urgency finally. I'm in Pelling, Sikkim, India. Is this India? The TV is India, the tourists in my hotel are rich Indians, but this place is the top of the world.