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Archive for February 3rd, 2010

By comparison to my limited Indian experience, Dargeeling is quite  peaceful.  The demographics here are more similar to Nepal and the populous is comprised of many Nepali and Tibetans, along with the fairer skin toned Indians. Thus in Dargeeling you see much more of what we would consider an Asian influence on peoples faces; or as Choezom’s sister said when I said I was going to Dargeeling:  “You see more chinky eye their”.  This was not a racial slur,  it was simply a way to describe how people in different regions look differently.  There is an enormous amount of prejudice in India but that is based more on the Caste system.

India will make you marvel about our vanity regarding skin color.  We more fair skinned people dream of having higher melanin and thus darker skin.  We use to work on our tans until we realized it was killing us, some drink carotene to the point of looking like carrots, and some paint their bodies to make their natural color look darker.  Not in India -ust the opposite and every other commercial on television is for a skin lightening product – “Up to three shades lighter” is the typical claim.  I think Michael Jackson must have used the super strength stuff. In India this apparent obsession regarding how we look goes far beyond just physical appearance and as skin tone can demonstrate your place in the society. the upper Caste are typically more fair while the lower Caste are often very dark.  This is partly due to the different labor categories that each cast holds; laborers are low Caste and work outside in the sun, while high Caste hold merchant and other more leisurely post.  This system, while not as all inclusive as in decades past, is still the dominant social structure throughout the sub-continent, and is going to continue to be so for at least a few more generations.

Tiger Hill ans tar

Dave and Sue had not gotten a good view of the Himalaya so we hired a car to take us to the base of Tiger Hill, and although foggy we decided to make the walk up to the top regardless.  Upon summiting we were granted a tad bit of a view, but given my Nepal trekking experience it was indeed marginal.  And to add insult to the fog, at the top of the hill, the road crew was boiling tar and we were forced to cover our noises and mouths as the wind swirled the black smoke around the lookout point. But the kids who were walking up the hill had a great time because this road crew actually had a compactor and rides were being given to everyone; I talked to both the OSHA representative and the Union Steward both and they said this was fine 🙂 It was Christmas Eve after all.

Monkey enjoying the offerings at Hindu shrine

The three of us enjoyed a nice dinner together and called it an early evening.  While working hard not to, be I was indeed in a bit of a melancholy mood as I retired to nice but freezing cold room…. alone. At sunset the temperature drop precipitously and given the rooms are poorly insulated with single pane windows the room was an ice box without the ice.  Rather the windows were dripping with condensation and the blankets themselves felt heavy with moisture.  The blankets are hard to describe….like some kind of heavy cotton fill sewn inside a sheet.  They weighed a short ton, were about 4 inches thick – and lumpy.  I had three of them on top of me – any more and I would have been crushed to death, and they still lacked any real semblance of insulation The fantastic hotel manager secured a mini electric heater to put by our beds.  At one point, I had on all my clothes including my down jacket – and Himalaya hat,  was smothered in blankets, and held the electric heater to my nose and ear to thaw them out. I wonder what it is like here in the real winter which is still a few months away?  And, why the hell did I send my down sleeping bag home from Nepal?  India is warm!  That is like saying California is warm…..say that from the top of Mt Whitney in the winter. I watched bad action hero movies (first TV in three months) and shivered for hours.  It is Christmas 2009.

Observation hill: Hindu, Buddhist again sharing space

Sue got very sick on Christmas day so after the first day of sightseeing together  Dave and I were on our own as Sue opted to throw-up for 4 days.  We did very little actually as I was becoming less interested in seeing things and more interested in interacting with people and simply hanging out.  The days went quickly, we enjoyed some good meals together while each day Dave and Sue evaluated if Sue was up  for a couple of day trek into the Himalayas. Each day Sue answered after breakfast by throwing up everything she ate. When it became obviously that a trek was out the question we all began to make independent plans for leaving Dargeeling.  But before we did we were all able to go for a small outing to the Happy Valley tea plantation where we tasted and explored the fascinating world of the worlds most famous teas. I am a coffee guy, but this is damn good tea; like Folgers to Petes coffee…..comparing Happy Valley to Lipton is well no comparison.

Clock tower

Throughout the Dargeeling area you see signs supporting an independent Gorkhaland. The inhabitants of these foothills and surrounding mountains want, very much, to be an independent state of India. The argument is similar to elsewhere in the world – we are represented by Bengali’s from Kolcata……we are Gorkha, we demand to represent ourselves. These lands have changed political boundaries so many times that I got lost just trying to follow the chronology. The British were the latest architected and crafted some elaborate compromises that seemed to have largely served no-one but themselves. So, I can say this – it is obvious that the vast majority of the people want to represent themselves as a separate state, they are organized and getting more so. And they control a cash crop that is worth a fortune to the state of Bengal…this is going to be a conflict not easily resolved.

Kids getting a ride on compactor

Studded tires and chains are apparently unknown in Dargeeling.  Their alternative snow traction strategy is ingenious however. The roads or Dargeeling are small, narrow, and very steep, so as they put down a heavy layer of tar they imbed golf ball sized sharp angular rocks into the surface.  A bit hard to walk on, but it must work. Like squat toilets, we do not have a monopoly on truth or doing things the ‘right” way. But we typically think we do.

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