With the necessity to arise at 3.30 am, I was early to bed on my two mattresses, woke just after midnight and excited by watching how Tiger Woods was getting on and excited by Tiger Hill and the sunrise, I slept no more. The road to Tiger Hill is narrow and windy. There must have been 3,000 people there; they can only get there in 4-by-4s; do the maths and imagine the traffic jams on the way back. We saw a tinge of red and perhaps those were mountains in the distance. As the appointed hour approached it looked like the clouds hiding the mountains were clearing … and then the fog came down and that was that. I still haven’t seen a Himalayan mountain and doubt I will until I get to Shimla. We kept stopping on the way back to visit gardens and temples but hating mass viewings I stayed in the jeep all the horrible journey. The charming driver offered to take me later to the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre and another tea garden. The former was sad and moving. In 1985 they had 650 and now it’s down to 250 and there are no young. The rest are ancient, weaving thick Tibetan rugs. The only middle aged person I saw spoke good English and the speed of her weaving hands was awesome. It takes her a month working six days a week to complete one.I had a good chat about organic tea production with the driver’s brother who just happened to have a stall selling tea from the garden. All 150 gardens used to be organic but 100 have converted to non-organic.Not the best of mornings. I decided to take a quick taxi up to Ghum (the highest railway station in the world), bought an umbrella because it was tipping it down, and went in search of the Yiga Choling Monastery. By chance I came upon what I thought was the monastery but was actually a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. The room was full and the monk was chanting and I indicated that I would like to come in (but needed a chair, my knees not being up to cross-legged). They immediately bought me a cup of tea and included me in the whole ceremony, pouring first a sweet liquid into my hands to be dabbed on the forehead then drunk, then a liquid which tasted like paint stripper; they fell about laughing at my face but instructed me to drink it anyway. As they trooped out of a door, I was shooed along with them, downstairs to a delicious lunch of rice and vegetables where I was seated next to the monk. They were celebrating the Full Moon day. They all smiled at me and photos were fine (Buddhists are quite happy for one to photograph anything). The day was made.
I smile at the Indians as I walk along and often say hello. They smile back and say Hello. I do the same with the occasional Westerner and they cut me dead. But it has improved today. I walked down (probably 1,000 feet) to The Botanical Gardens, entrance 10p: too much! Badly maintained, no helpful signage, no cafe. By now I was thinking that I needed to move on, to Kalimpong about 35 miles away, for my last two days. I found where I needed to pick up a 4-by-4 tomorrow morning, quite a distance to carry the rucksacks but downhill all the way!Philippa had visited The Planters Club 25 years ago in her travels. (The more I travel the more I am in awe of what she and her friends did with no mobiles and no ATMs when they traversed the whole of India and up into Nepal at the tender age of 20.) Alas, it is undergoing renovation and will not be open for another two years – I would not bet on that! The Tibetan Museum was beautifully laid out and informative – I had no idea that Tibet is four times the size of France.
And now I am off for some Darjeeling Tea at Glenary’s followed by dinner with Bradley and tomorrow Kalimpong for two nights. Another enjoyable dinner … but I know a lot more about Bradley’s life and philosophy than he about me!
A good journey with a driver who seemed keen on getting us all there in one piece. We stopped for breakfast at a place run by his wife. I always have to order black tea or coffee and add the teeny-weeny bit of milk and sugar myself, though this time it was salt and proved difficult to get what I wanted. I have a nice room on the top (third) floor with a balcony on which I can have breakfast and if in luck see a Himalaya. I decided to walk the 5 km up a hill to the Durpin Dara Monastery stopping on the way for a delicious veg pasta. The vivid pictures in the monastery were so odd that I tracked down an English speaking monk to explain them to me … which he did. I had spotted an interesting room, locked, on the first floor and asked if he would open it for me. Yes; at which point a lanky good-looking 26 year old English person (Nico) appeared and I asked if he wanted to join me. The room held the life of Buddha painted in order. It now transpired that Nico knew more than the monk and they both took me round with yelps of delight as they spotted important clues to his life. Nico had spent three years in China, has been studying Buddhism in Tibet and has been here for seven weeks writing a book about Tibet, China and Buddhism, the sting in the tale being that if published and successful the Chinese may not want him back! We strolled back (through a large Army base, this being not far from the troubles with China) to a nine hole golf course which looked to be immense fun. The person in charge said it was an Army course so I said I was in the British Army whereupon he clasped me in a firm handshake and I think I may have been able to get away with it. However I have now heard from the Shimla course that I will be very welcome to play there for 20 quid including the round, caddie and clubs so will do that. I have not yet heard about duplicate bridge at The Shimla Cub.