Getting to Sikkim in itself was quite an adventure. Ducky and I boarded a Spicejet plane from Bangalore to Kolkatta. I mumbled at having been allotted an aisle and middle seat. Luckily, a very (and I cannot underline that enough) rotund lady waddled up and told us to take her window seat and plonked herself into the aisle seat. The rest of the flight proved quite uneventful save my having to curb Ducky's ill-concealed amusement at the rotund lady's continuous eating habit. I don't think either of us would have survived had she decided to bean us one each on the head for his comments. Toward the middle of the turbulence-ridden flight, a woman fainted while walking along the aisle. A call for any medical practitioner onboard yielded no results - whatever happened to the millions of doctors this country supposedly has? Not even a quack onboard? Strange. I suppose Bangalore-Kolkatta flights carry only software techies or Satyajit Ray-wannabes.
From Kolkatta airport, we took a cab to the railway station. All cabs there are the good old (albeit beat-up) Ambassadors. However, my initial nostalgic glee quickly turned to a feeling that I was too young to die. This was a cab from hell, a cabbie with a death wish. As he swerved around other equally homicidal vehicles and suicidal pedestrians at breakneck speed, I distracted myself by taking in the shabby, filthy streets, loud people, and quaint trams and smoke-belching buses. I realized with horror that the city's smoky air turns you into chimneysweep of sorts. After freshening up at the Army rest house at the station, we boarded the Kamrup Express for New Jalpaiguri (NJP).
Our fellow passengers included an Army Colonel, who couldn't understand why I would voluntarily give up a place where "oxygen is free" and head to the oxygen-scarce boonies of Sikkim. On my first day at the acclimatization camp, coping with strange symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), I must admit I thought he had a valid point! Our fellow passengers also included a belching old man and his gold-bedecked wife wielding the proverbial five-tier tiffin carrier. Almost needless to say, Gaseous Clay and Aunty Gold kept me amused for quite a while. However, they paled in comparison to the singularly most amusing character I have ever encountered on a journey - the "Time Pass" man. The written word can do very little justice to this enterprising seller of peanuts and other fried condiments. I wish I had captured his unique style on video.