Category Archives: India

Darjeeling/Ghurkaland,India (Not)

Porter’s, Darjeelings

Darjeeling is famous for the little blue “Toy Train” that runs on an 18 inch wide track gauge. I opted for the shared jeep from Siliguri since the train takes nine hours for the sixty mile trip. Most of the people here are Nepali and it feels like a different world from two hours ago down in the plains of India. Passed through some tea plantations and many billboards with advertisments for boarding schools. No coincidence that friends Salman and Mesbah from Dhaka both went to school in Darjeeling. Many of the schools were started by British missionaries over one hundred years ago and it’s a visual disconnect to see the modern- looking students walking alongside the Nepalese porters who live very close to the earth. It’s really nice to escape the noise pollution of Dhaka in this quiet town of about 90,000. There aren’t that many travelers here and after 7 pm the streets are deserted.

Woman’s demonstration for Ghurkaland, Darjeeling

The Ghurka’s have been involved in a long bitter struggle with the government of India and West Bengal for a separate state. On my third day thousands of woman arrived in town on buses and staged a demonstration. Many also sat along the road on  a twenty four hour hunger strike. Since Darjeeling is close to borders with China, Nepal and Bhutan it’s doubtful that the Indian government will give in to their demands. Still the Ghurka’s are a formidable force. More than 200,000 fought in the two world wars and in the past fifty years, they have served in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, Cyprus, the Falklands, Kosovo and now in Iraq and Afghanistan. The name “Gurkha” comes from the hill town of Gorkha from which the Nepalese kingdom had expanded

Into West Bengal, India

Drinking water, Bengali style

The North Bengal / India border in Burimari was one of the quietest places I’ve seen. The emigration officer was busy watering the trees outside the hut as I approached. Because all of the buses between Dinajpur and the border were not “gate locked” (see previous post). I hired a driver- thanks Mesbah-  for the 100 mile trip. Otherwise it would have involved over seven hours of very local buses. Besides it gave me the chance to call my wife. The landscape was pastoral with hardly any motorized transportation in sight. Only rickshaws and people drying grain on the pavement.

Approaching Darjeeling

From the border there was another two hours to Siliguri. The hub for transport to Darjeeling. There was a strike up in Ghorkaland so I had to spend the night in Siliguri regardless. The smells and color brought back memories from my last time in India many years ago. In the morning at the bus station a man aproached. He looked like a vendor but looks can be deceiving. It turns out he was an English literature professor at the local university and had recently finished his PHD on the relationship between the writing of Salman Rushdie and multiculturalism. We shared a cup of tea before I got back to photographing the spectacle before my eyes.