Sikkim: Shoulder of the North East Arm!

An integral part of my undergrad course were two internships and the first one was the most exciting for all, considering the prospect of working for the first time in an actual office space. I concentrated on applying to firms in Bangalore as the Delhi summers scared me and Bangalore was just a night from home. However the ‘small yet beautiful’ state of Sikkim was calling for me and the firm I applied to, had an opening in Gangtok and conveniently in a transportation-related project which was my keen area of interest.

As someone who loves to travel and having travel-enthusiast parents, I could effortlessly decide on agreeing to join at the Gangtok office. After the frustrating struggle of trying to get a railway ticket, the firm gave up and provided me one to fly to New Jalpaiguri which is the gateway to all the states of the north-east. And thus began my internship.

Getting in by going up!

Loads of taxi drivers screaming place-names and no sign of public transport or directions to one! and me a single female traveler – and then I got loads of scenes, from all the crime TV-series I had watched, on my mind. My eye then caught a taxi driver looking for a co-passenger for his customer – a twenty looking guy with a dignified look on his face and a travel bag, and my mind made some apparent probability calculation of risk of travelling and found this a safe gamble.

The shared taxi took me to the city bus stand which had a bus or two parked, with the completely filled bus being the one to Gangtok and the only one to Gangtok on that day. I was given directions to a local shared taxi stand, where I got on to a jeep and was stuffed into the tiny little space between two locals in the backseat. The journey was slow and ‘local’ with stops to buy vegetables, to put on the blue sheets over the luggage when it started raining, tea and then because there was a large traffic jam.

Unlike in a city traffic jam, using even one extra percent of your brain is of no use here. There are no alternate routes available,no intersections ahead where things might get better, no courage to go wrong way and also no idea of how far ahead the jam ends. This road block caused a broken down truck lasted for forever, making me reach late in the evening and causing worry to me, my co-passenger turned caretakers, my parents, my office-contact person, my would-be colleagues and even my accommodation-cook.

We walk

A day or two at my office and my sweet friendly co-workers take me to the city centre, to pass the time and mainly to shop groceries and daily needs. After the office, our car took us towards the city centre and dropped us off at the intersection to the street which was, to my pleasant surprise, a pedestrian-only zone. Walking and street-shopping (window shopping) was never that fun and carefree, considering the ever-existing threat of being run over by a vehicle in other city shopping areas.

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Agreed that larger cities like Bangalore face a huge set of hurdles to pedestrianize Commercial Street or MG Road; but Gangtok, with its hilly terrain, sure would have had its share of issues that were overcome.

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The street (MG Road it was!, the Gangtok MG Road not the Delhi one or the Pondicherry one or the four dozen other M G Roads) was perfect with the cool weather, fog filled sky, light scattering through the fog, shoppers walking past, aroma from food stalls luring you, benches to sit-stare-rest-talk and to top it all, the music playing from the sound system installed on the street light posts.

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Up the hill, on a rope

Ropeways – fascinating little compartments going along a rope and giving you a birds-eye view with the comfort of having a solid surface below you. During my internship, I found a mismatch with regard to the concept of ropeways. Many plans and reports suggest providing ropeways as a transportation mode for people (local everyday users) to travel faster up and down the hilly terrain whereas the reality shows that the rides are pricier and take time owing to the large queue of tourists lined up to ride the transport mode. As an outsider, even I took a ride on the ropeway and enjoyed the breath-taking view while noticing no locals using facility.The case might not be the same everywhere and there might be ropeways serving locals, but if not, I rather have the ropeway proposals to be made as tourist attractions than as transport options.

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In a line, a single line

While waiting for our turn in the ropeway in the long list of tourists, we could see the road leading up the hill and the ropeway’s destination. We could see that one side of the road was empty and the other had a long line up of vehicles. There was a traffic issue somewhere up the hill causing this line-up but the sheer sight of vehicles not overtaking or going crazy left an impression in our mind. It is not every day that you see people so disciplined on road.

No ink, we sink

Employees leave, government officials do not give (cannot find) data, internet goes down, manager falls sick, software crashes – all can lead to delay in work progress at an office. In Gangtok, printer ink would get over and the work would stop. Stationery was not available in variety and quantity in the city and bi-monthly or monthly trip to Siliguri was the only way to get the required items.  Maybe this was why the lady in the state transport department was busy putting on make-up and selling face creams, no stationery to work with.
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