From the North East India – Kalimpong and Shimla – Nick Goslett / Episode: 3

By Nick Goslett
A Butterfly in Flight

27th September
I must learn to be firm about firm mattresses!. The one at Deki Lodge had seemed a bit hard so I got them to put another on the top … and during the night I tried the cushions from the veranda, the thick Nepali blankets trebled up but all to no avail and a crap night. By 6am I wanted to walk to another Home Stay to check out their mattresses but the gates were locked. Eventually mine host awoke and let me out to walk the mile to the place to which I should have gone in the first place. Separate bungalows set in an orchid nursery, the only downsides being no wi-fi in the bedroom and a cicada which sounds like a burglar alarm. The critter is only about an inch long but his love song is so powerful that when I heard one on a walk this morning it set off my left hearing aid!When I checked out from Deki I was so sad: a really lovely Tibetan man; I had to sign the enormous ledger for people staying and since August there had only been about 20.


Feeling shattered, I had a shower then wandered up into the hills to visit garden nurseries: one with an incredible collection of cacti and another called Everest because it is built into a steep hill and it had great big gorgeous butterflies and some were kind enough to settle. My amble took me uphill and downhill through little villages. The building going on is amazing, and mine host at Holumba Haven, a highly intelligent man who wishes the British had stayed in which case Kalimpong would now be the centre of the universe rather than the wreck it is, says that most of the houses are illegal – planning permission is just a bribe. Almost all the houses by the road are covered on the window ledges and walls with pots of beautiful flowers. The vegetation on the sides of the road, either sweeping up or down, is truly magnificent. Every so often there is one of those little kiosks selling vegetables, crisps, drinks, and anything else to tempt the kids – they all sell exactly the same things. I suppose their overheads are miniscule so a few sales is enough to get them by. I ended up being guided back by a very bright student from the school nearby which is private and so good that he is boarding from Kolkata: his father is in business and his mother a successful day trader. I asked the Home Stay for lunch and got a banquet most of which I left. I tried to have a kip, failed so thought I’d better go see the only other sight worth seeing here, MacFarlane’s Church. He was a Scottish missionary who worked in the area and died at 46. It was closed. I asked a student the way to the Arts Cafe. He told me about Gorkha politics, some of which I understood, while he finished his coffee then guided me to said cafe … which was closed. Modi won the votes in this area from the Congress party by promising much more autonomy for Gorkhaland. Like most of Modi’s promises, it has come to nothing. I am finding it surprising how many think the Raj was a Good Thing and wish we had carried on.


28th September
The trip down the mountain to Siliguri was almost uneventful. For some miles the road, which is only just wide enough for two lorries to pass, is 200ft up above the large Teesta river. There was an enormous traffic jam, caused by one point where only one half of the road was left: the barrier was broken and something had plunged into the river, either a rock fall or an automobile. How they will repair it only Vishnu knows.


29th September
I am writing this from Wordsworth Street. Starting with my TIA, many things had happened which had heightened my stress levels which I found hard to control. I am thinking that most Indians are fine with hard beds because that is what they have been used to. I’m not and the nights were very long!! In addition, the hill stations had been far from my fantasies and the next one, Shimla, sounded just as bad and has been hit for seven days in a row by a fierce monsoon with two buses swept into a river and many drowned, and more rain was forecast. I could just see a miserable time ahead so thought I would come home. In hindsight, I had just not checked out where I was going carefully enough. Never mind: I am very glad to be home and I can watch the Ryder Cup tomorrow.






Lots of love to you allNick

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