As the world has its eye on the 2012 Olympics, we watch a group of Gorkha schools racing, fighting and performing cultural dances in the Himalayas. The competition is no less fierce than it is in east London, but some of the events are surprising. Cock fighting, anyone?
One or two inhabitants stood inside the gate observing our sweating, panting faces with dead-pan expressions. A wide and well-tended path stretched upwards to the main group of buildings. We had walked into another country: there were no plastic bottles, crisp wrappers, bright blue tangles of frayed nylon rope, plastic bags, sweet wrappers, turds or stinking puddles anywhere. Just nice green grassy borders either side of the well-trodden path, and a hand-built wooden stairway.
You have a cold? Try a pinch of tiger, or a smattering of red panda. A Chinese medicine maker’s pantry is spread over the hills of Darjeeling, but this zoo is doing all it can to protect the animals.
The sound of the hissing steam and shrill horn transported me to Britain in the 50s, The Railway Children, Murder on the Orient Express, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, the railways that built America, George Stevenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Sometimes we were so close to the shops hewn out of the rock along Hill Cart Road I could have easily removed a speck of dust from the eye of a passing housewife, or handed a letter to a family of children.
The entire school was eager to meet us, so we made a point of visiting each of the tiny, cold classrooms. With saucer-eyes, they drank in everything we said. We played games, swapped stories, listened to them sing and watched long and intricate dances.
“We watched the procession snake past the Dekeling for about half an hour. No sooner had one group of musicians receded with its attendant crowd of worshippers, than the next little band would arrive.” The next in our Himalaya trip where Liz gets all spiritual…
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