Zerky in Siliguri & Darjeeling

A Siliguri Temple Top

A Siliguri Temple Top

February 17, 1968
From JoAnne’s diary

We crossed the border into West Bengal today and are now back in India’s Jalpaiguri District. In Siliguri we got permission to drive to Darjeeling along a narrow one-lane road shared with a narrow gauge “toy train” railroad. As soon as we got into the foothills outside of Siliguri, the people disappeared just as they had in Nepal. We do not understand why. It is cool in the mountains so why do Indians insist on living in heat? We love this part of India.

Today we passed many fluttering prayer flags and streamers, and a small Buddhist shrine beside the road. Before arriving in Darjeeling, we stopped to look at a Buddhist monastery. Darjeeling has a serious parking problem due to having almost no streets. This beautiful hill station that the British love dp much, is connected together by a network of paths and narrow winding streets that are closed to vehicular traffic. I bet the British got this idea from their favorite mountain playground in Switzerland, Zermatt.

Today brought us our first parking problem since Europe. At 7,000 feet, Darjeeling is cold, but still not as cold as Katmandu. We spent the night in our bus outside a fancy tourist lodge at the edge of town. This is a good deal for us because we can tramp on into the lodge and use all its “facilities.”

We have run out of butane for our little heater, and Zerky had croup last night. So we tried steam heat a la JoAnne. Zerk is better now but still has a cold.

February 18, 1968

Cold, but bearable this morning. Gave all our dirty laundry to the government of West Bengal’s tourist lodge, except for the filthy ragged clothes we are dressed in. We are a semi-resident mess parked outside a very posh lodge.

While walking around town today, two different dogs attacked Tarzan. His ear was bitten through, but we do not think it too serious. There are lots of Tibetans around, wearing Chinese tennis shoes and Chinese caps with earlaps that turn up and snap on top.

I read in the newspaper that, since 1959, 85,000 Tibetans have fled Tibet, 60,000 of which are still here in India. All day long we have been watching a spectacular show of immense cumulus clouds billowing up around Darjeeling. We did have a few intermittent sunny periods lasting only one to five minutes, but could never catch a glimpse of Kanchenjunga. Nevertheless, this is a very scenic town and probably the most European-looking place we have seen since Connaught Place in New Delhi. Darjeeling has lots of expensive homes and churches, many of which have rusty red corrugated iron roofs. The British call Darjeeling “The Queen of the Hill Stations.”

Kanchenjunga as Seen on a Clear Day

Kanchenjunga as Seen on a Clear Day

It really makes me sick not to be able to see the orchids in flower here. Orchids seem to be everywhere, on many of the trees, between the stones in walls, and even on the ground.

I decided to visit the botanical gardens alone because Bill has foot trouble from jacking up the car. At the bazaar on the only automobile road in Darjeeling, you descend a long steep staircase going down to the gardens below. This area is largely Tibetan but there are also many Chinese-looking Indians, which makes for some very lovely girls. At the bottom of the staircase there are cement houses built out from the cliff, with their front ends supported by poles. Down at the bottom, I found the gardens more exciting in their possibilities than in their actualities. February just isn’t the month for flowers. But I did see: a living descendant of a fossil in China dating back twenty million years; a beautiful white Indian cotton tree with ten to twelve petals, each about three inches long; some grand cymbidicims (insigne multiflorium), tiny green and purple sprays. On the way back I bought some yummy mini-bananas at the bazaar.

Notes on people’s dress: Many Tibetans and monks in red robes, often wearing Chinese caps; Nepalese-style balaclavas; jodhpurs with baggy seats and tight-around-the-calf style trousers; Moslem women dressed in stylish pink “pajamas;” a young girl in pants with a long shirt and a scarf set; beautiful saris; lots of riding clothes. Rented horses are probably the most efficient way to travel around this trendy, car-less vacation spot.

The twisted bands looping through Tibetan men’s braided hair make them look like they are wearing halos.

February 19, 1968

Bill, writing in JoAnne’s diary. It has been another day in the clouds with short sunny periods during which I spent most of the day fighting tires. We had three of them repaired, one of them twice. I ended up putting a 700-15 tube in our 700-14 tire because they don’t have tubes for Volkswagen-sized tires in India, which has its own automobile industry. They make Ambassador cars here, but Ambassador valve stems are too fat yo fot in our tires, so I filed out the hole in the tire’s rim and stuffed an Ambassador tube into a VW tire. I hope it works.

I found a jar of peanut butter for JoAnne but no Kodak film. India does not import American film because the US will not accept rupees in payment. The Eastern European countries do accept rupees, though, so they sell Hungarian and Czech film here. I got permission today from the Deputy Commissioner of Darjeeling to visit Gangtok in Sikkim.

—Excerpted from Letters to Zerky


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