Kalimpong 3 and Return to Kolkata

India 2013

Tuesday, March 5:

It's almost time to meet my inner Travelling Guru. Today's my last day in Kalimpong, and my last day with Darrol & Friends. I'll be off to Kolkata early tomorrow morning, beginning 3 weeks on my own. 3 down, 3 to go. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, there's a full day ahead with my buds.

I'm usually a late sleeper, but this trip seems to be changing my habits. Up at 6:00 and out for a walk around the grounds of this amazing hotel/nursery/grove/garden. Holumba Haven has been a worldwide exporter of orchids, bulbs, tubers and more, for about 35 years.

I can see Eve offering the apple to Adam just out of frame.

Gnarly beauty abounds...

Sorry. Have I interrupted something?

The main office building at Holumba Haven.

There are a few serious greenhouses on the property.

One of the friendly and professional staff.

Another of the friendly and professional staff.

"Breathing in, I am here. Breathing out, I am home." ~Thich Nhat Hahn.


Around 11, Dennis, Emma and I take the 15 minute walk into town for a little shopping, lunch and whatever. I'm especially fond of the latter. We run into Pam in a jewellery store, eyeing a pair of earrings. I'm thinking these'd look pretty fine on Sharon, but don't let on. Maybe Pam got the vibe, though, because she decides to take a pass. They're onyx and 22 karat gold. Asking Rs.2,700. That sounds very reasonable. So why do I feel I have to haggle? I suppose one valid reason is because I know nothing about jewellery. If you lowball and they compromise, chances are it's not great quality. But if they hold their ground, there's a better chance it's good stuff. He won't go lower than 2,500, so I'm pretty sure I'm not getting ripped off. That's $40 Canadian, a savings of $3.

Residences on the road from Holumba Haven to town.

The town taxi stand.

We have a great lunch at Gompu's.

I'm a sucker for a good pun, as you may have noticed.

There's no dearth of Christianity in this Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim Indo-Tibetan hill town.

I was surprised to see Montessori here.

I stop in at a little variety store for a bottle of water. This gentleman starts up a conversation. He ends up inviting me into his home in the back, and we go up to the roof to see his orchids.

He is rightfully proud of his garden.


Time to head to Mintri Transport to see if Baynu has completed my train booking from Delhi to Pathonkot. As I learned yesterday, late train bookings can result in not getting what you want, so I realize I had better decide on my final date of departure back to Canada, and book one back down from the mountains to New Delhi. I can always change it, after all. So I decide on a 1 week extension. I'll leave New Delhi on March 21st instead of the 14th, which means I need transportation from Dharamsala to Delhi on the 18th or 19th. Well, that was good thinking! Only thing is, everything is booked for both of those days. Well, how bad can an all-night, 13-hour bus ride through the mountains be? Book em, Baynu.

In case you're confused, here's a map of my next steps. A.Kalimpong to B.Kolkata for a week. Then to C.New Delhi to D.Pathonkot to E.Dharamsala for 2 weeks. The brown part is Tibet. The Himalayas form the border. Nature's tallest fence.

Around 5:00 we all trek off to one last Buddhist Puja together. This one has a wonderful vibration of singing and chanting. Monks rocking back and forth on the wooden benches to the rhythmic chant, intermingled with half shouts, imploring - according to Samdup - Green Tara to protect them. And here's the wonderful Buddhist slant... to protect them so that they may protect others. Brilliant. The Buddhists are so practical. They know that helping someone else feels good. So why not feel good? As often as possible? Because the more you do it, the better it feels. This is not religion. This is common sense. (Not that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive.)

They sing one particularly beautiful melody, which feels almost Gregorian:



As our final event of the trip, we repay the generosity of Dogah & Family by hosting dinner for 17 at Holumba.

We all get gussied up for the event. Darrol, king of the male shawl, gives this novice a lesson in how to wear one. "When you drape it, you'd think it should be balanced, but no. The right side has to be way longer than the left. Then you grab it like this, and throw it over your left shoulder and then ..." Well, I shouldn't give away all the secrets of the lineage.

After the gussying, we all gather in the lower lounge for a final meeting. Tamara took this one of Darrol, Emma, Dennis, Mat, Pam, Shea, Heather me and Bill. What a crew!

Me & Den.

Pam loves being photographed like a cat loves swimming. So, this lovely image is a rare treasure!

Lou and Tamara pay attention to the teacher while Dennis and Shea daydream. We know who's gonna get the good marks, don't we?

The patriarchs at the dinner table. Think of all the history in this picture. A lot of water under the bridge, as they say.

A kid can sense who the fun guy in the room is.

Dogah & Darrol each address the group.


One moment please! Samdup keeps getting phone call after phone call during dinner. Business. Apparently his troop of 11 has just been hired to go to Mumbai and shoot something with some Bollywood people. They leave in a couple of days. Awesome, Samdup!

After the speeches, it's time for gift giving.

...from one family to another.

The little one is fascinated by Emma's solar powered prayer wheel. OK, I admit it. So am I.

And finally, the group photo op. Many thanks to all involved, and to the universe that happened to land us right here, right now for this particularly auspicious moment between two amazing families.

