Variety is one of India's most beguiling attributes. Mark Twain is reputed to have written of her, "Anything that can be said about India is simultaneously both true and false." The subcontinent is home to myriad languages and ethnic groups, customs and clothes, religions and gods, climates and topographies.
It's boiling in Delhi (118F today), simmering in Siliguri and nearly freezing here in clammy, wet Darjeeling. Of the three cities, Darjeeling is my clear favorite, despite the abysmal early-Spring-in-Ohio weather we're having here tonight.
We arrived in India two nights ago around midnight. By the time we cleared immigration, retrieved our bags and reached our hotel, it was almost 2am -- and the next day's morning's was scheduled to depart at 7:05. That meant about three hours of sleep after nearly 12 hours of traveling. We could have probably slept at the airport and saved a little money, but it was probably good that we got at least a little real shut-eye in a real bed.
We got to the airport in time for our morning flight, and after about four hours, we arrived in steamy Siliguri. We had planned on having lunch in Siliguri and driving anywhere from three to 11 hours -- it all depends on the road conditions on any given day -- to reach Kalimpong by nightfall. Our host Nandu, however, had a much better idea. Let's stay the night in Siliguri, sleep in late and drive to Darjeeling for a couple days of fellowship and recreation before going to Kalimpong, where Asia's Hope is headquartered.
After enjoying a pretty decent night's sleep, we did just that. Despite consisting of hundreds of perilous hairpin turns along steep mountain paths, the road to Darjeeling from Siliguri is in much better condition than the one to Kalimpong. We stopped along the way in Kurseong to enjoy freshly-made Tibeten momo dumplings and tea.
The closer we got to Darjeeling, the worse the weather became. The temperatures dropped, the spattering of rain turned into a steady drizzle and the light fog that had clung to the distant mountains for the first portion of our drive now enveloped us. Having visited Darjeeling before in January, when the monsoon rains make way for blue skies and Himalayan vistas, I'd agree that it's much nicer other times of the year; you really can't see much right now. But what you can see is beautiful nevertheless.
We checked into the preposterously charming Cedar Inn which, I've been assured, usually offers stunning views of the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. This hotel is a mix between a Swiss ski resort and a Wes Anderson movie set in the late 1970s. After a couple hours of rest, we headed into town to tour the shopping district. In the past, I've bought tea from Nathmull's or a Pashmina shawl from one of the many fine purveyors of woolen delicates. This time, it was raining so hard, the only thing I bought was an umbrella.
I don't know if it's the altitude, the travel or some sort of bug, but I'm feeling kind of lousy. It's difficult to breathe and I'm not sleeping well. Thankfully, we're spending another day in Darjeeling with Nandu's family, so I won't have to endure another long road trip this morning. I'm hoping to recover quickly -- I'd like to enjoy some quiet time with my family (Indian and American).
Anyway, my mild discomfort excepted, we're having a good time in India. Thanks for your prayers and your words of encouragement.