As the jagged, stony teeth of the Jorethang-Melli ‘road’ pulverised my man area and bounced my chain-ring clean through my shin, I found the man responsible.
I entered the halls of bureaucracy, checked the name plates of the inept and proceeded to my quarry.
He knew I was coming. He didn’t know how, but something in his marrow told him it was over.
He reached out to touch his young family for one last time- they smiled back at him from the photo on his desk.
A fatherless trio, soon.
I entered the room perineum first. He would witness the destruction he had caused, this builder of pretend roads, this drawer of lines on maps.
‘You see what happens! You see what happens when you say you’ve built the road but you haven’t built the road!’
He tried to close his eyes but I forced them open. He needed to see what he had done. He needed the raw, pummelled hideousness of what he had created squashed onto his face.
I drew my Ghurka blade, placed it on the desk and stepped back.
The blood dripping from my shin to the floor was the only sound.
He knew what he had to do.
His blood for mine.
Pulling up my sodden chamois, I waddled back to my bike.
There were only 3 hours of daylight left and I still had to get to Melli
Such is West Sikkim. Exotic and worn-out, or yet to be built. It’s hard to know whether a place is in decline or has yet to rise and fall. All I know is that I brought the wrong bike. Or maybe I brought the wrong me. All I know for sure is that I need a new neck. Without front suspension, your neck is forced to become accordion-like with the jolting.
Leaving my nest in Gangtok was a bit of a wrench. For all my nomadic tendencies, I am a strong nester. Yet fly we must. West Sikkim welcomed me with laughably abysmal roads splattered by piddly waterfalls, golden retrievers that snapped flirtatiously at my ankles, and endless doughy discs of Tibetan bread. I discovered my new favourite Tibetan dish, only to discover that it was Israeli – ‘Shakshuka’, a beguilingly simple reduction of tomatoes, onions, capsicum and coriander, with 2 fried eggs plopped on top, it has redeemed a whole nation.
While neighbouring Bhutan’s national sport is archery, Sikkim’s seems to be the hawking up of phlegm from the deepest recesses of their beings. Most mornings I will be roused not by birdsong but by the spectacularly grotesque cacophony of men and women mining their guts for phlegm and splattering it all over the place.
Their excavations are almost archaeological in depth and focus.
I’ve stayed in several ‘Gumpas’ – a cluster of dwellings hanging off a cliff around a Buddhist Monastery, where dogs and chanting monks compete to keep you awake at night. I’ve had uncomfortable dinners with families who I unwittingly gate-crashed, thinking it was a hotel. I’ve averted my gaze from a doggy-style roadside romance between two monkeys and seen a man casually brandishing a spade engulfed in flames.
Something I’ve re-realised is that women are the warm heart of every place. When a man tries to be hospitable, it always seems forced or trained in to me. One particular woman (more a girl) in a tiny wee village nestled under massive mountains cooked me the best food I have ever eaten, day after day. I was so over the top with my praise that towards the end, she thought I was taking the piss. A particular highlight was a bowl (3 bowls) of homemade ‘gyathuk’ – succulent hunks of hand-made pasta torn in to a golden, mystery-vegetable filled broth.
Back on the ‘road’, the going often got so tough that I would hear myself reciting a mantra – ‘House, Horse, Haven, Hero’; all the things the bike had become to me. As the rides became harder, I started adding ‘Hearse.’
Occasionally, clumps of jungle sprouted little feet from underneath themselves and hopped onto the road – as I passed, sweet little men would look out at me from under their leafy loads.
As I feasted on oven-fresh apple rolls and steaming hot, milky cardamom tea at a bakery in the jungle, a tiny male employee accused me of being handsome. Not knowing what to do, I responded by looking at my feet and doing a little jog on the spot. Passing by later at dusk, I heard his little voice cry out: ‘Hellooo! Gentleman! Hellooo, we walk together!’ Minutes later, he chirpily excused himself into the bushes to ‘Do a quick shit’ as he put it, though it was only a piss.
Cars, Jeeps and massive, smoke-belching ‘Tata’ trucks tore past at shoulder height bearing strange tidings on their windows – ‘Facebook’, ‘God’, and ‘One mistake and you’re dead’ being particular highlights. After 2 weeks of this, Kalimpong was a welcome refuge. I wined and dined myself at the ever-so-fancy ‘Elgin’ hotel and was surrounded by ‘lady’s slipper’ orchids in my very own cottage at ‘Holumba Haven.’
Railing against this new civility, I bought a large Ghurka knife and used it to drunkenly apply the finishing touches to my annual shave, before returning to Gangtok to be sick again. Next stop, health. And Mysore.