From North East India – Tiger Hill to Kalimpong – Nick Goslett / Episode: 2

By Nick Goslett
The Dali Monastery

A very pleasant meal as Hasty Tasty with Bradley, A Los Angeles guy of 57 who spends much time wandering round the Far East on a very tight budget. We agreed to dine again the next day, and we enjoyed that so much that we will dine again today at Padma (delicious chicken soup with no bad effects).


24th September
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 visited three more monasteries on the way back, all in the swirling mist. The first had 20 monks and seemed doomed. I asked if I could light a candle and he gave me one which will last for many days. The next was in better shape with 95 but the entrance was a building site and I nearly missed it. For both, the monastery was locked but a monk appeared from nowhere and opened and illuminated some really gorgeous painting and statues of the Buddha (and a lot of gods who bore more than a passing resemblance to Hindu ones). The third had over 300 monks and a lot of little ones scurrying around in their holy vestments having a great deal of fun. The first small room had seven monks in a row (I was seated next to them) chanting their sacred texts but all different ones and it was like a Barber Shop Septet. Brilliant. Occasionally they would all stop, bash drums and blow horns as hard as they could. There was also an older monk who got up and made all the eight, ten foot high, prayer wheels turn. Later they went upstairs and were seemingly telling good jokes judging by the laughter. They had a cafe, the cafe had a vending machine, the coffee was one part water to 10 parts sugar.I decided to walk the 4kms back, stopping at the Ava Art Gallery on the way. Rather weird but some rather good painting, all with a price … but the sale had closed 10 years ago because both artists had died. The entrance fee was 2p; I bought 10 post cards for 80p. 1km later I realised that I was no longer holding my camera. Stupidly, I had put it in an open pocket and presumed it had fallen out as I walked along the road. I nearly gave up but thought I might as well retrace my steps for a bit … and when I reentered the Art Gallery she just smiled and reached into the drawer of her desk!


25th September
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.


I get seduced by streets: what might I find down them? In Darjeeling it is inevitably a steep climb back up. And so it happened when, in the afternoon, I set off down the hillside to another monastery which a Dutch guy said was worth visiting. You just keep on going down the mountainside and everywhere there are houses and shacks. Some of the paths down to their front doors are too steep for me to contemplate. How do they get their provisions down? The monastery was nothing too special except for a middle-aged woman with her hands in the prayer position walking round and round the whole building with a beatific smile on her face.I have bought a hoodie for about four quid. The first I tried on was too small and the only ones they had in my size were, surprise, surprise, 17 quid. As I distaindfully walked out the boss, perched on a high stool, told them not to be so silly and just get me out a larger size of the cheap one.

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!


26th September
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.

Nico and I walked to a cafe overlooking various holes (it is tiny) and as we watched the appalling play we talked of many things, including a excellent tip on why I am finding meditation so hard and how to make it easier. I also will be downloading a book on The Buddha after finishing a tome about sugar and all the evils therefrom. Nico’s mother is Wera Hobhouse of upskirting fame.I am quite weary so will probably have a curry (!) in a bit and watch a movie of which there are many each night on Indian TV.






Tomorrow I plan to visit an orchid nursery and stroll downhill to a few villages. The next day is the first of two transfer days, via Delhi, to Shimla.Lots of love to you all

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