Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Darjeeling's darlings want Gorkhaland

"We want Gorkhaland"
"Gorkhaland Now"
"Gorkhaland belongs to us"

These are some slogans on banners, posters and graffiti'd on walls in the Darjeeling district. Darjeeling is part of West Bengal, but as it is in the northernmost tip of it and enclosed by Nepal and Bangladesh, the people feel themselves not part of West Bengal with tropical southern Kolkata as the capital.
The Gorkha's are originally Nepali's who are known for their toughness, which gives them the fame for being the hardest, toughest and strongest soldiers on earth. In the old colonial days, the British used the Gorkha's in their regiments and since Darjeeling was under British rule for the all-important tea trade, the Gorkha's have found themselves in the area ever since.

Before a month, there still were problems in the area and Darjeeling was closed off for everyone. Since a few weeks the peace has been restored by the people's sacking of Darjeeling Hill Council governor Ghisingh, for whom the local people even held a public funeral to denounce him as being dead to them! Ghising has fled Delhi-wards since then and stepped down from the West Bengal government. The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha party is bound to take over, with headman Bimal Gurung in the spotlight.
So that was the reason that several small election manifestations were done in Darjeeling town. I only heard them far below in the streets and didn't manage to see any of it. Except for the many jeeps carrying the Gorkhaland flag and a few jeeps driving around with an announcer on them, proclaiming their hopeful propaganda. Those could be seen allover town. It all was peaceful.

At the Kakarbitta border I had met Marco, who I already had met briefly in Pokhara, an Italian who's cycling around Nepal and India for several months. In Siliguri I met him again and as he knew the mountains to Darjeeling would be too steep for him, he would take a jeep with me. From Siliguri many jeeps go up to Darjeeling for a fair price and the 2,5 hour ride was an amazing one for views. From the first moments outside of Siliguri one could see and smell the tea fields already! A slight peppery, earth-like scent filled your nostrils while you gazed at vast fields of green waves that oozed into the lower valleys. It looked quite mystical and still, as if there was an invisible mist hanging over it that gave it such a natural aura. How much nicer it even must look like if real mist shrouds the fields! Driving through the mountains, many diverse layers of forest made up the mountain greenery just like in Nepal on different altitudes, from tropical to highland vegetation.
I'm glad I didn't take the toy train up. "it took up to 7 hours!", one Canadian traveler told me and that he had to enjoy the slow ride with a bottle of liquor at hand.

Darjeeling itself, well... apart from the open views you can get on the highest points, it's a rather grim colonial town that has lost its grandeur since the partition when the rich British fled the place. The old Victorian greyness from up mixes with abandoned industrial structures down below, rusty as they have become from neglection. Most tourists either come for the tea or for the nice hikes around the area. I came without any desire, just to see Darjeeling for a few days and relax before continuing south. The atmosphere in the Darjeeling mountains is quite relaxed and it felt a lot like still being in Nepal. The locals, being of more Nepali and Tibetan descend than Indian, were all kind and friendly.

The next morning I bumped into Miki from Australia, a friend from the same Freak street group in Kathamandu and also traveling alone now. Path-crossing luck strikes 600km's away, in the Indian subcontinent it really isn't strange anymore to again meet people you know and the longer you're on the road, the more you get used to it. Miki also came to Darjeeling to relax and mostly, to read books from the great library that the Aliment hotel had. She devoured them by the page in the course of several days and ofcourse, feeling regret at having to leave all the other good books behind. We walked around the town, sometimes alone, together, with or without a goal.

In the local market, which was a tidy cluster of wooden shacks, I saw 2 younger men playing the Nepali sarangi violin in folky manner and both singing with raspy and roughly volumed voices. They were brothers and came from Nepal into India every day as the border is about 25km's away, to play in the Darjeeling market streets and earn some money. Their names were Shiva and Shankar and both in their early twenties. With their consent, I recorded about 13 songs right on the street while sitting next to them crouched on the ground. In some way it attracted a lot of locals and shopping folks while I sat there listening and locals curious as to why I sat next to these Nepali buskers. More people threw money on their napkin, so it rather was no bad attention and it also made the boys laugh.
At the end I invited them to a restaurant, at first they were hesitant as they didn't know how to react on my offer or what they could choose to eat. As they couldn't speak English, we spoke in Hindi and talked about their music, the meaning of several songs and little things. I told them that I will try my best for getting their music released on a small scale, so that they could make some money in the west from afar if people back home show enough interest. I also paid them for their songs, -which they didn't ask for nor expected after the meal-, a sum that is not much by western standards but to them more than a full day wage of playing on the street. Hopefully people back home, or the supportive readers here like you all, are interested in their music and want to support them, as well as other artists that we recorded.
I'll try to upload one of their songs, but am not sure if it's recorded in mp3 format or not (which means a very bulky upload otherwise).

On the last afternoon, just as I was about to check out of my hotel, I bumped into Mischka from Germany who I had met in Lahore, Pakistan. The same theory applies to the crossing of paths, ever and ever. Mischka had just come back from spending 1,5 month in Orissa, just where I was heading to! So I quickly decided to stay for an extra night in Darjeeling, enjoying the talks with Miki, Mischka and his friends. Traveling is much more fun with these unexpected things that make you improvise by emotion than by time. I think that perhaps will be the most difficult thing to get used to again back in Europe; the consumption and value of time in regards to your own impulses and the expectancies you tie yourself onto. Blah, that should sort itself out once there is a harmonious balance between them, if a person allows him or herself to do it.

The next day me and Miki left Darjeeling together as we both were heading to Kolkata, she by night train, me by a night bus. It was quite funny, as in the first jeep that passed us in town had the 3 friends of Mischka from the night before sitting in it, also to get back to Sliguri. Ah, how much longer can a theory of luck and coincidence go on unproven if the evidence speaks by recurrent meetings? Magnetism of energy, by culture or whatnot... it leaves a lot of blanks. They made the jeep stop and we got in so we had a quick ride down to Siliguri and retracing the same beautiful way down the mountains and layers of forests and finally driving in between the peppery scented tea fields. *snifffff, mmmmh*.
As someone from our pack said, "now we're really back in India" and indeed, once we got out of the jeep, a whole wave of hassling washed over us by rickshaw men, hawkers and any shape of transportation men. Nothing that we weren't used to.

I waited to take a night bus to Kolkata....

*still no photo's because the upload speed in Orissa isn't up to scratch*

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gruss von deinem D. :)