I return back to India right where the country is only 20km wide anymore before continuing to the northeastern provinces. This is where I am heading next.
The ride to Darjeeling seems to be some kind of an entry test for Sikkim. Some monumental 2200 meters of vertical climbing in one single go. Unique is also that the road shares the route almost all of the way with the railway. One look at the gauge and it is clear why the train has its name: The Toy Train. Thanks to the railway the road has a constant grade of 4-5% which is just perfect for a touring bicycle.
It is a great ride on a small mountain road through beautiful forest and there is no traffic at all. Wait, no traffic at all in India? That is somewhat suspicious and I sense that there is something wrong. True I am soon in front of a huge gap where the road used to be. With the bicycle I can just manage to walk along the slope to the other side. A little bit further up, a huge land slide has taken away the whole slope. Heavy machinery are about to build a new road. ‚Road closed because of landslide‘ a minibus driver shouts at me. Oh yeah, after climbing 1500m I am certainly not going to turn around now. I finally manage to walk past the digger and carry my stuff over some big rocks. Now that was definitely worth the effort, for having the road all to myself.
Sikkim, that is India in the vertical. Absolutely nowhere it is flat here. Never a valley floor, or a high plateau, only narrow valleys and steep mountains slopes. The people here (an interesting mix of Indians, Nepali and Tibetans) have adjusted to the landscape. Villages are like glued to the impossibly steep hill side. Every single field has to be terraced and narrow mountain roads climb in endless switch banks over all the ridges.
I have to adjust too. More then 60km I never cycle in a day. The road is often rough and some climbs very close to the pain limit. But cycling is just fantastic here. Who cares how far I get in a day? Multiple times I realize surprised that only 2 days ago I just past on the road on the opposite side of the valley.
On curvy mountain roads I ride through dense bamboo and hardwood forest. I constantly have to cycle very concentrated because right next to the narrow road there is usually a vertcal drop. At the highest points there are many little Gompas (monasteries) that I often visit. After 2 weeks of riding in and out of all those valleys I emerge back onto the low plain where it has become real hot meanwhile.