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The northernmost point a tourist can visit in India is in the village of Panamik, in the Nubra Valley in Ladakh. We have just driven three kilometres further.

There is a festival going on in Ladakh and everybody is drunk. Even the policemen who work at the checkpoint did not bother to show up for work today, so we happily drove past Panamik and arrived in another village three kilometres further north. Here, a group of merrily drunk local men quickly gather around the Royal Enfield motorbike we’re traveling on and invite us to join the festivities. However, the owner of what seems to be the only shop in the village thinks we should turn back — it is a sensitive border area and we’ll be in trouble for coming here.

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When we arrived at Thiruvananthapuram’s (also known as Trivandrum) airport near the southern tip of India our driver, Arun, was magically waiting for us even though we’d given him the wrong arrival time and flight number. Arun works for SITA and was very personable, spoke English well, and was the source of great conversation throughout the trip. I told him we wanted to do a bit of sightseeing in town before heading out to Varkala beach, so we stopped to look at Sree Anantha Padmanabha Swamy Temple (non-Hindu’s cannot go inside) and then explored the city palace museum which had some beautiful ivory pieces including a basinet made entirely out of ivory, some nice paintings, and a large throne-like chair adorned with huge crystals from Slovakia.

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Sikkim is the greenest state in India in more than one way. It is lush and vibrantly green due to its unique micro-climate, created by its location in the shadow of Mt. Kanchenjunga and between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal. Books have been written about the miniature biosphere created here, and the region’s multitude of different species. The cyclones of the Bay of Bengal reach up to the Himalayas and to Sikkim in particular; that, combined with the monsoon, means Sikkim receives more than its fair share of rain, but it is also ‘green’ in an eco-sense. For instance, plastic bags are banned so they don’t end up on roadsides and in rivers like in the rest of India. Shops use paper bags or newspaper to wrap things and shoppers can buy inexpensive re-usable bags in most places. In fact, Sikkim is definitely the cleanest state that I’ve been to in India.

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“My Tibetan’s a bit rusty. I’m having a hard time following what he’s talking about,” I whisper to Aisha, one of the people I came here with. She smiles and nods, but doesn’t really laugh. It’s meant to be funny. I, however, am an anomaly in this audience: I am an American backpacker who ended up traveling to McLeod-Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama, to escape the harassment of the rest of North India.

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