Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Road To Darjeeling

When I arrived in Delhi they placed a lei of golden flowers around my neck and called me brother. At Agra a white scarf of torn silk was laid on my shoulders and they called me their son. The silk floated over my head like glorious solar rays falling in a golden layer of sun that only a brother or son’s love could know. I now leave Varanasi in the middle of the night by train. Yet it is into this darkness I adventure. Yet I can see nothing about me but rays of golden light.
When I arrived in New Jalpaiguri I can’t find a driver and wander the train station after the 14 hour ride. Grimy, naked street urchins tug on my pant legs, their leper mother barks at them to not relent. I am drenched in a frothing sweat that fills my eyes like tears of mist that will not drop. I stumble slowly around fending off beggars in this weepy eye state like a blind man without a guide. Thumbs out. A truck stops to give me a ride.
“Darjeeling?”
“Yes, hop in.”
It is into this mist I adventure. I can see nothing about me but mist.
Into the tea plantations the noisy vehicle rumbles, leaning backward on my duff in the back of the truck bed I am covered in the dust from the road. Soon there are lush fields, cool forest air, and trees. Oh God, cedars and pine. Women in brilliantly colored saris carry white bags of tea leaves on their heads across the estates toward metal scales, throwing light scarves over their shoulders as they stand in the soft air. We pass a roadside fire. Red flames blanket the road close enough to singe my arms. The road, the trees, the dead tea leaves discarded in a choking smoke. It is into this fog I adventure. I can see nothing around me but smoking fog.
Toward the hills we climb, past army barracks with empty tanks and fighter planes on display. Cicadas scream and tiny villages of sitting people with blank faces outside of cement one story houses. Along the bumpy road we see a jeep with busted tire. Three men crouch on all fours looking at the axel while two white tourists close their eyes and grown. There is nothing above us but cloudy haze and the road leading up. It is into these clouds I adventure. I can see nothing around me but clouds.
Upon the mountain village life the truck ascends. Brilliant but sooty little towns of Kurseong and Ghoom with their alpine hillside appeal of narrow streets, sheer cliff drops hundreds of feet into absolute death, and cozy store fronts with vibrant flowers and quaint shudders. Here the tracks of the toy train come into reality. The steam engine rolling through the villages blowing its piercing whistle from burning coal shooting plumes of soot and bleak haze coupled with the silty dust of constant construction into the air below us. There is nothing around me but gray haze floating downward like lost chimney exhaust. I am on top of the world looking down into nothing. It is into this haze I adventure. I can see nothing around me but haze.
Arriving in Darjeeling I must be cautious because I fear I have fallen in love. I am a fool for matters of the impetuous heart and after thirty seconds in this mountain village, I want to live here for a year and teach. School children in dozens of different uniforms wander the streets carrying English homework they check with pens as they stroll. Vibrant colorful markets. Impossible winding streets. Temples, hotels, restaurants, and storefronts built directly into the mountain side. It is amazing. The train comes to a rest and finally traffic becomes normal again. Well, normal for India. I am driving up to the top of the city, Observation Hill. My breath is clear. There are market squares for wandering. Cafes for pondering. Bookstores for getting lost. Yet around me there is blowing, raging wind. It knocks off a man’s hat who chases it to the high altitude horses stable. The wind blows in swirls and twists around me as I step out of the jeep, still jarred from the bumpy and broken ride, but I have arrived. I spend the next three days in this beautiful mountain village surrounded again by the Himalayas. It is into the blustery wind I adventure. I can see nothing around me but the blowing of the Darjeeling wind.
And… I love it.

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