The ill-lit classrooms had no glass in the windows and no plaster on the walls. Unconnected to any source, electricity wires hung like jungle vines from concrete ceilings. The children, crowded behind simple wooden tables, wore neatly pressed uniforms and expressions warm enough to melt a mountain frost.
A wide and well-tended path stretched upwards to the main group of buildings. We had walked into another country: there were no plastic bottles, crisp wrappers, bright blue tangles of frayed nylon rope, plastic bags, sweet wrappers, turds or stinking puddles anywhere. Just nice green grassy borders either side of the well-trodden path, and a hand-built wooden stairway.
The sports field lies on the edge of a high ridge above Barranumber, overlooking the Alpha Nursery School. The fields and jungle drop down into the river valley a kilometer below us. In the distance we can see Sikkim and Nepal. The common language of all the tribes (Lepcha, Limboo, Rai, Tamang, Tenzing, Bhutia and more) who live in the Himalaya is Nepali. The fiercely fought borders drawn on maps by diplomats, kings, and politicians mean nothing to the people of this region.
As the train pulls out a man jumps through the open door, and takes up residence opposite us. Sporting sunglasses balanced on top of a sharp new haircut, tight jeans and a smart shirt, he radiates style and bonhomie. We smile. He lurches towards us and we recoil as the sour alcohol oozing from his pores hits us.
“Would you like to have lunch in Nepal?” said Pramod, the headmaster of RIBS primary school in Manebhanjang, Darjeeling district. We had just spent the morning talking to his bouncing pupils, aged three to ten, and were ready for a break. So we strolled up the road, nodding to the disinterested border patrol guards, and […]
Our friend volunteered with the Mondo Challenge Foundation, a UK charity set up to help communities around the world . In 2010 she taught at the Magno Vale Academy for six months and finished just before we visited Darjeeling. When the charity’s founder heard we were going to visit the area he press-ganged us into […]
On a banner stretched across the main road we read “2600 years of the enlightenment of Lord Buddha”. By chance we had arrived just in time to join in the celebratory procession planned for the next day. At a mere 2100m Darjeeling is unlikely to strike you down with altitude sickness, but be prepared for […]