The word "charming" was invented for the village of Yuksom, in the Himalayan foothills. A five-minute walk in any direction from the village's one street was enough to bring us onto huge forested hills, past tiny farms, or into lavishly decorated monasteries. We took a very steep one-day hike to Kecheopalri, expecting a serene lake that's holy to Sikkim's Buddhists but finding instead some idiotic tourists throwing biscuits into the water to feed the fish. In addition, cloud and rain conspired against us and made the largely downhill journey back to Yuksom more slippy and arduous than the climb up.
After a few days of hill-gazing in Yuksom we sent our backpacks off in a jeep to another village, Tashiding, while we attempted the day-long journey on foot, passing by agricultural terraces and little villages perched on the hillsides. An immaculately dressed schoolgirl with bows in her hair prevented us from getting horribly lost, as she skipped up the hillside ahead of us while I struggled to hide my wheezing breath. After two-and-a-half hours of wobbling slowly down the side of a mountain, we reached Tashiding just as it was getting dark. We stayed in a tiny hotel with very wonky wooden floorboards above the village's only restaurant. After visiting Tashiding's very cheery monastery, we sampled tongba - an enormous wooden cup filled with fermented millet seeds that you pour water on and then gradually suck up the liquid through a bamboo straw - a very Christmassy-feeling drink that's kind of like warm saki. (But much nicer than that sounds.)
That was the end of our Sikkim adventures, and we had one more stop - the ugly town of Kalimpong in West Bengal - before one gigantic train ride back to Delhi. After Sikkim, going to Kalimpong was a rude awakening - more crowded, hard-nosed and dirty. Slightly out of town (where we visited a small paper factory, with a group of women huddled round, laboriously cleaning bits of wood to be pulped) was much prettier, less dense and greener, but we stayed in the centre so we could make a quick getaway to our Delhi-bound train. We made a couple of fun visits to the Thai King restaurant, where live Nepalese singers warbled on the stage against the backdrop of a terrible Elvis/Marilyn/James Dean mural and a vintage motorbike covered with green fairylights.
And now we're back in Delhi. I had been fearing a similarly shocking, tense experience as we had three months ago - only this time with the addition of the oppressive April heat. But this time we're staying in a posh suburb with trendy juice bars and boutique shops, peopled by tastefully dressed ladies in huge sunglasses and chauffeurs waiting around in Mercedes (what's the plural of Mercedes?). We've holed ourselves up in a lovely homestay for three days, giving us time to mourn the end of the first, wonderful part of our trip and to start making plans (and muster up the energy) for our adventures in Southeast Asia. We have a room with lovely old-fashioned wooden furniture in the flat of a rich old lady and her two somewhat ironically named dogs - Sweetie the obese laborador and Puppy the ancient basset hound. Our room has ostentatious brass lamps and two shelves full of books. Two days ago we ordered a takeaway pizza and every morning we're served breakfast with a pot of delicious coffee under a teacosy by the housekeeper. It's Delhi, but not as we know it.
It's come upon us as quite a shock, but tomorrow we fly to Bangkok.