Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hang Out There!

Tindharia in the Darjeeling hills is the first important railway station on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR).
It is on National Highway 55 which connects - when it is in working order - Siliguri to Darjeeling.

We drove up to it one Sunday afternoon with some friends last July. One of them, a Darjeeling tea expert, pointed out the Tindharia Locomotive and Carriage Workshop to us. The three rooftops perched on the top of the hill made a pretty sight.

We drove past and went up to the railway station. It was also a lovely old building. I wished we could have taken a train ride there, but the train service had been suspended because landslides had snapped the road link and damaged the tracks beyond Tindharia.

We wondered whether repairs would be completed. The scene changed completely in September, when the earthquake struck. A large part of the hillside below the locomotive workshop fell away.

We drove up in the direction of Tindharia today with our younger daughter. She loves the railways, particularly the DHR. This time we couldnt even reach the station.

I did not have my camera with me. These pictures were taken on my old fashioned (four years old is old fashioned these days) phone camera.
No complaints. They pretty much convey what we saw.









The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) is a World Heritage site.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee describes it thus:
"The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the first, and still the most outstanding example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, it applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problems of establishing an effective rail link cross a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is still fully operational* and retains most of its original features intact."

*see above

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Hello, darkness my old friend!

Darkness everywhere. It terrified me, a Delhi girl in my early twenties on my first evening in a tea garden.

That night, a few of us rode from Birpara Tea Garden to Lankapara Tea Garden in an Ambassador car. It was a memorable ride - the car hurtled into the darkness at top speed. It was hard to believe there was a road. There probably wasn't. I'd never been in such inky darkness before.

When the terror of the ride ended, there were the introductions to strangers at the party. I was the new bride in the district. There was only one reason I didn't want the evening to end. The drive would have to be repeated.

While stepping out of our hosts' bungalow, I looked up at the sky. There were stars everywhere! I'd learnt to recognise the major constellations and the planets in Delhi's night skies, but this sight made my head spin. There were stars where I'd been used to seeing dark spaces.

For the first time, I saw the Little Bear - Ursa Minor. It had only been a name on a star map before this. In Delhi, we could spot two stars from Ursa Minor - the Pole Star Polaris, and Kocab. These stars augured well - I was going to love a lot things about my new life in tea.

I missed the city lights. Here, darkness fell by six-thirty in the summer and by five in the winter months. Twenty-five years ago, there was no electricity anywhere in tea gardens save in the bungalows, factories and hospitals. The towns nearby were not much better. There was no street lighting, nor were there any neon signs.

Our daughters never feared the dark as babies. They wouldn't cry or get restless when the lights went out. My husband always said that this was where we failed, having grown up in a city!

I can't say when I started appreciating the darkness in a tea garden. But you do need darkness to appreciate the beauty of light.

My cousin Ambika wrote about this on her blog recently. She had linked another article for star gazers. It is really sad to think of children growing up without seeing stars in the night sky.

For some years now, I've enjoyed taking a solitary outing at nightfall. All those years ago, the loneliness was as frightening as the darkness. Over time, a love of solitude replaced the fear. Silence and darkness can become a rich environment for those who like to wander about in the spaces of the mind.

We should be alright in a world where 'Daylight is good at arriving at the right time'.*

Beware of darkness

Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night

- George Harrison

*George Harrison, 'All Things Must Pass'