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Monday, July 27, 2009

Sikkim & India

A couple notes on Sikkim: It is unlike the India we may have known (cough cough India group '08) and it is unlike what stereotypical views many have of India. It is a whole new India. As I said before, I was at first introduction to Sikkim, disappointed. In fact discouraged because there were so many rules, and regulations, and permits you had to get and on and on of such things.

Then I began to notice intricate details about Sikkim, its literacy rate, its people, its streets. Clean. Almost spotless. Many if not most speak English. Maybe monsoon rains wash trash into the valleys, but there are trash receptacles on the street, many signs saying no spitting or dumping or littering, followed by threats and fines. I don't mean to give a bad name to the rest of India, I mean I vouched to live here for a year, but this is just different. As much as I enjoy rebelling against some rules, more and more I am led to believe that we would trash our home twice as much if it weren't for rules.

Even if the police don't fully enforce them, all the signs and notices change the mental state of someone considering littering. Usually those who speak loudest are heard. My two points being thus: (1) if you get a chance to visit Sikkim do it, (2) if you get a chance to tell someone not to litter, do it. They may litter anyways, but the alternative thought is now in their heads. Sure you sound like a hippie, but would you rather have your children playing in piles of mud or plastic?

Anyways, back to travelling. So today, the day before I leave for the trek, I had to by a train ticket. Through the rain I slouched to the railway booking office (since there is no railway to Gangtok) and filled out forms, and got in line. Well, more like a cluster of people around a tiny window. I got to the front, gave him my form and he said "Waiting list 14." As any normal tourist, and not thinking India, I snatched my form back, scoffing, cursing, rubbing my chin thinking of how I would get to Bangalore.

Maybe I can go to Chennai or Kochin first and then go to Bangalore. Surely those trains are available? No. All trains going south have been booked for the month. I went back to my hotel, got the number for the NJP station, and went to a phone to call. No answer. Asked the clerk at the place and he gave me another number. No luck. Severely discouraged at this point, through that clerk's grace he said,"You know they won't kick anyone off a train with a waiting list ticket."

Why didn't I think of it before? I had seen a man do the same thing (Pawan Gupta) on my way toNew Jalpaiguri. So, with a new heart, a new plan, I (thoughtfully) grabbed my umbrella and headed back to the booking office to buy my ticket. No more slouching or wet ankles, I was walking on water. Got my ticket, AC Sleeper class, and was ready for the 4th. Waiting list 14, there was even a chance that I would get a seat by a weeks time. If not, no worries. I get on, find a seat, wait for the conductor, and slip him a quick Rs. 100-200 and I am on my way to Bangalore.

This sounds horrendous at first. A family life, and society taught that bribes are bad, almost evil (especially depending on the circumstances). Not surprised when I first saw it, (I was very aware of it on my first trip to India, but didn't have to personally apply it) I was somewhat appalled none the less. I asked Pawan, the devout Hindu, why or how he does it. "Because I would not get anywhere if I didn't submit to how it works. You see, the government from the very top is corrupted. Bought out by other governments and companies. Why do you think our infrastructure is still so bad? We get nothing, badly funded schools, poor local doctors, etc. I am not a rich man, and can't afford many things that I would want for my children. The government needs serious reforming."(Which at this point he spoke of some activsts and gurus making head-way in India) "This corruption trickles all the way down, and we, citizens, are left to suffer. If I didn't bribe the conductor,"(which was done in open air, not hiding anything) "how would me and my nephew ever get anywhere? Trains are packed as they are, and if you need to get somewhere, this is your last option." (Note: Not verbatim).

He seems to be right. Not enough money for a flight. There is only one train that travels all the way to Bangalore from NJP. If I went to another city (or two) to transfer it would take me a week to get down there.. what am I to do?

Evaluate it as you will, we all have to try new things sometimes.


  1. Hi Norman,
    At one point you indicated that you were going to try and improve your ability to speak a new language. Not sure which one. Is this still on your Agenda?
    I find myself "bragging about my Grandson" so you may hear from a Missionary (Rosemarie) who said she was interested in reading your Blog.
    My latest project is learning how to use Photoshop to turn pictures into paintings. It's alot of fun.
    Looking forward to hearing more about your trip as the days go by.
    Grandma and Grandpa

  2. Hi Norman, what an adventure. I guess I can appreciate our train from Ramsey alot more, and I am only going to NYC.
    We are such complainers, just think what all those people go through on a daily basis just to survive.
    So just out of curiousity how long is the train ride to Bangalore?????
    Keep writting, it's beautiful. I told you I'm printing each blog and putting it in a journal for you. Many years from now you will appreciate the fact that I did it. It's like keeping a journal of your travels.
    I was just telling dad yesterday that some of the things that you are doing, I'm not sure I would have the courage to do.......could it be that I'm just getting older????? Or that I have reached a stage were I like comfort??? Probably a little bit of both.
    Your trip sounds just awesome.
    I think now you might understand about all the time I would yell at you for throwing your gum in the street.

  3. 'ello norman..

    fyi..we paid a bit more like rs 600 to bribe the train guy to stay on when our ticket was good luck :)

    also...thinking of all the orange and banana peels we threw out the window...if only there had been a bunny-shaped garbage can around..hmmm

    keeeep blogging! :D

  4. Hi Grandpa,

    Yes, I plan to learn Kannada when I get to Bangalore. Unforuntately, only the state of Karnataka (where B'lore resides) speaks the language. And since I am in the North right now, everyone only speaks Hindi. So when I arrive in Bangalore on the 6th, I will begin to study hard and learn! We'll see how it goes.
    Thank you guys for the kind comments, I can't believe the support that is coming from everyone, and I am so very appreciative of it. A post will be coming shortly on the trek,give my love to all.