My First Long Trip to India (5)

I picked up my bus ticket from the travel agent, and went for lunch. Whilst I was eating, I looked at the newspaper and noticed that the ‘People’s War’ (Naxalites) had blown up the railway line near Jehanabad again. It was a good job that I had decided to get the bus to Patna.

And so, the following morning, after packing, having breakfast and attending to a few final tasks that I had promised I would do, I went off to the Project to say goodbye. I knew it would be difficult! It seemed as though everyone came up for a hug, and then I went off with the manager back to my guest house to pick up my pack, and then off to meet the bus. One final, slightly teary, goodbye, and I was on the bus and off.

Four and half hours later in Patna, I was set down amidst total chaos. There were flashing lights, seas of red flags, loud music blaring through countless loudspeakers,millions of people, it seemed, singing – another Hindu festival. I found the station, with a little difficulty, and then the nearest restaurant and bar, for some sustenance.

I learned that the chaos had a name – Ram Naumi.

As I ate, it felt quite odd to know that outside was Patna, and that the Project and the open countryside weren’t just around the corner. It rather felt as though I had just left home.

My train left roughly on time, and I slept well until the morning. We then trundled along gently, getting in about one thirty (two hours late) to New Jalpaiguri. It was slightly cooler, and felt almost refreshing. I hadn’t expected a temperature drop then, I must admit. Presumably it was because we were that much closer to the mountains. Soon, I found myself and my rucksack jammed into a bicycle rickshaw heading north through the long streets of Siliguri, at the foot of the Himalaya, during what should have been lunchtime. There followed a three hour jeep ride in which we immediately began to climb up away from the plains as we left Siliguri, through farms, tea gardens and jungle that gradually began to look more typical of Nepal than of the India that I had lived in for the previous month and a half.

tea gardens


I arrived in Darjeeling at dusk, found myself a room and settled in to enjoy a week’s rest. I then proceeded to explore the temples, markets and surrounding countryside, make plans to move on to Sikkim and dropped into Joey’s Bar for the odd beer.

Later, I decided to have afternoon tea at the Planter’s Club, a hangover from the tea planting days of the Raj. It’s something that I felt I ought to sample.

I wasn’t disappointed. Inside, I was the only customer and it was much as I had imagined that it would be; dark wood floor and ceiling, brick fireplace, piano in the corner, trophy heads high up all around the walls. I was served tea by a Nepali who wanted to talk politics. That morning there had been a strike that had closed the town down for several hours, over the irregularity of water supplies. We agreed that it was down to the government. And when that’s finally solved, he added, then there’s the electricity…

He asked if I wanted music and I said yes, almost immediately regretting it, but was surprised when it was classical music. Looking around, it really did look as though the Colonels and their ladies had gone home and everything was still waiting for them. Outside, it was raining gently and just above me a couple of lights glowed yellow in the afternoon gloom. The shade of Miss Haversham from Great Expectations seemed to hover at my shoulder. All that was needed was a thick layer of dust over everything and the image would have been complete.

Also, it was strange that there was nothing Indian in there, and if it was in the UK, then it would look really ordinary, yet it had a powerful atmosphere there. Only, I suppose, because I knew that I was in India. And then, as Fur Elise played softly in the background, I was suddenly, utterly and helplessly homesick. Nothing like the continual yes, it’ll be nice to get back and see everyone once I’ve finished here, but I could picture myself strongly, sitting in an old stone inn somewhere in Wales having a beer with friends, or perhaps sitting around a log fire with close family. Seeing my family! As the music continued, I sat at the table with my tea, unable to think of anything but home.

It finished, and another piece started. I forget now what it was, but I had to literally shake myself to break the spell. I sat a while longer, paid the bill, and left.

A couple of days later I went and had tea again at the Planters – this time there were several Indian families in there and some Hindi pop playing – a decidedly different ambience! Although the afternoon was again gloomy, the piano still in the corner and the threadbare heads staring balefully down, I was unable to conjure up anything like the same feelings. It seemed impossible that I should have felt so differently here a couple of days before. I felt that I had re-joined India.

