6 March 2015
Today we experience India’s Hindu Holi festival. A chance to celebrate the beginning of spring and new life. A chance to greet family and friends by smearing vibrantly coloured powder on friends, family and stranger’s faces and wish them “Happy Holi!”.
By afternoon, the party phase is in full swing. Men with faces, hands and clothes covered in splashes of colours dance through the streets, now throwing (rather than gently smearing!) vibrant Holi powders, ambushing both friends and strangers with fists full fuschia pink, vermillion green and Yves Klein blue. Add water pistols and the streets turn into riots of colour.
We were lucky enough to experience this as guests at a palace party in Jaipur several years ago. We have such great memories that we were reluctant to alter those images.
However, it was the Buddhists who got the first word in today in Darjeeling, a major Buddhist centre. Whilst trying to sleep through the constant barking competitions that the street dogs waged all night, the first rays of morning sunshine were accompanied by a group of Buddhist monks, resplendent in their burgundy robes, blowing ancient horns and hitting tambourines (or something similar) on the roof terrace of the building opposite to us.
A good start to a religious day of sorts. We’ve wandered through the maze of streets that hug the mountain. Paths that lead you from Monastery to Temple, with day-to-day life in-between.
Darjeeling is a strange town. The people are Nepalese in appearance. The population associates more with Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim than India. The houses are a mixture of British Raj – wooden cottages with bay windows, lead lights features and rose gardens – to Art Deco curved cement buildings, stone municipal buildings built in the Victorian era, and local small wooden structures painted in fuschia, lime green and cornflower blue.
They all hug the mountainside, higgledy-piggledy on narrow winding paths, with not enough room for a car. The gardens are filled with Japanese Cedars, blooming cherry trees, and giant Rhododendron trees abundant with blood red and pale pink flowers.
Not to mention the monkeys swinging from branch-to-branch. I still don’t like, or trust, monkeys, even if I am in the home of Hanuman, the monkey deity.
As you might understand by now, we’re loving Darjeeling and our attic room Himalayan sanctuary (even if it does take 103 steps to get to – I counted).
It’s dusk, the temperature has dropped, fires are being lit, and the clouds are closing in.