After Jaldapara we headed from the plains into the mountains, the Himalayas to be precise. We were still in the state of West Bengal, but the terrain was to change significantly. Taking another reserved jeep, we hit the road (and believe me, it hit us back).

We could see the Bhutanese Himalayas to the north of us and we drove on the plains, often crossing rivers with little water, but wide beds of mountain gravel. During monsoon, it would be a different story.

In this picture you can see a tall chimney. These were for brick-making, and dotted the area. If you look carefully on the right side of the picture (you may need to click on it to see it more clearly), there is a dump truck in the stream bed. We commonly saw piles of rocks that people were making from the stones in the river bed. They were then loaded onto trucks which took them to construction projects. At times we saw people smashing rocks by hand to make gravel.

For lunch we stopped in a little town at a roadside restaurant recommended by the driver. Casual planks over the nasty gutter, wares, satellite dishes, signs, and someone flying a kite.

We had dosas, and it was one of my favorite meals of the trip. Flat crepe-like bread around potato, onion, cheese, and tomato. Yogurt and chile dip, with sambar soup. On the way out we saw that a few hundred bees were crawling over the desserts in the display case and decided to pass.

We headed into the mountains, with narrow roads and steep drops. Before every sharp turn, the driver would toot his horn. This is to let any cars that might be approaching the corner from the other direction know we were headed their way. On our way, we saw a hydro-electric project, maybe the only large construction project we witnessed in West Bengal. There were also monkeys scampering across the road.

We spent the night in Kalimpong, a district capital. The entire town straddles a mountain ridge with most everything built on the side of the mountain. Our hotel has 2 twin beds and very cold water. The restaurant was just okay, but our first view of Kangchenjunga was wonderful. It is the 3rd-highest mountain in the world at 28,169 feet.

In preparation for this trip we had upgraded our camera to one with a 20X zoom. Mountains gave us the perfect excuse to try it out.

The hotel’s breakfast menu had, among other things, cheese sandwiches and egg sandwiches. I asked Ryan if he thought they could make cheese and egg sandwiches. He said we could try, but that it probably wouldn’t work out. Sure enough, when they came there were just cheese sandwiches. In fact, when we saw the receipt, we saw written, “egg cheese sandwich.”

Ryan explained, “A plains Indian would say, ‘I’m sorry sir, we don’t have egg and cheese sandwiches’, but a Nepali Indian (those in the Himalayas) doesn’t want to disappoint. They will give you an answer to your question even if they don’t know it. They will give you directions even if they don’t know the way.”

We were headed to a small town called Lava. Ryan was incredibly flexible in the planning of this trip and had few requests about what what we would do. He did, however, really want to see an orchid nursery on the way to Lava. We got a reserved jeep to Lava and asked to stop at one.

We drove in Kalimpong for about five minutes and came to a gated area of some sort. Ryan inquires and finds out that we had been brought to a cactus nursery. Oh well, it was a dollar or so a person so we checked it out.

The cactus nursery gave a good view of Kalimpong, as well as a better view of Kangchenjunga, showing some of the darker mountain range in front.

As we left, Ryan asked again if we could stop at an orchid nursery on our way out of town. Fifteen minutes later we stood in front of “The Orchid Retreat,” which unfortunately turned out to be a rather nice looking hotel with about a dozen orchids in front. Ryan asked again to see an orchid nursery. Finally, the driver replied, “oh, it’s closed.” Ryan later informed me that there were about 15 different nurseries around Kalimpong.

We drove on mountain roads and saw road paving that was done all by hand except a skinny old steamroller. The asphalt was homemade on the side of the road (remember the gravel I mentioned earlier?). You may notice that the H.P.R (happy picture ratio) was declining at this point.

We we arrived in Lava, we stayed at a very nice hotel. Its name (no kidding), was “The Orchid Hotel.”

There’s no better way to learn about a culture than to experience it.

Stay tuned for part 4