Like everything in India, there’s a kind of organised chaos which is shared by everyone, so it all works in its own crazy way. Driving is no different, and the journey to Darjeeling was a spectacular example of this. The narrow road hugged the curve of the mountain and the edge of the road fell away to the steep cliff of forests below. We also shared the road with a railway, on which diesel and steam trains trundled along slowly, and the cars would part when they passed by.

We reached Darjeeling, which was an overgrown and busy town. Small windy streets were fought over by traffic, and we were skilfully navigated through by our Bengali driver. At 7500 feet, on a clear day you would have a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately we were shrouded in fog, blocking the view in all directions. When the smothering mist rolled onto the roads, you would barely be able to see 50 yards in front, so driving became even more intense. We filled up on simple pleasures which were not available at our village (Chocolate, coffee and WiFi!) before heading back.

I was very sad to leave Makibari, which had been so welcoming. We had got to know our hosts quite well by the end of our stay. Cheju, who was originally an orphan, was an especially friendly and energetic child of the family who frequently knocked on our doors to say hello. Her favourite game was called “standing on the bed with a blanket on her head and singing”, and was a slightly erratic favourite of ours. The next day we said goodbye to our hosts, ready to head to Pelling. It was amazing to be part of the community for a short period, and I hoped to return one day to see how it would grow. The health of the village would be largely dependent on the success of the year’s tea harvest, which was primarily based on rainfall. Sadly, at this important time of year, there had been very little rain, which would put the whole community at risk. I left a few hundred rupees in my room as a small gesture to say thanks and then picked up my bags to hit the road.

 

Cheju
  
my portrait, by Cheju
    

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