Ghoom Monastery, cremations, toy trains & Babas

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Rode a ‘Toy Train’ to Ghoom Monastery today …. this is a big deal here for Indian tourists … It is a very old, coal fired train from the 1800’s šŸ™‚ Wherever the train stopped, people lined up snapping pictures! Historically a significant train … transported both people and tea crops in this mountainous region for well over a hundred years … I am becoming quite accustomed to being the only Anglo around in this rather remote part of India, although I am sure there must be more of me around. I just have not seen many if any …. There are however, many Indian tourists from all over the country, who come to the mountains this time of year to enjoy the cooler weather and the place is bustling … Hundreds of jeeps daily crowd these tiny mountain roads, loaded with people, bags piled high …. Normal 8 seater vehicles with 15 easily snuggled in … a common sight, are the many local men and women carrying very heavy loads on their backs, of all manner of goods … not hard to figure from where the Sherpa abilities stem …. apparently the Nepalese account for about 20 percent of the West Bengal population base …. These are hardy rugged mountain people, accustomed to lugging loads on steep paths and roads in high elevations!

Posting a picture of Sanjay (not my guide Sanjay) and his lady Tehmina. We have enjoyed each other’s company at all our meals at the Windamere … met at the airport in Bagdogra, chatted up a storm, not knowing we would end up at the same hotel in Darjeeling! … They are from Delhi, and Mumbai … Sanjay is a deep sea oil exploration engineer, Tehmina, a lawyer. She attended a boarding school in Darjeeling from ages 8 to 16 … forty years ago! The education system is apparently very good here, due, to the systems set up during the British colonist years which still stand today …. many parents, who can afford to do so, opt to send their children here for schooling. Tehmina’s parents would visit frequently, staying together at the Windamere … It is obviously a nostalgic journey for her. Only one nun from the school remains from her years here, but did remember her! Today she is meeting up with old school friends who still live in Darjeeling. Tehmina has such a beautiful accent, a most charming way of relaying a story, and both have such a great sense of humour, that I could listen to their stories all day and never tire! But on to the rest of my day …….

Sanjay, my guide and I met up at the Ghoom Monastery later in the day … there was a funeral blessing taking place in front of the monastery, body on a flower strewn platform of sorts, family standing around the body, friends sitting on bleachers alongside …. the cremation followed, set up behind the monastery … We waited in silent respect for the service to finish …. I opted out of watching the cremation itself, although Sanjay said I was welcome to watch if I wished …. an education in how Buddhism handles death, he said ….. Strange day.

As I got ready to head for dinner, heard lots of commotion outside my ‘cottage room’, unusual as this is a very very quiet spot in a very noisy Darjeeling!! …. walked into the restaurant a bit early (at that point, I was the sole guest in the restaurant), to find lots of security staff combing the place, tv cameras at the ready, excited expectant staff all waiting for the arrival of a special spiritual ‘Baba’ who would be staying at the Windamere for a month (this is a very small private hotel, probably chosen for it’s isolation and size) … I was briefly on camera, asked what country I am from and if I am a follower …. couldn’t quite admit I had never heard of the fellow ….. In typical white garb, not looking spiritual much, in my opinion, despite the long black hair and beard :), he came in for dinner with his troops, ate and left, all before Sanjay and Tehmina joined me …. No dawdling about … eat and run! ….. I quickly snapped a picture before anyone caught me, as I had been advised, no pictures allowed! Have I said before, that I am a natural born rule breaker?? Baba, apparently, will be hosting functions and healing sessions etc. at the hotel and elsewhere all month in Darjeeling. Yes, strange day indeed ….

Long day of travel tomorrow in West Bengal to Gangtok in Sikkim … Wondering what kind of roads we’ll find, especially given the recent rain šŸ™‚

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