|The view from my bedroom|
My friend Anu invited me to come spend a weekend with her "brother" in "Darjeeling." Being Nepali, by 'brother' she meant life-long friend, and by 'Darjeeling' she meant a very small village called Mungpoo*, about an hour away from Darjeeling.
* Much better than it sounds.
Pictured above from the left is Raoul (Anu's brother), Ama (Nepali for mother; I never knew her as anything else), Ernesta and Anu, with little Chetan in the forefront making faces at PhotoBooth for about an hour. Raoul and Ernesta met as teenagers at a tribal meeting in the mountains and fell in love. Later, aged 16 and 18, they had a 'love marriage'* (Anu tells me in hushed, equally impressed and scandalized, tones) and now live together in their beautiful mountain farmhouse with their young son Chetan.
* As opposed to an arranged marriage, which is more usual in Anu's (Christian) circles. Raoul and Ernesta are "Buddhist, but also tribal" (Ernesta's words). She wears a plain silver square (classic Buddhist pendant) which has Chetan's baby teeth marks in it, from when he was teething.
|Chetan helping me boil the water for my morning coffee|
|Anu preparing Thukpa (Tibetan noodles) for breakfast|
One thing I had on my bucket list for Darjeeling was to visit the acclaimed Himalayan Zoological Park - one of the best zoos in India, and probably the Asian continent. I'm not a fan of zoos and tend to get teary-eyed at the sight of wild animals in captivity, but this was certainly one of the better zoos I've been to - and the conservation projects run by the zoo seem to be very admirable and necessary.
|A Muntjac - also known as a 'barking deer'|
|Sikkim's 'best animal'* according to a guide: The Red Panda!|
*I would argue it is, in fact, the world's best animal
|Yep. They know what's what.|
|Two Himalayan langur friends who made me cry|
|A little leopard cat|
I had to specifically mention the leopard cat, as - on the way home, through a forest, at night - we had to stop the car suddenly as one little dolt had almost run out onto the road. This little cat stared at us, turned and fled, and I sat there screaming with joy and remembering the event for the rest of the evening (and week, and life). My hosts thought I was very amusing, as they see them all the time - and sometimes even full-sized leopards.
I included the picture above, even though it is out of focus and strange, because I love it. It is Chetan and I, ready to attend a neighbour's wedding. I was dressed in that pink sari by Anu and Ernesta - in a process which I felt would be quite fitting for the bride herself. The wedding was raucous, and I ended up getting quite tipsy with Ama (the grandmother of the house), since according to local custom young women get small amounts of beer, while old women get large glasses of hard liquor. I also had a bollywood-style dance-off with a talented teenage boy and generally made a spectacle of myself. Every time I hear any one of the many Hindi and Nepali pop songs played on that evening, I am instantly happy.
|Anu and Ernesta preparing momos (dumplings)|
I'm returning to Raoul, Ernesta, Chetan and Ama next week for another visit,
and hopefully so on for the rest of my life.