Apr 8, 2009

No Bananas: Weirder is India

Before I left for India I new it was going to be an experience of a life time. When pitching a story to a magazine they want an angle to know where the story might be going. Unfortunately the way I travel tends to be more about getting there than the actual destination. Or it's the strangeness of the destination that makes the traveling more unpredictable. Going to the other side of the world could be judged to be the extreme of the travel page. In the end I ended up physically where I predicted, but was taken on a whole other journey that tested my mental, physical and social constructs.

I'm embarrassed to say that the Khachendzonga MTB Expedition turned out to be amazing despite it being a total joke of an organized race. True there was good racing going on, but as far as being compared to what other stage race participants might expect, it was like buying a box of Lucky Charms and getting rice inside.

India is technically an english speaking country, but don't let that fool you into thinking that communication is easy. I'm wondering how much of that was an issue with the person I had been in contact with through out the planning of the trip and the race. In exchange for my help in promoting the race in the US, the promoter had promised to pay my entry and my airfare to the race. Seemed like a sweet deal. To sweet.

Remember nothing is free. Upon arrival in India the promised transportation wasn't there. One of the most daunting things is being in a foriegn airport with a language gap, tons of luggage and no idea what to do next. I called Saroj, he talked to the tourism guy there, gave him an address and we prepaid at the taxi booth for the destination. As our taxi wadded its way through the Delhi traffic, past three wheeled vehicles, pedi-cabs and burning trash our driver got a call from the organizer, who proceeded to tell me that there was a problem with the pre-arranged accomodations. Instead we were taken to an expensive hotel and left till the morning trip back to the domestic airport for our next flight.

On top of this introduction to the subcontinant, we were on an 11 hour jet lag. The hotel had what was to be the last bath tub we would see for the next three weeks. A surreal walk through the back streets to a market area was our next task in a search for food. A few moments of calm was welcome. Then I check emails and got a message from Doug who was a day ahead of us saying that the promised shuttle from the next airport to the race start wasn't there and they didn't even know about the race. This was starting to look ominous. My heart was sinking and I was wondering what I had gotten my friends into.

At least we were prepared for the next day's trip and welcome in Bagdogra. Courtney and I grabbed a taxi to the next town over to get our Permits into Sikkim, but found the office closed when we got there. The next step was to grab one of the waiting trucks to ride to the Sikkim boarder and get the permit there and maybe sleep.

When a foriegner in another country it always feels like someone is trying to get more out of you and the need to be on guard is mentally fatiquing, but we payed our $8, climbed into the back of the truck and realized that we didn't get the 3 person bench to ourselves but had to share it with 2 others, making the honda RAV sized suv an 11 passenger car.

Luck had us in a truck full of helpful people, and when ever there was a snafu they sort of just made our next trip decision for us. It was interesting how when a problem has to be tackled, people will gather and discussion will begin. All of this in another language, so we were left on the outside looking into our destiny. At the Sikkim boarder we had to get out, walk across a floodlight lit bridge through a wet road as if it was the DMV. It turns out that the state we were leaving, West Bengal, was suffering from some bird flu outbreak, which kept our chicken and egg consumption on the rare side for the next three weeks.

Courtney and I had originally decided to break the trip up and not travel all the way to Gantok, but we also realized that when traveling going with the flow is essential, so when the pasengers decided we should go all the way, who were we to argue. Since it was night time for most of the trip we were denied the pleasure of seeing what we were getting ourselves into. The one thing that was recognizable was the snaking lines of wildfires rippling up mountainsides. Ominous foreshadowing? Fortunatly one of the passengers was affiliated with a hotel, so at about 11:30pm we found ourselves in front of the Manul Inn. Unknown at the time was that this was to become our base for the rest of the trip, due to our incredible host.

Awake in the morning we are greated with a pleasent little room, sun streaming in and a hazy sky that prevented any views. Bummer since we had expected to have the third highest mountain looming in our peripheals the whole visit.

I guess it was time to change the perspective.......