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It’s been some time, reader. I have been distracted in incredible India! This vast land has played host to me while S. gallivanted off to the Netherlands.

My entry point was Kolkata, the former capital of the British Raj and cultural capital of greater India. A shock to the senses. My ears assaulted by wholly unnecessary blaring, instinctual tooting and an incessant cacophony as (wonderfully retro) yellow taxis, hand-pulled rickshaws and other traffic shoulder their way through the overloaded streets. I have considered deeply, this battle on the streets, and posit this is an extension of the way life in India is. You need to make yourself heard and known in order to survive and prosper. Let the rules or others (or Gods forbid, the government) define your path, and you’ll soon land at the back of the queue behind millions of others. Hence: I toot therefore I exist. An alternative interpretation of this cultural phenomenon could also be attempted for I was struck by the radically gendered nature of space in Kolkata, maybe 90%+ of the populace I came across on the streets were men. Horns as jousting lances? A topic for another day.

Below you see my laundered clothes drying, whilst hanging from a public urinal, and the everpresent traffic jam and yellow taxi cab. 

Darjeeling. Kolkata was a way station for my way to the far northeast. My stratagem was to get out of the heat in the rest of the nation (already +40 degrees) and (or so I thought) a bite-sized piece to discover in one month. I boarded an overnight train ride on the Darjeeling Mail (inspired by one of the better Wes Anderson movies) and soon I was jammed in a 4WD truck snaking its way up a hill to Darjeeling, an old hill station town famous for its tea and views of the Himalayas. The intention was to go hiking however mist and bad weather put the kibosh on that plan and I shivered in this surprisingly cold town draped over steep hill spurs. My homestay was a wonderful retreat with the Nepali-Indian hosts answering my many questions and feeding me gentle Nepali food after I was struck by the dreaded dodgy stomach. The vista on the day we had no mist was of a mountain range crowned by Kanchenjunga (world’s third highest at 8,586m). India’s mountaineering efforts are based here in the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and Tenzing Norgay’s cremated remains are entombed here. I also visited the zoo which is focused on breeding rare alpine species such as the snow leopard, Himalayan wolf and my favourite, the red panda. However it’s still sad to see the Victorian-era enclosures, wholly inadequate to hold these large animals.

There is also a significant Buddhist population with a number of modern but beautiful monasteries. The ‘toy train’ is a tourist relic leftover from the British era but still cool, though belching coal fumes all over the place. The frequent power cuts meant candles in the house were a crucial aid to making momos (Tibetan/Nepali dumplings). Tea was a must of course and that pile of tea is premium stuff. All hand-picked and sorted and retailing for R15,000/kg or ~215 euro/kg!

Meghalaya. My next destination was the state of Meghalaya, famed as home to the wettest place on earth, receiving between 11-12 metres of rain per year. To put this incredible number into context, Auckland receives on average 1,115mm, and Amsterdam 805mm. I squeezed into yet another shared jeep and we raced to Cherrapunji along cliff-edge roads. This tiny town plays host to some arresting landscape. The Himalayan plateau just stops here and vast quantities of water barrel over sheer cliffs, limestone caves abound and everywhere you look are steep, lush green hills descending towards Bangladesh.

I descended quickly to Nongriat, home to a marvel of human ingenuity, bridges formed from the roots of ficus trees! Incredible odes to human patience, these trees are trained with bamboo frames over years (the oldest bridge is more than 250 years old) crossing rivers which become raging torrents in the monsoon. I stayed out of Internet range in a dorm with three open walls and the soothing roar of the neighbouring waterfall lulling me to sleep. The area is crammed with insect life, I have never seen so many varieties of butterflies, moths, beetles and other creepy-crawlies including geckos and snakes. I visited incredible waterfalls and deep swimming holes with completely clear water. The cleanest India I have seen to date! Truly a magical realm protected by the fact you have to descend over 3,000 steps to get there. The porters schlepping 40kg bags of cement get R180 per trip (~2.60 euro).

The Noh Ka Likai waterfall dropping off the face of a cliff, more waterfalls, marching hills, double-decker root bridge and more root bridges! 

Majuli Island.¬†Leaving Nongriat was a wrench. I had met some wonderful travellers there with fantastic stories to tell and attitudes to match. However, onwards and upwards to my present hideaway, the world’s largest river island, the sand bank named Majuli Island nestled insecurely in the mighty Brahmaputra river. Current predictions suggest it will be washed away in 20-30 years time. It’s in Assam state and the trip here in the ferry was wild as we ran aground on a fast-shifting sandbank. I ran into N., a German lad with a knack for politics, and we travelled to a haven of peace, Ygdrasill Bamboo Cottage. The cottage is bounded by rice paddies and overlooks a pond in which kingfishers fish. It’s heaven and I will while away my days here before I head to Kaziranga National Park to see the rare one-horned rhino. Coincidentally it’s Assam New Year and hordes of cymbal-clashing, drumming youngsters are overrunning the island as they perform at every house in order to bless it. They go all night and really set off the fireflies in my room!

View from my bungalow, the bungalows themselves, lush fields and talented local musicians and dancers.

Title note: Buddhist saying