XXII: Gorkhaland

Ah… what a glory it is to be in Darjeeling, an epic sprawl of a place that clings to the hills like the houses of Sheffield & Rome. Unlike those cities, however, beneath them the hills just keep on dropping. Then you have wonderful hills rising across the valleys in splendid majesty; on one side, the snow peaks of Kangchendzonga & its attendant mountains remind me most of all of the glory of nature. India’s highest peak lies before me, & only a few hundred meters shy of Everest – I think its number three in the world. I’ve been admiring it, sipping the celestial golden nectar of umilked, unsugared Oolong tea, slowly wandering the narrow streets & sharp steps of Darjeeling. Thro’ the main road runs the tracks of the train that heaves itself up from the plains on a narrow gauge. The Indian sun is hot, but the skin is cool’d by the mountain air, a perfect sensorary experience. I’m here with with Andy, a Mancunian. He’s just had a successful mission buying two Ghorka WW2 war medals from a cool curio shop, to replace the ones his grandfather had stolen a few years ago in Britain – a sentimental gift for his auntie & his mum.

I’d met Andy back in Calcutta – I was wandering around with these two rather intellectual & extremely cute fraulines – just as he & his girlfriend, Tereza, arrived simultaneously with us at the Morther Teresa house. It was closed, but we wander’d about together & hit it off. Keeping in touch we agreed to meet at Mirik, I place I ‘d read about & thought sounded mellow & picturesque.

My Himalayan odyssey began, a few days ago, with a jeep-taxi from Siliguri, the furthermost city of the Gangeatic plains. At one point there were 16 people in it & on it, but it was all good fun, & as we rose up among deliciously wooded hills, the rush of India faded away like hairs on a moulting Cat. En route our taxi-driver mention’d his family had a guest house, & after him dropping packages & people around Mirok for an hour, we were on the drive to his pad when lo & behold Andy & Tereza were chugging thro’ town with their backpacks. ‘Jump in,’ I said, & picking up another English guy called Pete en route, we’d set up home in this proper buzzing guest house, with immaculate rooftop views of the lakes, a stunning, gold-gilded Buddhist monastery right next to us, giant tumuli-tea estates all surrounding, & Kangchendzonga in all its glory.

mirik
Mirik

Mirik is yet another India, with the Asiatic faces of the Nepalese & their language – everywhere. There’s not a sari or a wobble of the head to be seen. It is a part of West Bengal, but there are massive efforts to give the area state status – it makes proper sense really. This was highlighted by us joining in a cricket match with some young lads & I declared it an India– England world cup match. ‘WE ARE GHOKARLAND!’ they insisted, & went on to stuff us. It’s a cool pitch, with a six scor’d from a hit into the lake. The next day we went back for more, & getting a few locals on our side we went down to the last couple of balls – we’re gonna win soon, I can tell. After the matches we’ve been having drinking sessions, fill’d out with the delicious home cooking of our hosts – with salads & veg fresh from their garden. This food has been rival’d in town, however, by the best puri in India, & the white lumps of lard that are the momos. You get these great large dumpling types full of veg, or these mini ones with unadulterated beef. There ares also these noodles in beef soup I sometimes get from a shacky-cafe in town – molto squisito!

the boys.JPG

It was in that shack, with papers & books spread all before me, with several pairs of narrow Gorkha eyes staring at me, that I finally finish’d my Indiad. Bouncing about on the fringes of many fallow periods, it has been nine years since I wrote the first sonnet, & I believe the entireity is one of my best creations. Composing it almost killed me – literally, & several times – but I can now say with some satisfaction, IT IS DONE!

IMG_20181028_111737962

 

I went on a walk the other morning & got chatting to this beautiful guy, who suddenly points out a hill about two hundred meters away, with a wee village perch’d upon it, was Nepal! I could veritably touch it, & would have gone there there & then, but I thought I’d research the geopolitics it first. This led me to disocer that the Indian government has introduc’d this new rule that says if you leave the country, you cannot come back for two months. Off the record, however, if you do a Colditz-style mission over the border (with a joint’s worth in the pocket of course) – what can they do? Indian rupees are valid over there – in fact there are no restrictions for Indians crossing the border at all. Its been a long time since I’d gone on a memorable adventure, & its about time I saw another country, so I’m off in a few days on a wee madcap. Kathmandu’s 20 hours away by bus, but I reckon I’ll just fanny about the east of the country. Besides, I dont think I’ll get that far up Everest in mi flip-flops! Here’s what m’ mates Phil & Steve – regular Nepal visitors – had to say on the matter:

PHIL

nepal is havin free entry get the tourists back year .. free one month visa .. otherwise its a porous border

a paraglider i know flew across the border and back after 6 months .. you can walk through if you can do a minor invisibility thing at sinauli (have some one take yer pack)

and the same out as long as yr indian visas in order, also the 2 months out thing was a reaction to a someone on a british passport going in and out of pakistan on the 6 month thing

an so theyre trying to check people more, this is as of last year, and then you could do it legaly into nepal, and then go to indian embassy an show ‘em your ticket out of india and get

a new indian visa for a month or 2 week transit .. so its negotiable sort of thing, but sure you can slip through and back

STEVE

sneaking into nepal, hhmmmm, its actually quite easy to do at the border crossings, when stuck on india border for the night its easy to just walk across the border and get a nice nepali beer. the majority of hotels do check your visa, especially in the small towns, and if you did get caught it would be big trouble in a sub-continental sort of way, probably end up a few days at least in prison cell, with lots of flapping and accusations of spying. and worst of all a heap big fine, or donation to local police christmas fund. but my advice is stay longer and by a ticket back from nepal with air arabia (arab ryan air) to Istanbul. It was about 100 quid couple of years ago.

 

Darjeeling
5/3/11

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