One Typho at a Time: Conversations Over Breakfast in Gangtok
“Akele?”, she asks. I don’t yet know her name. I guess I will never know. “You meant…alone? Yes, I’m alone,” I reply. Her eyes widen with surprise. “Alone? All the way from Sri Lanka?”
“Yes,” I grin, she joins me.
She wears her hair into two French braids. Dressed in a bright red t-shirt, she sings and chatters with two other customers, one of them, a middle-aged woman. Other, a man, probably in his 50s.
The woman sits on one of the black-colored stools inside the shop, and sips her morning chai quietly, looking at her phone. She wears a pair of long, black skinny denims, and a tunic, overlaid with an embroidered denim jacket. The 50-something man reminds me of many uncles I have seen in Sri Lanka. He removes the plastic wrap of a 10 rupee Britannia biscuit packet, and dips each biscuit inside his warm, mud-colored tea. Within five minutes, he finishes all the biscuits, gulps down his tea and disappeares into the mist-clad pathway.
“I ordered momos,” I text Nathan. Sikkim is my fourth trip alone. My solo journeys started after we received the news that Nathan needs his citizenship to be registered in Sri Lanka (a lengthy process) for a new passport, leaving me with no choice but to venture out on my own. Three trips later, I’m yet to know if I genuinely enjoy solo travel.
Some days, during my trips, I sit quietly on new cafes, sipping local coffee. Other days, I, unable to speak the local language, walk past locals, grinning. I observe them from far, quietly. Some days, I climb waterfalls, rugged mountains and visit temples, adorned with golden intricate details. On many days, I’m happy. But every day, I message Nathan and shares him every photo I take.
Nathan tells me that momos aren’t for breakfast. Sure, he knows more. Although it was the deep South, far away from the mountains of chilly Sikkim, he had once called India his home. “We don’t have momos,” she appears behind the kitchen, “I’ll give you a typho…one, okay?”
“Okay,” I smile.
A few minutes later, she brings me a typho — One large momo, stuffed with chicken, and a boiled egg. She takes a fork, holding a spoon in her other hand, she breaks a small piece, to show me how it’s eaten. I grin, and follow her. My typho arrived with a bowl of warm soup, sprinkled with small bits of mint leaves. The aroma of the soup fills the air in our small cafe. I take a bite of the large Sikkimese typho, followed by a sip of my masala chai.
“When are you leaving?” she now stands behind the counter, wearing a vibrant, red bindi on her forehead. Bindi, in India, and Hindu culture, is believed to be the third eye, representing the creation of the universe. Red bindis, in particular, symbolize marriage. Another common belief is that it is worn by women in South Asia to ward off bad luck. Over the years, the humble yet powerful dot has become a fashion icon in the West.
“I’m in India for one month. I’m off to Guwahati in two weeks,” she smiles as I explain her my travel plans. My second morning in Gangtok, the capital city of the tiny landlocked Indian state, Sikkim turns out to be a chilly one. I had walked into a travel agency yesterday, on MG Marg, and have booked myself a tour around the eclectic town.
As soon as I stepped out of the unorganized, chaotic airport at Bagdogra two mornings before, I thought my decision to travel alone, for long, was nothing but idiotic. My journey to Gangtok took almost an entire day. I sat in a nano taxi, crying, unable to reach Nathan or the driver of the taxi I had pre-booked.
The previous night, I couldn’t buy myself a local SIM at Bangalore, but gleefully enjoyed free wifi offered at the airport. I had hoped it would be the same in Bagdogra. Even after a few trips in India, I hadn’t quite learned that nothing in India can be guaranteed. Nothing works the same in two places.
At the West Bengal border, as my shared sumo jeep entered Sikkim, I got off the taxi to make my Inner Line Permit (ILP), a piece of paper which grants your travel in Sikkim. It’s issued by the Sikkim Tourism Department. The Himalayan state shares borders with three neighboring countries: Nepal, Bhutan, and China.
As a reason, visitors need permits. Foreigners need an ILP, while for regions closer to the border, another Protected or Restricted Area Permit should be arranged. My journey was weary. I fell asleep for most of it, randomly being awoken by the chilly breeze embracing my face, watching monsoon-fed waterfalls and rivers flowing beneath the guardian mountains.
On my second morning in Sikkim, however, I’ve developed a fondness towards a quaint Indian city that buzzes with activity, a city I never knew existed three years ago.
I pay her, the red-bindi-red-tee girl, who was probably in her early twenties, sixty Indian rupees for my breakfast, “have a good day,” I say as I step out. As I walk to the overhead bridge that connects lower Arithang with MG Marg, I hear her shout, “you, too. Enjoy your day.”
I smile to myself as I climb up the steps to join my tour around Gangtok.
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