Sunday, 6 May 2007

to the other extreme...

From the most southerly point and the remote Andamans I then headed north to Darjeeling for family rituals. I don’t think my case actually got unpacked properly, rather I swapped the cooler cottons for warmer clothes and ran straight from a meeting to Chennai airport again!

I had to stay overnight in Kolkotta or Calcutta, whichever you prefer, before the connection the next morning to Siliguri and then car up to Mirik. I was soon in Mirik itself, just in time for the funeral rituals I had travelled for, and straight into the gompa (prayer room) and the lamas and family chanting. It was an emotional return and I was glad to be there at the right time.

Once the key rituals were complete I had a very welcome cup of tea and then compulsory food, Nepali style.

I love Mirik. It is a really pretty hill station, not on the main tourist trail, but most of all it reminds me intensely of Scotland, particularly rural Perthshire where I grew up. The pine forests and lake (it should be a loch!) shrouded in mist are incredibly reminiscent of Scotland, and even the Buddhist Monastery on the hill, rolling tea green gardens, orange plantations and cardamom fields can’t take that impression away.

We spent a few days in Mirik, walking, visiting family, spending time at the Monastery and generally soaking in the very different surroundings to the South. The weather was so much cooler than Chennai - but then Mirik is 5,700 feet above sea level and Chennai is hardly any feet above sea level!

Young lamas rushing as they were late for the puja (rituals) and a little lama struggling with his robes and being helped by a senior lama

From Mirik, we headed to Darjeeling to see more relatives for two days before we had to return south. The road from Mirik to Darj (as it is known) is a lovely route, a kind of back road north. It skirts alongside the Nepal border and we pass villages where the house is in India and the outside toilet is the other side of the white stone border marker so located in Nepal.

Our time in Darjeeling was restful, if packed, and we met up unexpectedly with friends from Nepal which was lovely.

Darjeeling keeps itself in a time warp and the town itself has an attitude, rightly proud! The famous toy train tracks twist alongside the road, houses and shops all the way from the flat terain, and the trcks are used ingeniously to transport water, chickens and whatever is needed when there is no train there.

The last day saw us travel from 8,000 feet - up in the clouds, back via Siliguri and Calcutta/Kolkotta to Chennai. We arrived late in the evening, walking off the plane into the heat and humidity whch is with us now until the rains arrive.

And there is no sign of rain .........................

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