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Journal of a Seaplane Cruise Around The World
Part Three: Asia

Sunday, November 11

Cocanada to Calcutta Bob was keen on the Darjeeling trip, so we pushed off last evening on the sleeper, the two of us in a 4 bunk compartment with blankets borrowed from the hotel. Slept pretty well and hopped out at 6: 30 in Siliguri, a town on the plains below the hills. Good breakfast at the station, then a 3-hour trip by car over an 8000' pass to Darjeeling. A fascinating drive: first through lanes of very tall trees, arching high above to canopy the road; then gradually, a long climb up the left, then the right side of a huge ravine. The road wound a great deal, for its slope was gentle, and we shucked from side to side in the car. The tropical growth of the plain gave way steadily to the hardier mountain plants; but even at 8000 feet tea bushes covered every slope, and poinsettia dazzled at every turn. Wild flowers were abundant, and daisy garlands were being made up by the children, who use them in decorating houses, walls, mountain brooks, and even deserted steam rollers! Interesting faces; Tibetan stock mostly, with regular features, much of a type, so that children, especially girls, might almost have been substituted one for the other. Smiling and laughing, they are the first happy people I've seen since leaving Switzerland. A mother (or nurse) had 5 youngsters off under a tree, keeping them convulsed with games, etc. - she enjoyed it fully as much as any of her 5 year old charges. Suddenly a big man appeared and groused st them like an Ogre. The smiles and games disappeared abruptly, and each one stooped to have a tump-line laid across her brow, and then staggered up with a load easily half her own weight, the woman's load being very heavy, and started again to climb the mountain (the ordinary tin can has been a godsend to these people; it permits transportation of fluids in containers virtually without weight, instead of in heavy earthenware vessels. I dare-say that the life of a discarded gasoline tin is as exciting here as in Labrador!) Curious to see the artistry of dress in even the youngest girls -- mere babies stand by with shawls folded in triangle, the fold bent over the upper brow, and the tails caught gracefully beneath the elbow. Dress could hardly be more attractive than this, and there is no need for new styles! Colors are nice too, many in plaids which might have come from Scotland. Some shawls are of coarse lace, and it is not uncommon to see a middle aged woman carrying a heavy load of tea leaves, or water, or vegetables, dressed not in work clothes (if such exist!) but in bright skirt and shirt, and wearing under the tump line a white lace shawl that I would have given two of Asulinak's horsepower to have had! Among the Indians the men are the more attractive; in Tibet (really Nepal) the women take all the honors.

At first the slopes appeared terraced for truck gardening, but we soon discovered the rows and rows of tea bushes for which the region is famous. The road not only wound continuously in its own course, but it crossed and recrossed a railroad of 22" gauge until you could no longer determine which had the right of way. The trip is much slower by train than by car. Once, near the top, a magnificent line of peaks appeared in the distance, and we judged these to be the Kinchinjunga range, probably 28,000 feet high. They were just visible above clouds. It was to be our last view however, because of heavy clouds throughout the rest of the day. The third passenger in the car, an English cleric in cape and hat, left us at the divide, and we descended into Darjeeling. It was chilly, and we crawled out of the blankets to wander stiffly into the hotel for breakfast, soon pushing off down the steep paths to the village center. Were promptly caught by a merchant of furs (a martin neckpiece, and two bedspreads) and Bob will surely bring out the N.Y. fire dept. if ever he produces his fur cap with ears, tail, etc.

Lucky us; if the mountains were masked, we had the good fortune to be there on market day, Sunday, and it was an irresistible sight. The streets were thronged: men bringing in their 1 gal. tin to be filled with kerosine oil with which to light the evening lamp, (this is the big field of oil sales in India; the total annual gasoline consumption is sometimes less than that of a single London omnibus company); women choosing vegetables and food; everyone stopping occasionally at a "hot dog stand", which here is a cross-legged man surrounded by small jars out of which he dips condiments and spices to sandwich into a black flour pancake. There was a big fish market, another for goat's meat, etc. And of course, all kinds of clothing, dishes, jewellery, etc. Undoubtedly, Darjeeling is the commerce center for all the mountain districts around; and the folk make the most of it on Sundays, being much entertained by their day of rest as well. Sometimes it was possible to use the camera, though not always with the approval of the natives. Presently we reached a crowd in the street, grouped in a circle about an entertainer. He was doing tricks of juggling with a ball, and carrying on incessantly with small talk, mostly directed at the children in the front row, which perhaps was why he had an audience. Even so, not bad at the game, and he could certainly pass muster in our average vaudeville show. There was no magic rope, but a large steel (?) ball disappeared into his mouth, slight-of-hand was not lacking, and a sword swallowing effort was frequently promised for a later demonstration. He had a companion performer, a boy, who was extremely agile in tumbling stunts. The crowd grew, and while it was good natured enough, we began to appreciate that as two foreigners among a hundred or so Tibetans we were hardly secure, and so moved on.

After a late dinner, we started back to Siliguri. Clouds were low, and the road was frequently in fog. Half way down, a red sunset broke through, and the drive was finished in cool dusk. The train ride, again overnight, was interrupted at 1 A.M. by fire in one of the coaches, from a hot box. All passengers were moved out, and we received 5, an Indian couple with their servant, and an Anglo-Indian with a redhaired girl of 4. I climbed into an upper berth and was soon asleep again so did not see much of them.

The Anglo-Indian problem must be rather trying. The Indians refuse this mixed race in their own castes, which of course are hereditary states and not positions of choice. The English, whose responsibility they are after all, try to place them in occupations, but do not often accept them in society. The Anglo-Indian himself spurns to do the labor of the native, and attempts to keep aloof. So they move about, often footloose, and are frequently met with. The English have absorbed many of them in the operation of the railways, but with the recent insistence that industries, (as well as the Army and the Navy!) become Indianized, they are losing even this refuge.

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