I am writing this in the city where time stands still, where thousands of temples are hidden, where the gardens are of moss or of stone, but always invite contemplation. Here, everything is silent, beautiful, refined.
Those on a journey of self-discovery can loose themselves among the narrow paved streets. Will you see reflected in the surface of the stream the geisha about to cross the bridge, her face whitened with rice powder and protected from the sun by a delicate parasol? Will you hear the clicking of her pretty wooden clogs? They echo to the beating of a heart: perhaps mine, perhaps yours. This is Kyoto.
On Sunday, I climbed up to the temple near Chowrasta, in the centre of Darjeeling. From here, you can look out across the city. The big problem with this walk is trying to avoid the hordes of monkeys intent on stripping you of everything you have. They bare their sharp teeth if you have the tiniest piece of food in your pockets. Once at the temple, I slowly make my way around it, and sit on one of the stone benches to observe the faithful. I cannot resist raising my eyes to contemplate the prayer flags, these scraps of fabric printed with prayers or mantras. They are given to the wind in order that it may fulfil them.
I find this poetic ritual fascinating and soothing. I watch these multicoloured scraps dancing gently in the wind, rising from the earth to the sky and taking our prayers to the gods.
Darjeeling’s main square, its centre, its heart, is called Chowrasta. You have to come here on Sundays to realize how popular it is. People come from all the surrounding mountains around, they travel for several hours to spend part of their afternoon there, sitting on one of the numerous benches, sipping the famous spicy chai tea. It’s easy for an experienced eye to distinguish by their costume Sikkimese from Nepalese women, Tibetans from Bhutanese and Indian tourists, often from Kolkata, who are cold here and put a scarf around their head, with a knot on top of it, just like an Easter egg. As for the kids, people hoist them on one of the numerous horses for a nice ride on the Mall.
It wasn’t very warm this morning on Chowrasta, at a time when shops start opening, the time of the first onlookers, hands in their pockets. At a time when you have the whole space to play when you have such a nice yellow ball like this!
In the mountains of Nepal, people still believe in the Yeti. I’ve not had the opportunity to meet the Abominable Snowman myself, but I’ve heard plenty about him from the villagers. What I do know is that he is not abominable and is not always the size that people claim. Around the Kanchenjunga Tea Estate (Nepal), the yetis, of which there are many in the region, are not even a metre high.
I wonder if the magic of the Himalayan landscapes might have a part to play in all this. The filaments of mist flanking the mountains, the trees that appear and disappear with the changing winds, which are so full of humidity they feel as thick as cotton, the paths that fade into the clouds… When the sky merges with the ground, it is easy to lose your bearings.
The little Darjeeling train is special because it likes to cross the road a number of times. It travels slowly, and so inevitably creates traffic jams, which the tourists love because it gives them time to take pictures.
I like the fact that this little train of Darjeeling has the same familiarity with my blog as it has with the road, and crosses it from time to time, whenever it takes its fancy. It’s as if we must give way to it, and wait patiently while it passes.
Tea is a serious matter, it requires much hard work and science to grow it, harvest its leaves, wither them, heat them, roll them, oxidise them, dry them, sort them and more. But tea is not just about that. It is also a simple drink, an everyday act, an affordable pleasure. Here, in Kolkata, this street seller, just opposite the New Market, is enjoying his chai tea. He’s drinking it from a little throwaway earthenware cup.
These days, when everything has to be fast, modernisation has also affected the little Darjeeling train. For one of the daily services, the steam train lets out a big sigh and takes a break to make way for a diesel engine, as we can see here. So this is a bit of progress to be avoided, unless the journey itself is not your aim and all that matters is to get there quickly.
I like taking things slowly. I appreciate anything that takes its time. So you won’t be surprised to hear that my favourite train is one of the slowest in the world, perhaps the last steam train in operation in India. It is nicknamed the Toy Train and it runs between Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, a distance of 80 km which takes it… 8 hours! It needs all its puff to climb 2,088 metres.
The seed of a tea plant, the seed of a blog. The start of a blog is like a birth. It is like sowing a small seed, giving it time to germinate, then watching it emerge and grow until finally it becomes a mature plant. Something that links you to others by sharing a part of life, of love. So to begin my blog, I have chosen a photo of a seed. The seed of a tea plant, of course. I can’t remember exactly where I took this photo, but it doesn’t really matter. The fruit of the tea plant seen here is a type of nut. Inside are up to six seeds. Before choosing which seeds to plant, the grower does something interesting: he collects lots of seeds, then soaks them all in water for 24 hours. When he returns, he throws away all the seeds floating on the water’s surface, and keeps the ones that have sunk to the bottom. He knows that only those seeds will produce good tea plants.