Beautiful Darjeeling, poorly tummy, flying Varanasi tomorrow.
But Darjeeling is lovely.
We are upgraded to first class – possibly because of my Parisian Panama Hat – a short flight from Calcutta to Bogroda airport and then an ascending drive of about three hours. We stop at Kersheong, another place Kaye’s grandfather had been a Jesuit priest. What was a seminary is now a college for Rangers. It is white, dilapidated, romantic and we are able to walk around its deserted corridors, explore little rooms that might have been cells, old kitchens with stone cupboards. Outside the Himalayan foothills flow downwards and up.
On to Darjeeling and the sweet Windamere (sic) Hotel, which has been serenaded by Jan Morris in a now wall-framed poem. We run into a jolly pair of retired London doctors who visit a different part of India every year. We have high tea, gins and tonics, a three course supper and sleep a wonderful sleep.
When we were at St Andrews in the seventies, Kaye and I were the worst getter-uppers and I still am. Nevertheless we heroically rise at 5am- 4am really if you include clock checking and investigating a chanting torch procession below our window at 4.30. We don woollies over jim jams for the walk around the hill path at the back of the hotel to watch the sun rise over the Himalayas third highest peak, kumechunga.
It’s so long since I’ve seen the dawn, but the path is already full of joggers and people doing press-ups and sit-ups or making observances to Buddhist shrines. The sky is palest pinky blue, the peaks snow white. We think maybe that’s it. But then the peaks turn fiery gold, a river of cloud boiling far below. The gold spreads. We turn to walk back and suddenly see the sun low in the sky, a crimson ball, not quite awake, not yet in solar animation, a closed red flower.
We go back to bed.
The rest of today is the toy train trip down the mountain to Ghoom, the monastery, the zoo and other proposed things, but my tummy is unlike itself, a few little cramps that remind me of the prelude to the deluge of childbirth; luckily it stays at that level but I feel off colour the whole day and the zoo just makes me feel sad, with the obsessively pacing jackals and snow leopards. Most of the native fauna are long ranging in their territories but here they are in their kitchen gardens. There is a breeding programme for endangered species, but don’t their offspring end up in the same prisons? Worst than for London zoo animals. These ones can smell and see their habitats forbidden around them. Or maybe they don’t think they are separated from it at all.
We have unreliable internet and no mobile roaming signal. Not only am I getting worried texts from David who hasn’t heard from us, but critical messages from school because Hamish didn’t ring in sick or go to his guitar lesson. But I can do nothing and anyway I am on holiday!