Friday, March 17, 2006

Run To The Hills

As I travel around various British ex-colonies I see a rather strange trend. As soon as the new dominions were safely acquired the first thing the Brits would do was flee to the hills. On every available piece of high ground they would build hill stations to get away from the oppressive heat of the tropics (their insistence on wearing heavy, stuffy European clothing at all times probably added to their discomfort). Perhaps the most famous of these is Darjeeling. Situated in the north of West Bengal, close to the Nepalese border and with fine views (on a clear day) of the world's third-highest peak, the mighty Kangchenjunga. Though it is for its tea that Darjeeling is most renowned, and it holds the record for the most expensive tea in the world (Makaibari Silver Tips, vintage 2003, sold for $400 a kilo). The town sits, perched precariously, on the edge of a steep ridge, so the streets and paths are a befuddling snakes and ladders board: often you think you're going in the right direction only to reach a dead end, or suddenly turn downhill away from where you're headed. Still, the temperate climate and charming colonial buildings make traipsing the back alleys a pleasant pastime, and it's a relaxing place to recuperate from a fortnight of rather hectic travelling when I didn't stay in any one place for more than one night.

I actually arrived on the second day of the Hindu festival of Holi where people throw coloured powder and water on each other to celebrate ... I'm not sure as I couldn't find anyone to explain it to me properly. But who cares? you get to make a mess and annoy people and get away with it. Does it matter if no-one remembers why? I, however, chose to keep a safe distance, not because I'm a killjoy, but I'm not great at washing my clothes at the best of times and I really didn't want the extra work. The whole town, even several days, and a bit of rain, later still bears the purple marks on the streets, like the remnants of some hard-fought battle (even the dogs are tinged purple).

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