Where’s Shangri-la?

Sikkim to Delhi, India
April 3, 2003

Cheuk is determined to find the missing Shangri-la since we’ve come this far into the Himalayas. So we secure enough police permits and entry visas to visit Sikkim, three hours away from Darjeeling.

The jeep ride up to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, takes us through some spectacular hillside landscape. The closer we get towards Gangtok, the more Chinese the landscape and less Indian. I jokingly say to Ajay that his people are looking more like my people as we approach our destination. It is only noon by the time we hit town but the dark and gloominess of the rain made it feel much later in the afternoon.

We check into a quaint hotel perched on the mountainside that looks like a Tibetan monastery. It would have been a spectacular view except we couldn’t see much through the thick fog. Between the rain and mud, we don’t feel much like shooting. I found a cool little Nepalese frontier bar call Cooks Inn where we hung out, chilled over a few brews and call it a night.

Kwoi shooting at Maidan
Kwoi shooting at Maidan

We get up bright eyes and bushy tail to catch a flight back at Bagdogra airport. A landslide stranded us by the side of the road waiting for the earthmovers to clear the rubble. We paced and sat in our cab helplessly for over three hours. Our flight had left for Kolkata by the time we arrived at the airport. We had no choice but to stay the night at the Cinderella Hotel in Siligiuri. A whole day was lost.

We’ve got five hours to kill before our connecting flight to Delhi. The Tangra Chinatown is not far from the airport, so we decided to check it out. Tangra is full of Chinese tanneries. The air is polluted and it’s dirty and wet everywhere. Jessica Yeh, a York student home from school gives us the tour. Her family owns one of the big tanneries in town. Mr. Yeh treats us to authentic Hakka meal at the Kimfa before our flight. After breathing the stench for a few hours… I’m not sure if I’ve any appetite left. But surprisingly, the food was delicious, especially the Lime Chicken. Mouth-watering free-range chicken soaked in preserved lime then steamed.

Delhi is an embassy town, cleaner, less congested and Sarada’s hometown. Ajay calls her and folks in this town “puppies”, short for Punjabi Yuppies. Baba Ling booked us into the Intercontinental, a 5+ star hotel. He must think we’re some Hollywood crew or our fixer guy is loaded. It’s the most luxurious accommodation on this whole shoot. Hope it’s not gonna break Cheuk’s piggy bank!

Baba is obviously the more ambitious one compare to the laid-back Nini. He’s currently building the new Nanking, a more upscale gourmet palace nearby but closer to the high-end embassy crowd. It is obviously Baba’s homage to Ling senior who ran the old, more humble beginnings from the Nanking. We’re given the grand tour of the construction in full swing before returning back to the Imperial Garden for a feast — a great meal to end our passage to India.