Here I stand in Darjeeling, on the edge of the Himalayan Mountains. The
temperature has dropped, the air has thinned and cows have seemingly disappeared...now only a dense mist wanders the streets with impunity. Floating in the midst of this dreamlike environment are faces as diverse as the Himalayan topography - people of Indian, Nepalese, Tibetan and Bhutanese origin all make this area home. While walking in the clouds has been amazing, it has cost me a good look at Khangchendzonga (8598m). I caught a brief glimpse of it a couple of days ago in Mirik, before a sea of white covered the sky.
Mirik is a lovely hill station about 50km south of Darjeeling and is home to the diminutive Bokar Gompa, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. It's perched high on a hill and its rich colors radiate a feeling of warmth over the town. Soon feelings of awe will join the parade when the massive new monastery is completed in a year or two. Its ornate exterior is all but complete, only needing vibrant blue, yellow, purple and gold paints to bring to life the stark grey stonework. If I'm inspired by its grandeur now, can you imagine what it will be like when finished? On a sad note, the famous and beloved guru Bokar Rinpoche of the monastery passed away recently and Buddhists from around the world have flocked to Mirik to offer puja (prayers).
Reaching Mirik was a little more eventful than I had hoped. I flagged a share jeep (the best way to get around the Himalayan foothills) from Siliguri to Kurseong, and I was awarded the joyous position of gearshift jockey, which meant straddling the gearshift. And with a screech of tires, we were off! Thanks to the driver's maniacal moves, I was upright and a little tense as we approached the hills. However as we started the climb, a euphoria came over me. Lush jungle foliage, with leaves larger than the beds I've grown accustomed to sleeping in, sprung from the hillsides. With each turn in the road a new and amazing vista was revealed - I was enthralled. Suddenly I was in darkness and felt a searing pain...everything was spinning. Had we careened off a precipice? Was I falling to my death? Close, but not quite: a rapid shift by the driver quickly and firmly introduced the gearshift to my right testicle. The darkness? I think that was my eyes rolling back into my head.
Ah, the joys of travel!