Windsong
Summer/Autumn Issue 2012

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Hello again, dear Guests! It’s Windsong calling! I have to offer an apology – it has been far too long since my last missive…so sorry. We have all been very, very busy…..yet, this is no excuse. It has heartened me to have received requests for “the next epistle” – thank you! The picture below is a warm reminder that……

Your table awaits............

 

…are you coming back to see us? Yes? Good! Your Beef & Mushroom Pot Pie is here….yum! Your Spotted Dick with custard is going cold! Tea from The Castleton Tea Estate is brewing nicely ……………..so is the ground coffee!

 

But, it is all missing your presence…….

     

In this edition, I want to present to you with something different. Before I do, however, I need to say that our dear and much loved friend, Mr. Teddy Young, passed away earlier this year. He was 91 years of age. You may recall that Teddy was the last British Tea Planter in the Hills…..maybe you saw him in our documentary ‘Other Times, Other Places – the Himalayas’?

We were with him to the final moments. In fact, towards the end of his days (but not knowing that it was…), his relatives from the UK, Australia and New Zealand had tracked him down. The UK family actually spent some time with him, but the Aussie and NZ side missed him by just one day. I feel so strongly that his life needs to be documented at this stage, that another “Special Edition” of Windsong is coming up shortly. It will be totally dedicated to Teddy. The family has very kindly offered anecdotes, stories, pictures, etc., so this has made it much easier for me to prepare this follow up ‘Special Edition’. It will come out next month.

The “something different” is a story of Ken & Vikki Ford-Powell and their family. Ken wrote such a wonderful “blog” on his second visit here, that his suggestion of including it in this edition was taken up by me very quickly!

Return to Darjeeling – The mystery and magic of Time

By Ken Ford-Powell
Originally published on
http://kenthinksaloud.wordpress.com

Ken is a British freelance writer and teacher
living in Bangladesh since 2008. He and his wife
Vikki, an Occupational Therapist, work for an
NGO as volunteers, living on contributions from
supporters in the UK. They have two children,
Jessica aged 12 and Sam aged 9. All the photos in
this article were taken by Sam except where noted
or obvious.
 

A suitably dramatic title! One which I hope you appreciate could have come straight out of a 1940s science fiction comic – and with good reason, as I hope you will see.

My family and I had been very excited about going back to Darjeeling. Four weeks earlier it had not even been an idea to entertain, but a surprise gift from our agency that pays for us to be in Bangladesh meant that a holiday was suddenly possible. With no tenant in our house in the UK for most of the last six months meant no chance of saving any money at all and flying anywhere was out of the question. But Darjeeling is incredibly close to us – just up the road and left a bit; then over the border and carry on north until you run out of mountain.

Not that any of us were upset about not going further afield. Last year we went to Darjeeling after an epic tour of Kolkata – the city where my mother was born and raised in the last dying years of the British Raj. We went on the recommendation of one of the British gynaecologists working at our NGO. Though we were physically wrecked through days of walking all over Kolkata, Darjeeling just blew us away. We were delighted to go there again this year – this time with fresh legs!

Eating in the Windamere Hotel Dining Room - overlooking the mountains and valleys
   

So, off we went, last July! My daughter and I were right in the middle of writing our novels for JulNoWriMo and had been frantically trying to cram in extra words to allow us the five days off and still get the novels written. It was a close thing but we both achieved our 50,000 words target within the month. It meant that we were free to relax and enjoy Darjeeling

properly this time. I have to say, if you are a Costadel-Sol kind of a holiday-goer and all you want to do is sit in the sun and give yourself cancer, and the nearest thing to danger you want to experience is to smash your brains out on alcohol, then don’t come to Darjeeling – it’s not for you. Sorry! Just a fact.

   
Windamere vista - a monsoon view View of The Windamere - taken by myself
   

On the other hand, if you crave excitement, mystery, other cultures, beautiful scenery and a little magic in your life, Darjeeling is definitely the place to be. The most expensive part is getting here. We’re next door, so it was cheap – just as well as we’re penniless charity workers – but flying to India is not cheap and not quick if you live in Europe or America. But once you’re here, it can be virtually as cheap as you like – it all depends on where you like to stay. We came for

something a little bit more expensive (but not much) – The Windamere Hotel (room & full board). We stayed here last year and loved it so much that we pretty much didn’t go anywhere else. We were so tired after Kolkata that we just wanted to chill out. The Windamere staff enabled us to do just that. It’s like getting some kind of all-over massage of body, mind and soul


There were plenty of other guests there but everyone made us feel so special and so welcome. Nothing was too much trouble for them.

This year we came in low season. It meant that the sky was foggy quite a lot of the time and it rained a bit, but it also meant we had the hotel very much to ourselves for most of the four nights we stayed. Well! That was a

good move, I can tell you! The staff was even more attentive to our needs and desires.

