Friday, August 26, 2011

A Day in the Clouds

Ugh, all this rain. It's like—I dunno—I'm in the Himalayan foothills during the monsoon or something.

Well, at least I'm not taking the easiest route.

And my view of those Himalayas was like this:

But I had to go to the post office and also get some work done, so at least the rain and fog kept me tied down.

I left my wood-panelled attic room atop the Dekeling Hotel and wandered to the post office with the souvenirs I'd carried from Kathmandu.  The official package-wrapper sat in the corner behind a weatherbeaten table the size of an elementary school classroom desk. He motioned me over, and I handed him my four souvenirs—two Tibetan paintings and two baby-yak-wool shawls, all bound for separate destinations.

The package-man inspected the goods. That's part of his job too, to handle the customs end of things. Satisfied that I was posting only what I said I was sending—I was glad I hadn't included the kama sutra tiles I'd picked up in Tibet for an as-yet-unspecified souvenir-buyer—he slowly wrapped each piece in off-white cotton cloth, sewed it up with heavy-duty thread, then used a candle to heat and stamp a wax seal on all the seams.

Meanwhile, a wild ferret entered the post office through a hole in the wall, roamed the lobby, then exited through the front door. Somehow, this was less alarming that a mouse or rat would be if it were roaming around the Darjeeling post office.

I stopped in for some tea after this, walking up one of the many slopes that make up Darjeeling and choosing a random storefront where a shopkeeper bragged to me that his tea was "the best tea in the world."

It wasn't.

I did better the next time, buying tea from Namthull's, one of the famous tea shops in town. But the best hot drink I had all day was a cappuccino from an upscale coffee shop in a small mall. Sorry, tea. I like you, but coffee has my heart.

I headed back to Dekeling in the late afternoon.

"Where are you going next," asked my hostess, a cheerful Tibetan woman who had lived her entire life abroad as an exile.

"Bhutan," I said.

"I lived in Bhutan before. My best friend is there—her daughter is marrying the King! She went to school in Kalimpong with my daughter."

"What?" This news stunned me. I loved Bhutan already. What kind of country has such accessible royalty? Only an excellent country, I reckoned.

"The wedding is in October. Maybe I should go, but..."

"You must go! When will you get another chance to go to a royal wedding!?"

But I thought I understood. There would be a journey of a few days each way, time away from the business, every hotel in town would be full, and then of course there would be clothes, gifts, protocols. Weddings are tough enough without them being royal. Though somehow, I doubted the King of Bhutan would have a difficult wedding. He seems like an easygoing guy.

"How will you go to the border," asked my hostess.

"I thought maybe I'd go one night to Siliguri, then the next day catch a bus to Jaigaon at the border."

"There is a direct bus from the market every morning. You'll have no problem getting there in one day."


I went back upstairs two more flights to my attic. I had things to do, including looking up the zoo opening hours (I wanted to see snow leopards and the Tenzing Norgay statue next door), sorting out the joyride schedules on the toy train, and most importantly, I had to scrub bird shit off of my luggage. I'd left Mughal Sari and Varanasi behind, but part of it had come with me.

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