Samdup and I have made a nice connection, musically and personally. He invites me to come back and suggests we might work on "a whole new kind of music" together. I tell him nothing could please me more, and that I will listen to my recordings of the concert and other Tibetan music and give it some thought. I don't know when I'll get back to this little paradise called Kalimpong, but there's always the internet! Samdup, if you're reading this, please be in touch, and let's make some music together!


Wednesday, March 6:


Today is not just another travel day. It's THE travel day. Time for good-byes to 3 of my 10 new friends. Pam is going to stay in Kalimpong for a little more R&R before returning to Ontario, and Shea & Bill are heading north for some mountain trekking. The rest are embarking on a 75 km Jeep ride to the nearest airport - Bagdogra - for a flight to Kolkata. From there Darrol and the other members of the group will fly to New Delhi. Darrol & Emma will meet up with Susan and do a little more family touring. The rest face a daunting number of hours in the air and in airports before reaching Toronto. For me, it's a piece of cake. Three hours in a Jeep, a short flight, then a cab to the Kolkata home of saxophonists Jonathan & Andrew Kay.

The Significant Seven are ready to roll. (photo by Pam)

Much of the drive down the endlessly bumpy and narrow road to Bagdogra follows a currently dry river bed.

The bed serves as some kind of quarry.

Anybody know what they might be hauling out?

We arrive at the airport about 11 am.

Sign in Bagdogra Airport. Good advice!

Check out this list of banned hand carry-on items. Pickles? And what's a Riffle?

"Foreign Exchance" seems to be a very appropriate misnomer.
You pays yer money and you takes yer chances.

And More Good-Byes:

Time to say the final good-byes to Darrol, Emma, Tamara, Mat, Dennis and Heather. I have booked a different flight from them, but both are scheduled to leave at 2:20. And at the same gate! Hmmm. There's only room for one plane at a time, so theirs boards first; mine about 15 minutes later. It's an unsatisfactorily hurried good-bye because someone can't find some paperwork or other, and there is a kerfuffle, a slight panic, a resolution, then a quick sprint for the plane. Bye! Yeah, b-bye! Take care! You too! Safe trip! Same to you! Happy landings. Bing, bang, badda-boom, and ... It's just me. Holy crap-olas. On my own. In India. INDIA, for chrissake. It hits me like I just left home yesterday. It hits me like a wave. The kind of wave you see in breath mint or spearmint gum commercials. Refreshing, awakening, alivening. SPUH-LASH!! Such a satisfied exhilarating sensation ... and no one to share it with. I check at my watch. 2:30. Quick calculation, that's 4:30 in Toronto. Sharon should be in. Pull out my cell. Ring, ring, ring. Answering machine. Damn. She must be out. I pour my excitement out on her machine. As soon as I hang up, I realize ... 4:30 AM. Oops. I'll take that as a hint that I'd better slow down and curb my enthusiasm. If I don't, I'll lose a bag or a passport or something. This I have learned from experience (see chapter 1 of my Mali travel log!)

Pulling it back from excitement, I find a calm satisfaction underneath. I came on this trip for a challenge, and I'm feeling solidly up for it. Not fearless, but ready. Transportation seems to be my main worry. Primarily train-o-phobia. What if I don't make a connection? Also some anxiety because, even though Jon & Andrew seem extremely generous and ready to put me up and show me their Kolkata, I don't really know them that well. If there's one thing my time with Darrol has reinforced in me, it's to approach the unknown with a sense of adventure, and have confidence in myself and the universe as being a good team. It's very likely that together, we'll induce everything to work out just fine.


On My Own

Sitting next to someone on a plane is a unique experience. I like to look at it as an experiment. Typically the results are extreme.
a) Very pleasant. I wish this person was my next-door neighbour;
b) A huge mistake. Why did I ever even open my mouth?
c) Extremely neutral. Nothing. Nada. No chemistry whatsoever. Glad I brought a book.

Fortunately, sitting next to Prayesh Dewan is Result "a". We have a great chat, in which I discover that when he's not supervising the building of transmissions at Tata, he is a hobbyist musician. He is meeting his sister at the airport, and it is she who took this pic.
By 3:30, I'm at Kolkata airport and ready to grab a taxi. This is something I've never done. You have to buy a prepaid ticket from a booth, then go outside and present the ticket at another booth, and they hook you up with a driver. Sheesh. Thankfully, Prayesh is happy to help.

I can't give the taxi driver the address of the Kay's. It's just not that simple here. It's more like I throw a neighbourhood at him, then toss in a couple of street names to give the general gist. And we're off.

Photo from the cab: A tractor trailer had been driving over this bridge moments before we pass by. The bridge caved under the weight. The overturned truck is not visible in this photo. It is behind the fallen section of bridge. This tells you something about the state of Kolkata's infrastructure.

As we get near, I'm on the phone with Andrew, describing the scenery we pass by. Kind of like Pin the Tail on the Donkey. I'm blindfolded and getting warmer. Finally, Andrew tells me to get out. He and girlfriend Delia will walk down and meet me. Me and my bags are standing at the side of a dirt road for about 5 minutes. People are looking at me very curiously. Then, here they come. Things work out. Me and the universe have seen to that. The adventure continues.

Next I meet the Guru. Not my inner Travelling Guru, but the man with whom Andrew & Jonathan have come all this way to study music.

Happy reading.

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