Wait, that’s not the Taj Mahal. And that time I was high in the Himalayas and fell into a river.

My Trip to India

Martina & Jake consult the Lonely Planet Guide at Agra Fort.

When I said on Facebook that I wanted to recreate my grandmother’s photo at the Taj Mahal, Martina held me to my word—right down to the pink kurta.

It was only after comparing our photo at the Taj with Grandma’s that we realized she wasn’t there. She was at Safdarjung’s Tomb in Delhi, which I caught up with later.

Helen, Jake’s mom, on a bike rickshaw in Old Delhi. And a few wires.

I took a cooking class in Jyoti’s home.

I’m all wet after my guide Lobsang pulled me out of the Thangu River (Thanguchu).

Sikkim

After Delhi and Agra, I went to Sikkim, a Himalayan mountain state that was its own kingdom until 1975. In many ways it has more in common with Nepal and Tibet than India.

The Himalaya are the world’s youngest and tallest mountains. Many people live in villages hugging remarkably steep valleys—and the whole place is beset with arduous, dangerous, and very bumpy roads (see my video below).

Chang (driver) and Lobsang help dry my shoes over a fire in Thangu, Sikkim.

Falling into the river

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I haven’t lost one of the most important skills I picked up during my service: How to make a fool out of myself and be the dumb foreigner who gives the entire village something to laugh about.

While hiking, I fell off of a handmade bridge made of logs. I managed to hang onto the bridge with my arms, with my body dangling in the rushing water. The water wasn’t very deep but the current was strong, I couldn’t get a foothold. Lobsang pulled me out. Aside from some small scratches and bruises, I was fine.

Having brought one just backpack for both hot and cold climates, nearly every warm article of clothing I brought was now wet—the same stuff I was also wearing to bed.

I stayed in traditional homes with Lepcha famliles, an indigenous people of Sikkim. My first night in Sikkim, I learned that bedrooms aren’t heated and tried not to be astonished at seeing my breath indoors. With no washers or dryers, now that I was all wet I worried I’d freeze. But, as you can see, we worked it out.

This is my Lepcha host family in Lachung. I’m drinking chang, a hot fermented beer made of millet. (For my Peace Corps friends, it’s nothing like tchouk, Boukombe’s millet beer.)

Hi, China! No, wait… Free Tibet! Here I am at Zero Point: 15,233' (4,640 m), the highest I’ve ever been. It’s also just a few miles from the Tibetan border.

In 1967, China invaded Sikkim, which was then its own kingdom and protected by India. India won but today all of Sikkim is heavily militarized.

Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, is a cool little city. Like the entire state, it’s built into steep mountains.

Khanchendzonga (28,209' / 8,598 m), the third highest peak in the world, was shouded in clouds for most of my visit. During my last night in Sikkim, a dog barked incessantly outside of my room and I was a little grumpy. But when I rolled over at six a.m., my bedroom window showed a perfect view.

Kolkata

I only spent a day here. It’s amazing.


More Photos

Click to see my top 100 photos from India on Flickr.

Map

To see where I went, check out this Google Map.

Videos

It was hard to capture the hugeness of the Himalaya and the beautiful fluttering of Buddhist prayer flags with still photos. Check out both here. (2 min. 15 sec.)

From bike- and foot-powered rickshaws to terrifying mountain passes to a boat and helicopter, I took everything but a train. Bonus: Rock slide and bathing at a Kolkata ghat. (6 min. 57 sec.).

A more-than-bustling Kolkata flower market the day before the Diwali festival (1 min. 10 sec.).

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