Welcome to Kolkata

Here I am back in India after only five weeks; it seems as if I just can’t stay away but actually the story is really much more complicated than that.

Sometime during the Autumn of 2013 Grahame agreed to come with me to Mount Kailash, source of the great rivers of India, marriage place of the gods Shiva and Parvathi and supposed location of the legendary Shangri-La. This holy place is situated in Tibet and our plan had been to join a group that would visit it via Nepal without entering India at all. You may remember that we were prevented from taking the trip last year by some sabre rattling on behalf of the Chinese government which seemed to delight in closing the border during pilgrimage season.

Well this year it was the mountain range itself that rattled, unleashing a series of seismic events which laid waste to so much of Nepal and made the high mountain passes completely impassable. We can all remember the terrible scenes of devastation after the Gorkha earthquake of 25th April and most of us probably agree that far too much coverage was given to stranded Western hikers and holidaymakers while villagers trapped in the more remote regions went days and even weeks without succour. This is not a suitable situation into which to plunge a group of British Hindu pilgrims with a couple of indophile hangers-on.

Despite the obvious impossibility of making the trip this year, our organiser had the devil’s own job convincing some of his hundred odd clients they would not be able to go and has sent them on individually selected consolation trips as far apart as Alaska and Australia. A few are so determined that they are going to try to get to Lake Manasarovar via Lhasa although how they will manage the altitude without the intermediate acclimatisation, I do not know. As I mentioned before, this journey is for some the equivalent of the Haj so I can only wish them well.

For Grahame and I there were a number of possibilities but Central India would be far too hot at this time of year and Sri Lanka and South East Asia far too wet. Besides, we had been promised mountains and so mountains it would have to be: Pakistan – definitely “inadvisable”, Kashmir – so “last month”, Bhutan – so “google images”, Arunachal Pradesh – not enough notice, but what about Sikkim? A former mountain kingdom and, since 1975, the smallest state in India, it is surrounded by Nepal, China and Bhutan and joined to the rest of India by a narrow land bridge from Darjeeling. It definitely sounded like our cup of tea.

It’s been an exhausting couple of days to get as far as Calcutta (Kolcott, Kolkata? Who can keep up with these name changes?) but we have made it this far and will have a day’s sightseeing in the city tomorrow before flying North to where the real adventure begins. I’ve never been to India in full monsoon before and we are accommodated at Lakeside, an old country club district from the days of the Raj. It is not actually raining but the air is so full of moisture it feels as if you could wring it out like a towel. We took a wander in the moonlit grounds before dinner and the air was thick with bats and the grass alive with frogs. It must have been them who had finished off all the biting critters for there was not a mosquito drone to be heard. And if these insectivores should become overconfident a whole parliament of little owls patrols back and forth above them on silent wings.

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