massif. is a truly wonderful word. to the uninitiated it could mean anything. my first impressions were of a slightly mean dog. and then when enlightenment comes, you cannot agree more. there is no other word than can aptly describe folded up earth towering above the haze, the clouds and pretty much everything else with an air of mischeivous defiance. massif. and ever so briefly when the sun breaks through the living fog that envelops darjeeling, a veil lifts to offer a lifetime's view of kanchenjunga. Or kangchen dzö-nga, khangchendzonga, kanchenjanga, kachendzonga, or kangchanfanga depending on your religious, political or sectarian affiliations. massif.
darjeeling - the land of the thunderbolt. while most people are quick to dismiss this very quaint town as touristy, a dump and such, a second more studied take is essential. for beyond the shanty slums and the touristy avenues are breathtaking views of the mighty himalaya. inhabited by mountain folk who really are the nicest folk. the restaurants serve up an imaginative ouevre. from momos to hot dogs. and a million stories breath around every corner in collective unison with an overaged narrow gauge train, the 100,000 odd people who call darjeeling their home and the horses who offer rides to overfed bong tourists.
to be at peace, is easily achieved in darjeeling. the excuses and opportunities are many. you can choose to sun, the favourite local pastime - moving with the somewhat elusive sun as it traces a path across verandas, narrow cobbled lanes, myriad staircases and markets bustling with colourful woolens before disappearing behind the himalayan wall. or alternatively you can soak in an entire edition of the very badly written local newspapers at keventers over endless cups of hot coffee (not tea?!?) in accompaniment to the nearby clock tower's half hourly reminder chimes.
to be at peace, our top recommendation, second only to a night of debauchery at the local drinking hole, joey's pub, is an evening walk to fuji guruji's peace pagoda. over layers of typically buddhist silence, a half initiated monk belts out on a drum, fuji guruji's idea of transcedental meditation. followers are expected to follow, keeping beat on little drums that are handed out to all visitors to the pagoda. this strange almost taiko scene is set against walls plastered with standard buddhist motifs - dragons, demons, gods and in keeping with fuji guruji's nippon origins, messages condemning the nuclear bomb. and you have to leave your footwear, your sense of time and every last concern with the world at the door.
if you add it all up, it's the people that make darjeeling charming. father kinley, rector of a century year old school, where the browne brothers schooled (above), takes the boys out on a country wide trip every year. stops at nightclubs are part of the annual routine. and father kinley negotiates entry for the many boys (lots of stags essentially) with a well honed name dropping act. he tells the bouncers from bangalore to bombay, "i'm father kinley. a jesuit priest. and these here are my boys who'd like to take a look inside your fine club."