There is a simple rule to be followed for travel to the Hills – start early, drive slowly, reach safely. I decided on this strategy. I was ready to leave by 6 am, after taking a few photographs of the lovely little garden maintained in the ORH. The heavy mist and the delayed morning tea put back the start to 6.45 am. You own the roads at that time of the day. I could drive at leisure, make stoppages wherever I wanted, to admire the great beauty of this land. While exiting Siliguri town I saw the most glorious white sun I have ever seen. The road to Sevoke is picturesque and enjoyable, to say the least - thick woods, clean air and sounds of nature all around. Unfortunately, the road beyond Sevoke does not permit one to travel with the windows rolled down; the roads are badly damaged in many places and the dust sometimes even blots out the view of the road in front. Driving in the hills requires special skills and concentration; you cannot afford to let your guard down even for a moment. The drivers doing the hill circuit are quite disciplined and do respect the right of way of the traffic going uphill. Nearly 7 kms short of Teesta town I had a wonderful view of a snow capped mountain – must have been the Khangchendzonga. The caretaker of the Government GH, where I am put up in Gangtok, told me that they had an excellent view of the revered peak and some part of the range this morning, despite inclement weather over the past few days. Just past the Teesta town I noticed trucks going down a kucha road to the Teesta River. I parked the car and walked to the river bed. Sand is mined from the river bed and washed for construction – wondered about the reaction of our own VS! The water was bone chillingly cold. The flowing water was serious temptation for a dip. But I got away after a refreshing face wash.
The welcome arch of the Sikkim Government at Rangpo comes upon you suddenly. The Sales Tax point seems to be better controlled as there was no hold up at the border. One thing that strikes you immediately on entering Sikkim is the availability of liquor; there are plenty of shops and long queues like what we are accustomed to in Kerala are absent. Lower excise duty in Sikkim means cheaper liquor. I understand that the former Bollywood actor Danny Denzongpa is the owner of some of the largest distilleries in Sikkim. There is no taboo attached to drinking in this State; even girls visit the shops to buy their requirement. I stopped at Rangpo for a breakfast of Puris and Chole. The restaurant is owned by a chap from Bihar.
I spent a fascinating two hours with Akshay Sachdeva IPS, IGP Fire Services, in his lovely house near the Institute of Tibetology. A man of many parts, Akshay is unlike most present day bureaucrats. He does not own or use a mobile phone. He has surrendered his official connection; he even countered one of his bosses to clearly spell out the government rule he violates while refusing the use of the official mobile phone! A no-nonsense police officer, he believes in devoting his time to the ‘Service’ of the common man who has no one else to turn to. He is proficient in 14 languages and is now engaged in learning Oriya. He has mastered Bhutiya, which is difficult even for the locals. He is a talented musician and is now learning the guitar. He believes that as long as one has the passion and manages time well, without wasting it over gossip and idle talk in the office (the added advantage is not having to make inane and forced conversation over the mobile), there is enough space for official work and pursuit of hobbies. One of his singular achievements in the recent past has been the conduct of 220 sessions in Disaster Management in Schools, Colleges, Villages and Towns. This is a record in the country and is certainly commendable. Well done Akshay; may your tribe increase.