Greetings from Cloud City.
All of Kalimpong is shrouded in a thick fog this morning. The monsoon season has come to India, and even when it’s not raining, the clouds always hold the threat of a sudden and intense downpour. Pedantic me advises that it’s mathematically impossible, but colloquial me insists that it’s about 140% humidity out there. Still, it’s much nicer here than in Delhi, where the temperature will reach 104F today. In Kalimpong, we can expect the low 80s.
We arrived here last night after a long, scenic and somewhat harrowing drive from Siliguri, which lies two hours – or four, or five, depending on weather and road conditions – down the mountain. Our Indian director, Nandu, and his wife Anu met us at a hotel in Siliguri and drove us the rest of the way. They had intended to meet us at the airport but were delayed by a landslide that killed a number of motorists, missing Nandu and Anu by only a kilometer or two.
Leaving Siliguri, we faced intense traffic, but enjoyed relatively straight and flat roads that could easily fool a first time traveler into thinking that the road to Kalimpong isn’t nearly as bad as he had heard. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your preferences – we exchanged heavy traffic for poor roads about a half hour outside of town.
Carved into the side of a mountain, this “major Indo-Chinese highway” is only slightly wider than one lane of an American interstate. That would be fine, if traffic only went one way on these roads. But here, huge trucks, tiny cars, SUVs and motorcyles all vie for position in what is practically indistinguishable from a massive game of chicken. If you want to pass (which, of course, every driver wants to do – all the time), you lay on your horn, flash your headlights and jam on the gas. If you possess sufficient skill and more than a little luck, you won’t encounter an oncoming vehicle and get forced off the side of the cliff into the rushing waters of the Teesta below.
Transit drama aside, we arrived safely in Kalimpong shortly after dark and checked into our hotel. The Silver Oaks hotel is a raj-era retreat that looks like something your English grandmother would design. For a Wes Anderson film. It’s a little more expensive than I would like, but it’s really the only game in town if you want internet access and proximity to town.
We’re all sleeping together in one big room – Xiu Dan in the big bed with mom and dad and the boys on their own beds. We slept well, ate a big breakfast and now we’re resting before Nandu comes by to take us to his house. We’ll spend some time with his family and then begin visiting the kids and staff of Asia’s Hope. We’ve rearranged some of our facilities; all of them are rented at this point except for Nandu’s house, so we will continue to move around until we can find land that we can afford to build on.
We’re all ready to see the kids. It’s been nice having a few days’ vacation, but we’re getting stir crazy. We didn’t come here to see the monuments and hang out in hotel rooms.
I’ll have pictures later.