5 March 2015
From the dusty plains of central India to the cloudy heights of Darjeeling, via New Delhi’s Indira Ghandi International Airport.
Now I wasn’t jaded with Hyderabad. It just wasn’t the India I love. The moment I stepped off our Jet Airways flight at Bagdogra, I knew my memory hadn’t been fogged by too much sandalwood incense and tandoori chicken.
This was small town crazy. Tuk tuk drivers who never take their hand off the horn; cows wandering the streets; khaki-clad officers of the law directing traffic; the call of the crow (I had actually been missing this mournful sound); Hindi music blaring from every shopfront; dogs sunning themselves on the road’s edge; men who seem to have time to stand around smoking and discussing the day’s news while their women pick tea or sweep the streets. This is more like it.
We glimpsed a hint of the Himalayas as we descended out of the sky and onto the airport tarmac. Reality hit as we drove across the dusty plains and started to climb into the mountains that just seemed to grow out of the red dirt. Thank god we opted to book the large vehicle; these roads were steep, and the constant switchbacks needed some grunt. Which in fact was almost like the sound I made (with a slightly higher pitch and more breath inhalation) as I viewed the fall below on every hairpin bend. This bottomless drop was all the more frightening as we slowly negotiated past large trucks on a road designed for one vehicle. Maybe selecting the “large” vehicle wasn’t that safe an idea after all.
However, our driver was a legend, and my first-born will now be called Raju for getting us here safely. (Sorry Mum and Dad, we could always make Raju a new family name.)
You know you’re high up when you are embraced by the clouds. Darjeeling as you probably know is home to the high mountain tea. A place where British Raj memsabs went to escape India’s heat. A town of Victorian guest houses, a few boarding schools and home to a mostly Nepalese community. The Nepalese border is only a short distance away; in fact, at one time, Darjeeling was part of Nepal. The view of the Himalayas from our hotel window is a good reminder of how close to the snow-capped peaks we are. Actually, when we open the window, we feel just how cold Mount Everest is! (Excuse me while I close my stained glass portal; frostbite can be so unattractive, and I understand balance is very difficult without toes.)
So now, closing the window to our wood-paneled attic room, it just might be time to be reacquainted with the feeling in my extremities and sit around the fire in the hotel library.