I’ve mentioned before that a stunning photo does not necessarily indicate an awesome experience. That statement works both ways.
No photo can accurately sum up the day I had on April 21st of the year 2012. It was perfect, for too many tiny reasons that just do not translate well to pixels (though I suppose these words are also technically pixels. Or are they? My god I am not not good with computers). It doesn’t even make a good story, really (which doesn’t really say much for the quality of the post to follow). Nothing particularly epic occurred. It was just a lovely day.
It started off with the best pancakes I’d ever had, courtesy of Sonam’s kitchen. I know banana pancakes are the cliche of South-East Asia but I had never had them before, and these were particularly good. We followed them up with a couple of fresh apples, a fruit I hadn’t seen since arriving in India.
After that we were off to hunt for a garage in which Pete could get some welding done on a crack that had developed in Sheila’s chassis. The drive there was gorgeous, the weather sublime. All the views I gushed about in my last post were present for a second viewing.
We found the garage without incident and, on our way back, found a small market selling fresh nuts, seeds, spices and tea. We were able to sample, and bought a few small helpings of our favourites.
Before falling ill, I had never before realized what a vital component of my travels food was – I didn’t realize how strongly I looked forward to sampling the local cuisine until I largely couldn’t anymore. But these mouse-sized portions of natural foods were perfect for my still volatile digestive system.
Near to the market was a rock, set up for people to climb. I carefully made my way to the top and, once there, savoured the view of the surrounding valley below. Once back on solid ground I inquired about hiring someone to belay me on some larger rocks later the week, and managed to arrange an hour and half of climbing and rappelling for 6 CAD dollars.
Now giddy from the promise of climbs to come, we made our way back into town to meet with some potential buyers for the bikes. It was breaking my heart to part with Hrithik but the decision to head home had been made, and the sooner we could sell the bikes (and the higher the price we could get for them), the better. Pete and I had both been fretting that we’d have trouble offloading the bikes in time but we needn’t have worried; many travellers were using Darjeeling as a jump off point for touring Sikkim, Assam or Nepal, and Enfields were a popular choice for transportation. Locals were also keenly interested in the bikes, particularly in Hrithik – his disk brakes were a big plus for negotiating the steep inclines of Darjeeling’s frequently precipitous roads.
With a couple not unappealing offers made to us, Pete and I continued on to Darjeeling’s Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park. I’m not huge on zoos but this one was surprisingly awesome. There were, as Pete pointed out, ‘no bullshit animals’. It was all just leopard! Clouded leopard! Black panther! Red panda! Asiatic black bear! Himalayan Wolves! TIGER! Fucking SNOW leopard!
We ended up in the ‘big cats’ section just as feeding time was starting, and the clouded leopard was particularly excited about the meal to come. As it paced back and forth, jumping up and down from the platform where it would be fed, it reminded me of my best friend’s cats back home, all glee and anticipation, as though it hadn’t eaten in YEARS. The zoo’s animals all looked incredibly healthy and, from what I can deduct from the expressions of non-human mammals, seemed content.
When we returned to meet with our second potential buyer we were invited to the soft opening of his restaurant bar. There was a massive spread of food which I couldn’t really eat in earnest, but did continue my mouse-size sampling of. I still don’t know if the food in Darjeeling was particularly amazing or just seemed that way since I could only sample tiny teases of it. They do say hunger is the best spice, and fuck was I hungry.
During the course of the soft opening we met up with a number of expats who were living in Darjeeling, among then a Kiwi who owned a cake shop in town, and an American and his wife who had begun a Harvard-funded NGO focused on improving education in the surrounding area. I had been (and still am) working on collecting stories for an upcoming media project, and they both agreed to meet with me for interviews in the days to follow. I was pumped. The rest of the evening was filled with good company, conversation and laughter.
Pete and I retired back to our room and, as I lay snuggled up in bed listening to the chill music playing softly on Pete’s laptop, an electrical storm flashed outside, intermittently flooding our room with white light. Meanwhile, a soft rain was falling, pattering against our room’s window, reminding us how nice it was to be warm and cozy inside.
Just as I was setting my novel down, my best mate texted me via the smartphone app we’d been using to communicate (WhatsApp is your best friend anywhere you have wifi). I spent the next while catching up with her, recounting the lovely day I’d just had. She’d known I’d been sick, and was relieved to hear that I was feeling better.
And I was feeling better. My stomach wasn’t in pain, I was cozy and snug in my bed and floating in the glee cloud a perfect day can form around you if you let it.
I went on to explain to her a few things that were still to come, like the early morning jaunt we planned to make to Tiger Hill (which was fucking gorgeous). Steph was disappointed to hear there were no tigers there, and asked what it did have that was inspiring us to awake at 3 in the morning to make the sunrise drive. When I explained it was to witness the view of Khangchendzonga, she accused me of just mashing keyboard buttons. With a promise to see her soon, I signed off. And I would be seeing her soon. In just one week, Steph would be picking me up from the Sydney airport.
I settled back into my pillow and took another moment to appreciate the sheer loveliness of the day just past. It had contained delicious food, great riding, good company, scenic views, chance encounters – everything that I felt had been missing from my travels of late. It had also contained a ton of little perfections that I’ve neglected to write about; tiny bonuses like finding the perfect parking space or getting a good bargain on the price of something. And, really, it’s the small things that truly color our days.
Topping off the perfection of the day was realizing I was looking forward to going ‘home’. As opposed to feeling like a tug to stay, that day felt like the perfect cap-off to my time in India; a warm, joyful memory to revisit whenever I thought of my final days in the country.
A couple weeks earlier, Pete had told me that a friend of his, when asked what super power he’d want if he could have one, had said ‘perfect timing’. I think that’s a pretty fucking clever answer.
*This post is about travels that took place in Darjeeling, India on April 21 of 2012.
*The full photo set from Darjeeling (the last of the photo sets from India) can be viewed over Flickr here, or on the Facebooks where you’ll find me as Krys C Wanders.