Monday, January 3, 2011


I write this having faced approximately 7 shots at the Bagdogra security checkpoint. I had thought that it would take approximately 20 minutes to feel any effects, but my knowledge of esophagol and stomache absortion rates is apparently lacking, as this is only 5 minutes after having gone through.

At any rate, Indian security has bought into the ridiculous liquid-explosives scare, and I had stored a little more than a third of a (750ml) bottle of Coronation Silver Jubilee Rum in my Nalgene before coming to the airport. CSR is smooth and light, with a hint of sweetness and a nice mellow finish. It is by far our favorite liquor from Bhutan, surpassing even K5, the 5-times-as-expensive whisky brewed in honor of His Majesty Jigme Singye Khesar Wangchuk (not to say that K5 is bad. It is a light, slightly tart liquor that goes down pleasantly while delighting the tongue with hearty overtones, to approximate the literati’s liquor review-speech). And, at $3 a bottle, it is by far my and Feyer’s favorite bargain-rate liquor (though, to be fair, in Bhutan 130 Nu is a little more than half a day’s wages for a significant portion of the population).

At any rate, we have made it to Bagdogra Airport. We are set to fly to Chennai, the southernmost tip of India [sober ed. note, not the southernmost tip at all, just very southern], in approximately an hour. Though I said earlier that there are no gates or fences on the border between India and Bhutan, I happened to be wrong in my exact wording. There is indeed a large fence lying on the border between India and Bhutan (though it has nothing on the US-Mexico border fence, that abomination), but the border is exceedingly porous. We managed to find the Bhutanese immigration office in order to get our passports out-stamped, but it took talking to both the Bhutanese exit police officers and the Indian police force, not to mention our coolie driver to find the Indian Immigration Office, where a man did not check our bags to see that we were not, in fact, bringing contraband into India.

Before we even checked our visas, however, we had another crisis. Our next stop after Chennai is Karela. Strass had booked our tickets from Chennai to Karela on an Indian train through a friend of a friend of his (and ours) at Kuenga. We spent Sunday afternoon fruitlessly calling said friend, and ended up concluding that the whole thing had been a scam, and were resigned to trying our luck at the Indian bus system in order to get to Adi. Surprisingly, our man called Strass at 8am this morning to inform us that he had the tickets and that we could pick them up at his office, which we did the moment he walked in. The timing of the whole thing (we had planned to stay overnight in Silguri instead of Phuntsholing and thereby avoid timing problems in getting to the airport) worked out however, as we had failed to take in to account the fact that Bhutan is 30 minutes ahead of India. At any rate, here we are.

I have memories of my scoutmaster, Mr. Mullens, staying awake the entirety of our Boy Scout trips through the western U.S. because, as he put it, “[He] paid to be on this trip and [he] was gonna see it.” Consequently, I have taken a liking to staying awake on long taxi rides and taking in the scenery. The drive here was exceptional. The minute we walked into India, the landscape was transformed. Bhutan is clean, respectful, quiet. The government obviously has a lot of money and concern for keeping Phuntsholing nice. India, on the other hand, does not have the resources to cover its sprawl, and Jaigon (the name of the Indian border town) reflects this. While in Bhutan there are cattle wandering the streets and people on pilgrimage occasionally ask for handouts to give to monasteries, in India the cattle eat the garbage littering every wayside and the beggars are quadrupled (we did give small children some noodle soup packets though, it is not to say that people do not experience hardships). The masses of people crowd the streets, and the rickshaws (called coolies) and construction trucks tread not-so-delicately through them. Once we caught a taxi for Bagdogra, we too threaded our way amongst the fray. Leaving Jaigon, the landscape is covered by tea farms. Tea apparently grows on squat hedges, tended ceaselessly by old women and hacked to harvest by young men with machetes. We passed by tea plantation after tea plantation, occasionally driving through small hamlets populated by women in sarees selling roadside baturas, children with their arms wrapped around each other, and full-teated bitches dragging their asses along the ground. The word for India is burgeoning: in every square foot there is either someone or something growing, from the people hustling street food, faux designer goods and a startling array of services to squads of monkeys and dark-grey-blue-throated crows eating every bit of food and fruit that falls by the wayside. Even the alluvial plains left dry by the end of the monsoon season are covered in rocks that construction trucks load up in order to expand the roads. The people pursue every possible road of commerce, and no minute is wasted. I imagine India to be what the U.S. looked like before we became nationalistic and fat: a nation devoted to improving itself through every possible means. We passed truck upon truck of young men in sweater-vests clinging to the luggage racks on top of buses, old men dragging on bicycle carts of grain, 15-year-old girls hauling along their infants to work, private school-signs advertising themselves as (literally) Harvard. Nowhere in Bhutan did I see people as devoted to making it as I did in my first drive through here.

Also, did I mention there are troops of monkeys everywhere in the jungle? India is awesome.

And there are lobster in Chennai.

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