The mountains of India, at least this one, are incredibly peaceful.
This isn't entirely true. Darjeeling province has been locked in a battle of wills with the government of West Bengal for 100 years. Darjeeling wants to be its own land, Gorkhaland, and they have been protesting and getting killed on and off for decades in order to make their point.
With elections coming up in a few weeks, the protests have been both increasing and becoming more peaceful. Apparently, in mass non-violent resistance, the whole province has refused to pay its electricity bill for the last two months, so, not surprisingly, West Bengal turns the power on and off at will. On the way up the mountain, our jeep had to stop, along with dozens of other jeeps carrying tourists up the road, for a large group of students who were blocking the pass in a bid for an independent Gorkhaland. Only a few weeks ago, this agitation would have become so serious that we would have been forced to turn around and to go somewhere else for the night, or a few days. But with the election coming up, no one dares to take things that far.
But, as I started to say at the top there, other than that rather major divisive movement, Darjeeling is the essence of peace. I have been wandering up and down the mountain, investigating temples of different faiths. My legs are sore from all the climbing hither, thither and yon. But my spirit is getting a lot of well deserved rest. I'm not fighting off advances from men. The gents here are so much more respectful. Not even the hawkers act like stawkers. I can roam with a free and easy feeling.
Where the people in the plains have a lean and hungry look, a weariness that comes from sweating all day to make mere rupees, the people of Darjeeling have a vigor, a round heartiness that springs from the temperate climate and the heaps of exercise that comes with living on one step of the mountain, working on another, and praying on yet a third. Even the wild dogs are fluffier, fatter, and, well, cuter.
Of course, so many of the folks here are refugees from Nepal and Tibet, or their forefathers were. So genetically, the stock is different.
The faces are wider, the hips bigger, the average height a little taller. I must admit, truth be told, the men are a great deal more to my liking in these parts. For one thing, I don't tower over most of them. Plus, they remind me, many of them, of Chow Yun Fat, and that can only be a good thing. How nice that I can look at them here without fear of being hastled. It's a little more like Europe that way; there are, upon occasion, mutual looks, moments of appreciation, but never a feeling that a line will be crossed.
Though the locals in Darjeeling must deal with poverty like their brothers and didi's down the mountain, they carry themselves with a more affluent, well tended air. Even their houses, which are as small and ramshackle if one looks closely, have a more smartly aesthetic look, or at least one that I gel with more naturally. Here the locals paint their homes in bright colors and surround them with flowers of even more color, taking the time, energy, and money to even build risers so that the potted plants can produce and multiply. Instead of exuding an air just this side of desperation, the Gorkha people take what they have and work to make it beautiful.
In some ways, Darjeeling reminds me of Seattle. Both are surrounded by mountains which come and go depending on the weather. I've made peace with the fact that I might spend a week here and never clearly see the famous peaks that live shrouded in fog and which will be further obscured in the next few days by the impending storm front.
Both towns are also very lush and green, home to evergreen and deciduous trees that keep the land feeling alive and vibrant even in the harshest winters and the hottest summers. Last night I discovered that there is a fountain at the head of the town square which I live next to. The fountain is only turned on for a few minutes every night for water conservation purposes. But this fountain jumps and plays the way ours does back at Seattle Center and, but for the cool temperatures, people would, I have no doubt, be playing in them the same way.
I haven't spent much time in a mountain town. For, though Seattle is surrounded by two mountain ranges, I think of it as being closer to the water, and so a sound-to-ocean town. I've always considered water important to my living arrangements. India is challenging that assumption in all sorts of ways.
Something I've noticed about this mountain town is that at night it is a lot like an ocean town, well, an ocean town on the side of a mountain. You see, the lights come on after dark (if West Bengal is feeling beneficent) and then there is created this divide between town and the great vast swath of darkness that is the uninhabitable Himalayas. Just like at night on the edge of the ocean, there is light were there are people and then there is the darkness which speaks of nature and the unknown and the places where one might get swallowed up if they didn't stay safely in the warm glow of civilization.
I find that even in the daytime, I am staying close to home more than I'd expected to. I go out walking in the early afternoon for a few hours, then again at night, but my body is loving this restful vibe, this cool clean air and it begs to sit and to just be. Often, it demands to sleep. Last night I went to bed at 9. This morning I missed the sunrise by a few seconds and awoke at 5:40 to see it fully floating above the dim and hazy mountain peak that lies just across the valley from my little hotel.
I had hoped to see all the sunrises here, but I trust that my dreaming mind and soul and my weary limbs have smarter, better plans and are using the rest to gather steam for the days ahead.