The level of professionalism is higher than I’ve seen in any Western hotel. It all made the holiday perfect. You come away feeling that you’re a very special and treasured guest of the family – thus it was like leaving “friends” and not “staff”! On our last night, we were given a reserved room, just for us and treated to a very special meal - compliments of the hotel.

   
 Dining Room staff serving my daughter  Their famous DHR Club – last night dinner
   
A lot of this comes down to Elizabeth Clarke, the Executive Director of the hotel, who has been running it on behalf of a Tibetan-Sikkimese family - they have owned it since 1939. A former thespian, she is a wonderful character who comes round to talk with all the guests, pretty much every mealtime – Breakfast, Lunch, Afternoon Tea and Dinner. She eats the same meals we do and clearly enjoys working and living at the hotel. This is a hotel where time forgot to move on (you’re getting close, now, to understanding why I chose the title for this post!). The Windamere prides itself on a British Raj-style of operation. This level of authenticity this comes from the family and staff who are all local - I have to say, this is no “silly whiteperson’s” idea – it is the real thing! The Brits got a lot wrong when they ruled India – however, what they got right was that living in India was a magical life. If you enjoy Downton Abbey and find yourself longing to live in that kind of era, then come to the Windamere!
   
   
It’s not just the Windamere that does this though. The whole area has not changed fundamentally in one hundred years. Some of the shops sell electrical goods and other modern appliances, of course, and there are cars and things (and even the internet, though I never once considered logging on); however, the feel and style of the place is still very definitely” old world
The shops sell magical trinkets that ooze mystery - they come at a good price too. The stalls outside sell all sorts of clothes and fabrics, rugs and shoes for every budget. It has all the feel of the Asian bazaar, without the sense of chaos that often comes with that. Darjeeling is peace and tranquillity itself.
   
   
Even the teenagers here, laughing, joking and slinking around suspiciously in corners, as all teenagers do, are model citizens in comparison to other countries. Mind you, I did find it funny when we found the only shopping complex had almost no shops in it all, but those that were there were amazing! We came across a bunch of boys from the local Buddhist school. They were all dressed similar to how you think the Dalai Lama dresses, but when they saw me and my son (my wife and daughter had gone off to do their ‘oo’ing and ‘ah’ing in one of the shops), they quietly laughed amongst themselves as if to say “hey, look at those odd-looking foreigners”. These were boys who were completely at ease with shaved heads and wearing Buddhist shawls. We were the ones who were odd!
 
 
   
Of course, this peace and mystery and ‘old world’ experience may not interest some of you, but there are other places to stay and other things to do here. There are museums and a zoo – the latter was good, actually, as most of the animals have no cages (even the bear!) and all have large areas to live in, which were clean and appropriately tended. There is a steam train running up and down the mountain which we’ve not used yet, but looks wonderful. And for those of you much fitter and more ready to risk life and limb than I, there are the Himalayan Mountains themselves. You can go pretty much as high as you like and next to the zoo is a museum dedicated to the mountains and those who have climbed them. You can even go on advanced courses in mountain climbing here if you choose. If outdoor adventure is your thing, then you can do worse than go to find Everest. But for me, the magic came in being with my family. Both our kids are now reaching the age where the screaming and shouting at them to ‘damned well tidy your room’ is rapidly disappearing and they are turning into friends who we just enjoy spending time with. Followers of my blog – kenthinksaloud – know that my daughter and I have especially enjoyed writing our novels together this summer vacation. My son though, is no less special in my eyes.
   
   
Sam (who like his dad has ADHD) has no fear of strangers and considers everyone he meets to be a potential friend. I read Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Kim’ last year and he could have been describing my son when he wrote of the title character, a “friend of all the world”. The more interesting they are, the more likely he is to become instant friends. He befriended the Donkey-Wallah in the main square, when he decided he wanted a second ride on one. This man had a pet bird that lived on his hat. By the time they had gone off somewhere and returned to the main square about 15 minutes later, they were firm friends and the bird was now on my son’s head instead! This ability to endear himself to another, even when the two of them do not have a mutually compatible language is quite miraculous in itself. He certainly doesn’t get this gift from his parents. I have no idea where it comes from.
My lad, very wisely as it turned out, decided to spend some of his left-over birthday money on a digital camera he found in one of the shops just off the main square. I was dubious whether the quality would be any good but, as it happened, I was wrong. Sam took some of the best shots of the holiday. He seems to have a natural eye for seeing things and has always been good at taking pictures. Although he is still working out all the functions available on the camera, he has already managed types of shots on his that I’ve never managed to do on our, more expensive camera
   

Nearly finished…………last page coming up!

 
   
   

FINALLY…….utter joy abounds!

   
Sam snapping away on the ‘Sunny View’ patio of The Windamere….I suddenly saw a younger version of myself……
     
Windsong


The Windamere Hotel
Darjeeling - 734101, India.
Tel:  +91- (0)354-2254041/2254042 | Fax: +91- (0)354-2254043/2254211
www.windamerehotel.com | email: windsong@windamerehotel.net
A Colonial Heritage Hotel of India - in the Himalayas