Monday, November 10

Day 74-Darjeeling

Here in the Darjeeling, "the Queen of the Hills", I have found the peace and quiet (relatively speaking) that I so desperately needed. This lovely multi-ethnic town, folded into the hills of rhododendron, thuja, bamboo and wisteria, huddles below the massive Khangchendzonga (8598 m, worlds third highest). The locals (of numerous tribes unknown to me) have been enjoying a month-long music/dance/culture festival (just one hundred meters from my room!) Amidst such raucous humanity and natural splendor, one can only feel humbled and diminished.

And humbled I am, not just by the snow clad monstrosity looming 20000 ft above me, but by all that unfolds around me. I fancied myself quite a world traveler, but here I carry myself somewhat like a kicked puppy, seeking to protect myself from the dusty clamour, shying away from everything around me as if it were a potential poison invasion, while witnessing other travelers seemingly quite comfortable as they sample stir fried street fare, negotiate the crowds at the railway station, or barter for shawls with the local ladies. Even more humbling is the fact that I will not be able to gaze upon the lovely Himalaya from a closer distance. I had anticipated doing a 3 day trek along a nearby ridge, bringing me to 17000 feet and within view of the mighty Mt Everest (29028 ft, world's tallest). Alas, the chronic knee injury I have been nursing for some years leaves me hobbled this week, unable to walk more than a mile or so. I once did an anagram of my full name and came up with "knee gone level thee", meaningless at the time, but today I realize, my knees are shot, and I have been brought to the fitness level of many a flatlander, and must be content to gaze upon the heights from afar.

A peculiar feature of this area is it's rail service, built in the 1880's on 2ft wide tracks, this decrepit train steams its way up steep grades through a series of loops and switchbacks. It being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I was compelled to take the 2 hour Joy Ride. Where they came up with the name I can not guess. It it exceedingly slow, loud as hell, dirty, dusty business. At one point I had to change seats as I noticed it was spitting coal dust all over my freshly laundered pants! Still, as a mountain railway, it is somewhat unique in the world, and all things considered, was the high point of my day. And despite the general tone of todays post, I am feeling quite hopeful about what other splendors I may be witnessing soon.

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