Darjeeling still retains much of its old colonial character, in places.

bookshop (2)

The Oxford Bookshop, on Chaurasta, where I spent far too much and had to have my purchases shipped home.

prayer flags

A sea of prayer flags on Observatory Hill. Darjeeling has a large Tibetan population and many gompas (monasteries) both in the town and surrounding hills. Observatory Hill is the site of the original temple of Dorge Ling , long destroyed, but after which the town was named, once the British had persuaded the then ruler of the area, the Chogyal of Sikkim, to lease them the land to build a hill station. the hill is now home to a Hindu shrine, with the British-built church of Saint Andrew close-by.

But no gompa.

After a week in Darjeeling, I moved on to Sikkim. After a really cold night, I left Darjeeling in a share-jeep for Gangtok on a lovely sunny morning, with clouds ebbing and flowing across the horizon and in the valleys. I got there about two, and then got a room in the travel lodge. It was big and clean, with lots of hot water, and the rest of the day I spent looking around the town.

49 thoughts on “My First Long Trip to India (5)

  1. Mick am surprised at the rate you have traveled. Am curious how do you manage with the language?? And food? Have you felt anywhere it was spicy? And am curious about your home and family? Do tell me more about them. Book shops are my weekness also. But now I don’t find that kind of time to sit and read so I have stopped buying books recently. Good you shopped a lot. Enjoy your traveling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The language? You can usually get by with English in India, although I have a few words of Hindi/Urdu. And as for the food, I eat Indian whenever I can anyway. So it’s heaven!

      Without going into too many details, I’m married but our children are all grown up and a couple have children of their own.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting. I have not been to north India. But have heard all day that ppl of north India don’t speak English if they know also. I like your statement on Indian food. Lovely. Good to know about your family. Great going. Enjoy. 👍🏼

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel like I’m following in your footsteps. I love the scene you describe where only Miss Havisham is missing. I can just see a rat-nibbled wedding cake on the table.

    Homesickness is frustrating. As soon as you get home, you miss where you were when you were homesick (at least sometimes)!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have never been to Darjeeling. I once did chalk out but same had to be cancelled two hours before boarding – strike by Gorkhas!!
    I can read, see pictures and imagine. And you’re good at words Mick, it’s easy to visualize everything!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I felt as I’m there…lovely post and photos. BTW I’ve done that too – travelled abroad and ended up sending home parcels of books!! Great fun when they arrive a few months later and you’ve forgotten all about them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Annika. I certainly hadn’t forgotten about the books when I got home. I was waiting each day for them to arrive. Actually, I could probably have filled an entire container with all of the books i would have liked to buy in that shop!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I kind of wish I’d done that too, memories can be fleeting. Even now I don’t, unless I’m on an extended trip. I guess I’m still a pretend writer.

        You, on the other hand, are for real. 30 years of practice? Writing a book? The jury is in.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Isn’t it odd how music can evoke such powerful emotions? And thanks for another great post about your travels in India. I’ve never been there, but feel as though I’m getting to know a little bit about the country through you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nostalgia at the Planters Club – the environment and settings do evoke strong feelings. On my first trip to UK (Brighton), I felt a strange familiarity with some places – maybe due to having read Jane Austen or maybe due to having been at some places in India that are reminiscent of the Colonial Era.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I went to the Windamere hotel in Darjeeling a few years ago, and sat in the lounge reading Jane Austen while I waited for my tea. The atmosphere was perfect.

      Did you see the Royal Pavilion when you were in Brighton? It is decorated in a pseudo Indian way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can imagine. Btw there is a Lake Windermere at Mount Abu but it is nothing like the Lake Windermerw in Lake District. Oh yes I went to the Royal Pavilion more than once. I had enrolled myself with the Brighton Library and had read a couple of Jane Austen stories there too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Forgive me if I replied before but I have been clearing out my e mails….
    I re-read the post again. Its super. I love the old colonial style of India and the thoughts on the Bookshop
    Oh I want to visit – on a little single gauge railway right up into the hills
    its a great post – thank you. Really enjoying this..

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Historic Darjeeling – Mick Canning

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