Our suitcases appeared promptly on Bagdogra’s luggage carousel and within minutes we emerged from the airport terminal.
Once more our arrival was made easy.
A member of the tour company was waiting to welcome and garland us with traditional white Tibetan scarves,
the symbol of pure hope and intentions.
The courier briefly reviewed our itinerary and needs. We exchanged 24 hour contact numbers and he urged us to call in the event of any problem. They would be making contact with us every day to check that all was well.
An extremely young porter had been tailing us, keen to push the luggage trolley. Our guide finally smiled his agreement and gave him a few rupees
Sanjeez, our new driver, was ready.
Unlike Ravinder’s urban saloon, Sanjeez was in charge of a very hefty, all-terrain Toyota.
It seemed there would be mountain vistas after-all..
First the city clutter was left behind.
We then drove through countless miles of a very green but very flat terrain,
the landscape of tea plantations on an almost industrial scale.
But this scenery began to change.
Though it remained green and fertile, we were climbing.
The road looped its way up increasingly steep hills.
Every valley funnelled its own fast-moving river,
and was littered with massive boulders.
Where access was easy, men gathered stones and sand from the riverbed to be used for home and road construction:
the latter a never-ending process in a region subject to frequent landslides.
Intermittent queues punctuated our progress along the road.
They marked the sites of recently fallen rocks or trees.
Road transport would need patience and skill.
Finally we reached Sikkim.
India classifies this state as a restricted area.
Because of unresolved border disputes with China, anyone entering or leaving requires papers.
Robin had brought his Indian passport.
I proffered my “Letters of Transit”:
a crumpled and fading British passport; an Indian lifelong visa; and proof of my status as an “Overseas Citizen of India”.
It felt, just a little, like a scene from Casablanca.
Extra passport photos and copies of my documentation were also required, but we had been pre-warned and were prepared.
With our papers checked and my passport stamped, we continued a relentless ascent for another hour or more until the first stop on our itinerary was finally reached.
Our journey would follow a very small part of the ancient silk route.
The next three nights were to be spent in Gangtok, state capital of Sikkim.
Sanjeez sounded the horn of his Toyota and a team of young staff swooped down to collect our bags.
In a matter of seconds we, and the luggage, were assembled at reception, being welcomed to the first of our hotels in the clouds.
Pictures taken in North Bengal and Sikkim.