Leaving the hills

In Siliguri, India right now, and we’ll be leaving the cool hills of northeast India tonight on an overnight train to Kolkata. The trip has been a bit rushed these past few days, with the constant moving around, and a lot of days of only staying one night in a place (or one night on an overnight train).

There is a reason for that though, as there may be a call for a strike in the district around Darjeeling starting tomorrow morning, which is why we only planned a short visit/business trip. “Insurgency” I think it’s called, as the Gorka minority that settled around this region are agitated, in a fight with the central and state government for a separate state. There has been violence in the past (during the 1990’s?) over the same issue, though this time around it’s been peaceful so far. Still, we wouldn’t want to be stuck in this region should a strike be called, as all transport (including food that is transported in) would be affected. Worst case scenerio, the military would be brought in, and potential violence could occur… But don’t worry, we’ll be fine since we’ll be out of the region before tomorrow morning.

We had originally planned to visit the northeast purely for pleasure, though Mike had parlayed it into a work assignment, of reviews of various resorts and guesthouses in the area. Which meant free accomodations!

On top of that, we had another stroke of good fortune… Driving up into the villages around Kalimpong, I was starting to get a bit uncomfortable and worried when I saw all sorts of yellow, white, and green flags bannered across the roads, with slogans of “We want Gorkaland!” Mike tried interviewing a few locals for a potential news story, but came up fruitless… He had interviewed a woman, a local teacher, asking for her opinions – but forgot to press the record button! Hehe! But basically they heard one of the leaders was going to be driving through to Darjeeling, and they wanted to show their support.

The next village we stopped at, there was a small crowd gathered near a banner. Mike started asking questions, and one man, I believe would have spoken on tape, until he yielded the questions to the village “head”, I believe. From the look on his face, I could tell he couldn’t understand what Mike was saying in English, and declined to speak, in order to save face.

The story doesn’t stop there just yet. We had stayed one night at the Orchid Retreat outside Kalimpong, and Mike asked the owners about their feelings about the current situation involving the Gorkas (they are also Gorka). The father-in-law was able to give us a more comprehensive history of the situation, as well as put Mike in touch with a party member!

Next morning, while I lazed about the cottage, Mike went off to interview the party member, who asked whether the story was going to go ahead. Mike said, only if a strike occurs would it be of any interest to have a chance of getting aired. To which the party member responded, “I can make that happen, if you like.”

We’re in for a lot more moving still – after we arrive in Kolkata, we’ll be headed straight for a boat to the Sunderbans. I’m already agitated with the noise and busyness of the city traffic here in Siliguri, which isn’t busy at all for Indian standards, and wishing I was back in the sparesly populated hills. However, I am looking forward to finally washing my clothes, and for them to have a fighting chance of drying completely without leaving a damp, mildew smell!


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