Josna Rege

358. Darjeeling

In 1960s, blogs and blogging, Education, India, Nature, places, Stories on April 6, 2016 at 12:19 am

Blogging from A to Z
  Theme: Bringing Me Joy

photo by Karl Hagen

photo by Karl Hagen

DDarjeeling is a hill station in West Bengal, India, set mile-high in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was formerly part of Sikkim and its name derives from Dorje Ling, abode of the thunderbolt, a monastery built for the Chogyal of Sikkim in the mid-nineteenth century. Its diverse population of about 130,000 includes Gorkhas, Lephchas, Bhutias, Bengalis, Marwaris, Anglo-Indians, Chinese, Biharis, and Tibetans. It is justly famous for its flowery, faintly orange-scented tea, its cool climate, its ancient narrow-gauge Darjeeling Himalayan Railway that chugs up from the plains, its botanical garden, its Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (founded by Tenzing Norgay), and, when the mists clear, its stunning views of Kanchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world.

I love Darjeeling because it was my home for two and a half years during my teens, when my parents sent me to boarding school there, to Mount Hermon, where the snows of Kanchenjunga were the view from our dormitory window. Keeping in touch with my MH friends and classmates (Batch of ’69), drinking whole-leaf Darjeeling tea, lifting my voice and my eyes to the mountains as we did every day, and recalling the awe-inspiring beauty of the Himalayan landscape, all continue to bring me joy.

Some 17 years ago the Batch of ’69 celebrated its 30th anniversary in Kathmandu, hosted by Lobsang, our classmate who is settled there. Three of us, Tsognie, Marianne, and I, being based in the U.S., were unable to travel to Nepal at that time, and so we got together at the same time for a mini-reunion at my house. We made a video in which we reminisced, sang MH songs, and sent our greetings to everyone. In it, Marianne, who has the clearest, purest voice I have ever heard, sang To Sir with Love, that she had first learned as a tribute to our class teacher, Mr. Mellor. In short order, we converted the videocassette from the U.S. NTSC format into the Indian PAL, and sent it to Kathmandu by Global Express Mail. (This was before Skype or Youtube were founded (2003 and 2005, respectively) and email, even if some people had access to it, was slow and unreliable.)

Our video got to Kathmandu on time, but on that day it was either a long weekend or the post office was closed due to a strike. Our classmates celebrated without us while it languished in the mailroom. Months later, Mr. Mellor, who was retired back in Australia by then, visited Calcutta (just before it became Kolkata again), where we believe that members of our batch of ’69 showed him the video. We hope it meant half as much to him to receive it as it meant to us to record it for him. Mr. Mellor passed away not long afterwards, and so did dear Santosh, our classmate who had brought us all together on an email list after many years.

I realize that my tone here is nostalgic; but Darjeeling is a place of such sublime natural beauty that, even half a century later, it is still able to cast its mountain mists upon my inward eye, bringing with it that emotion recollected in tranquility so treasured by the Romantic poets.

I had to leave Darjeeling a year before the rest of my class graduated. While it was a wrenching parting for me, Darjeeling itself was devastated almost immediately afterwards by the terrible landslide of 1968. It was not until twenty-five years later that I returned again, and I haven’t been able to return since. How is it that a place lived in for such a short time, and that too so long ago, still means so much to me?

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  1. like the mists, the place imbues your very bones with a yearning that is only satisfied by remembering and savouring even if you cannot visit. and they were special days. i would have loved to have seen that recording and hear marianne singing

  2. love Darjeeling and the beautiful people, thanks for your nostalgia, sent me into mine

  3. I had no idea of the natural beauty of the place, didn’t know it has such mountainous views. Even just looking at the photo gave my heart a lift this morning. Such a shame that your video didn’t get there in time, and I, too, hope your teacher got to see it.

  4. I thought first of the tea when I saw your title. The picture reminded me of Shangri La. It sounds like you made wonderful memories there.

  5. I’m dreaming Darjeeling after reading this. My husband and I went for my birthday weekend in 1996– watched the stunning sunrise over the peaks, drove to Siikkim and stopped by in a tea garden for a picnic. I can feel a post coming to life Josna. That’s the power of nostalgia, just one little hint and off we go. Thank you:)

  6. From one good Indian girl to another…Our trip to Darjeeling was in Feb. and our daughter was born in December…go figure;)

  7. And I thought it was just the name of a tea! I didn’t know it was a place. I learn more in April with the A to Z challenge than I do all year, I swear 🙂

    @IsaLeeWolf
    A Bit to Read

  8. Its the mountains and the amazing fresh air scented with mother natures most lingering perfume.It settles in the head and the heart. I was in Kalimpong St Josephs Convent for 2-3 years then Mount Hermon 54-55. The Memories are all about the Spirit and Beauty of the range.

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