It was much warmer down in Kalimpong. Indeed, I would be inclined to describe it as hot, although I have no doubt that most Indians would say ‘Pah! You think that’s hot?’ Possibly I wouldn’t think so either, if I had just come up from the plains, but coming from Sikkim, it definitely felt hot.
The first morning, as soon as I had finished breakfast, I took a long, hot, but extremely beautiful walk up hill through mixed forest to the Durpin Gompa, or, as it’s properly called, the Zang Dog Palri Fo Brang Monastery. It was a morning of flowers, trees, sunshine and butterflies, and for some reason I felt especially euphoric.
The road to the monastery runs through an army checkpoint and lots of army land, and from the checkpoint I was helpfully taken partway by an extremely polite and friendly redcap and shown the correct junction. As I continued my walk, I was passed by a number of soldiers who all smiled and wished me a good morning. It was slightly unnerving, since most soldiers I had come across before had tended to adopt their special stern and unfriendly faces for me as soon as I neared them.
Later, on the way back from the monastery, I was stopped at the same checkpoint by a soldier who decided that he wanted to chat. So for some ten minutes or so, I was standing there, with him holding my hand and asking me where I came from and about my family and what I thought of India and yet, after two months in India, it all seemed entirely natural.
What else did I do in Kalimpong? Well, I virtually overdosed on lassis, especially mango lassis. The fancy just took me.
I had a haircut.
I got some of my films developed. There was no real reason why I should, but I felt impatient and for some reason wanted to look at the ones I had taken of Bodhgaya.
I watched the last of the India / Pakistan cricket series on the TV. India won the test series as well as the ODI’s. It seemed that the whole series had been played in a fantastic spirit, and I found myself hoping that this might, in some small way, lead to improved relations between the two countries.
But I feared that I was being hopelessly naïve.
I looked around the market, which was fun – as it usually is in India. And I took a number of photos. And here I must admit to a strong loathing of the tourists and travellers that shove a camera lens in someone’s face and take a picture, totally oblivious of any offence they may cause. You see it so often. And I think it is so often a kind of western arrogance, an idea that they somehow have a right to do it.
Once, waiting for a flight at Dubai airport, I witnessed two young Japanese tourists who approached an Arab gentleman who was looking splendid in white dishdash and keffiyeh, sitting and drinking coffee. After poking the camera lens into his face and taking a couple of photos, whilst the gentleman sat impassively ignoring this rudeness, the girl had the effrontery to pull a chair right up next to him and lean into him, as the boy continued taking photos.
I cringed. I felt the entire room cringe.
The gentleman concerned drained his cup and slowly stood up, bowed without smiling to the young couple, and walked off.
So I walked around the market stalls, asking people if I could take their photos. Some said no, but most said yes.
Late afternoon, and thick cloud was quite literally sitting on the top of Kalimpong. The ground level was warm and dry, whilst the tops of the buildings and trees disappeared into the clouds. I remember seeing this also in Kathmandu, once. It’s a kind of inversion, but I think there’s a special name for it when it occurs in urban areas.
I returned to the plains by share jeep again, and flew back to Delhi the following day.
Delhi felt very different to how it had felt a couple of months before – much hotter, now, and the lighter evenings gave it a very different feel, too. Other than buy books and walk around a lot, I didn’t do a great deal with my two days there.
In my mind, I had already left to go home.