A monk and a shop-keeper pray together in Ladakh
Picture taken in Fort Cochin.
Clip from the “Three Colours: Red” Trilogy
Picture taken in Fort Cochin, while experimenting with my camera’s recently downloaded “partial colour” firmware.
(Title borrowed from Elton John)
After three nights in Gangtok, it was time to move on to Pelling:
a six-hour journey hugging the sides of steep hills and gorges.
We dipped in and out of cloud, slowly rising above this landscape of terraced rice paddies.
A land of diverse beauty and character.
Pictures taken on the road from Gangtok to Pelling, Sikkim.
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.
Adopting a posture.
Picture taken on the road to Gangtok, Sikkim, during my travels in northern India.
Wednesday’s child is full of woe.
Picture taken in Palace Road, Cochin.
Hope, like colour,
Can fade over time.
The combination of poorly maintained roads
and prolonged rain
Does little to make harvesting any easier
For India’s faceless army of labourers.
Pictures taken in Cochin.
We had visited our final temple on this journey:
It was time for our last lunch on the road.
Our restaurant, like many on the main street, employed a man to stand outside the premises,
armed with a whistle.
His role was to attract passing motorists, and guide them into parking places. There was no car-park as such, no marked spaces, or even smooth flat surfaces on which to bring your vehicle,
Just this road-side guide and his notional parking-lots.
With an authority granted by his whistle, the man blew vigorously and almost continuously.
The sound emitted was piercingly sharp.
Beyond discomfort, it bordered onto pain.
But he blew as if his life depended on it,
And perhaps it did…
Enthusiastic whistling is often what the restaurant owner needs to hear, if a “car-park attendant” wishes to keep his job, the free meals and meagre salary.
The sound of loud chatter assailed me just latterly – noise that had come from outside.
To wit this disturbance – a certain perturbance – my manservant also espied.
Shaji ran in from the yard’s lofty gate,
He spoke like a prophet or seer:
“Sir, please. Come quickly. No time to be sickly!
Road-roller and workers are here, they’re here – they’re here!
Road-roller and workers are here.”
Fort Cochin’s new mayor is aware of the prayers that voters have made for their streets.
Casual labour’s been summoned. My dream is they’ll come and create a road fit for aesthetes.
At present it’s pot-holed and traversed by fissures.
Driving’s a challenging feat.
It’s quite hard to ensure, in taxi or rickshaw, one’s bottom remains on the seat, the seat – the seat!
One’s bottom remains on the seat.
While tarmac is pouring, and neighbours adoring the new mayor’s fair-square policy.
I can’t help but notice this finishing coat is effectively foundation-free.
Beneath the thin layer of asphalt and concrete
Lies soft earth and loose sand combined.
At the monsoon’s returning, we’ll soon be re-learning
If dreams remain merely moonshine, moonshine – moonshine!
If dreams remain merely moonshine.
With apologies to Edward Lear
Once clear of Calicut, paddy fields line our route,
Separated by betel palms and power lines.
But the road to Wayanad entails a climb from sea level, through steep hills, hairpin bends and pot-holed roads.
Gaining altitude, rice cultivation gives way to areca plantations.
We stop for tea
And to rest.
Then continue our climb.
Through the hill mists
And into the Wayanad tea plantations.
Here the climate is cool, the air fresh and the colour vibrant.
While the monsoon continues, day-break brings new road-blocks.
The local Rain Trees regularly shed their sodden boughs.
To balance this annual attrition, new roadside trees are planted.
But for now, blue skies promise – and deliver – a day of sunshine.
“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero..” Raymond Chandler
“In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero: the teacher, the nurse, the mother, the honest cop, the hard worker at lonely, underpaid, unglamorous, unpublicized jobs.” Daniel J Boorstin.