Silent Sundays : Meanwhile, in Kolkata..

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The forgotten hotel in Darjeeling

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On my recent trip to Darjeeling, I noticed this hotel. This hotel is perched on a high ground, in a desolate spot, and with the tall gates and a suspicious looking security guard standing by the gates, this property is a no go-through for general folk, like me.

Actually, I have seen this property several times before, but always ignored it and walked on, just like all the other people. On this trip of mine, my curiosity was piqued, and I decided, along with the mister to go and try to have a peek at it. My curiosity paid off. Viewing this old hotel property from the outside and within was quite an experience, and especially with the mists and aura of the old world, I felt transported to another time.

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I wondered if there was a way to get into the hotel. The security guard didn’t look to be around. Mister and I were fiddling with the gate locks trying to loosen the old thing so we could let ourselves in. With our luck, the guard appeared out from the mists, ordering us to stay out from the property as it was Private. I looked at the security guard and somehow I was confident he could melt with a little bit of sweet talk and some smiles. The old charm worked. It wasn’t so difficult after all to enter the gates. The guard, after the initial ice was broken, happily showed us around the rooms of the hotel, talking to us of it’s history and what the future lay for it.

The hotel belonged to the Oberoi Group, one of the leading hotels in India. It was built in 1915, and was leased out to the Group in 1950. It ran successfuly for more than 20 years, and an indian movie by the name of Barsaat was even shot in this hotel.

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And then there was a big mishap : a fire broke out so immense it burnt everything in it and the property is almost ravaged. Since that fire, the hotel has never been renovated due to insurance issues that have been dragging over 30 years..!

I asked the guard if there had been people injured in this accident. Apparently, the answer is no, there had been no casualties. However, I must add that walking through this big empty property with negligible electricity, dark corridors and spooky corners, this was the thought upmost in my mind if there were spirits around the place?! My heart was definitely somewhere near my mouth. I asked the guard if he lived in this property, and he replied in the affirmative. He lived here both day and night in one of the many empty rooms of the hotel. I asked him if he was scared of ghosts. He laughed and said no. I looked at him. No one could tempt me to stay overnight here even for a million bucks.

Here are some photos of the hotel. The first pic is of the entrance. It is interesting to note that the postbox survived the ravage. The beautiful balcony and the lonesome chimney in the room are what captured our imaginations..

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My first attempt at Silk Ribbon Embroidery

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My very first attempt at silk ribbon embroidery and though I can see many mistakes, I am overall pleased with the result! 🙂 On hindsight, I wish now I hadn’t crowded it with so many flowers and French knots. I wish also that I hadn’t painted the green and orange bits. I mostly wish that the starter’s kit that I had bought to practise this embroidery on had something a little more special than just plain white sewing cloth.

I started my embroidery in Dubai at Craftsland which is the only place in Dubai selling silk ribbons. I took a 3 day course in learning how to get started with it. I had a lovely instructor called Iman who was very helpful and gave me as many tips possible. Being busy with everyday life and all that, this project took me over 2 months to complete. I still have to have it framed now!

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A Convent School in Darjeeling

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The school is called Loreto Convent, in Darjeeling, and it is also a part of my childhood, memories that are sweet to me. The school is divided into two sections : Junior and Senior School, and though my time in Loreto was short, having spent a few years in the Junior School ( and regretting not having stayed long enough to wear the Senior uniforms, that looked so much smarter than the juniors). Waking up early mornings with crisp fresh Darjeeling air biting my nose, trudging up and down the hills for about 2 kilometers before I reached school along with my friends, having sometimes parents give me money to buy ‘titoura’ a tamarind goodie which was both extremely sweet and sour to which the girls were addicted to, and could never have enough of!

At that tiny age, girls are only interested to laugh with a high spirit for fun. Mingling with each other was natural and easy, and no one felt the need to do or say something special to be unique, or even to form groups. In the space of time I spent here at that age, I don’t recall feeling sad or seeing any of my classmates feeling left out or crying. The spirit of the girls in Loreto Darjeeling is infectious, and I appreciated the easy years I spent there.

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Last week I was in Darjeeling, and after having received the permission to go visit the school and classes, I was delighted to revisit old memories of oh so long ago! I had my husband in tow and he remarked how lucky I was to study in such a beautiful looking school.

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The one thing I can definitely say with certainty that I learnt at Loreto was to have a decent handwriting. In my trip to Loreto I was pleased to note that the stress on good handwriting is still being held strictly as it was for me many years ago. Yves gawked at the wonderful handwriting of the girls as young as 8 years old. How I loved to write cursively between those red lines and the blue borders above and below!

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I entered a class and a group of excited girls surrounded me, eager to chat with a new face. They were 9 and 10 year old girls. They wanted to know which country is my husband from, and I asked them to guess. I don’t think the girls are aware of countries outside of India. One tiny girl said in a tiny voice ‘ Your husband is from foreign’, to which some other girls heard as ‘forrest’ and eagerly they joined in saying ‘You are from Forrest’ to Yves! That was so cute and funny! While I was struggling to come up with something interesting to amuse the girls, one girl piped at me ‘You are so young, why do you wear spockles’… Aww!! I still feel like hugging her!

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I went to Darjeeling

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I went to Darjeeling last week and though I have been there often, I saw it this time with fresh eyes.

Darjeeling is said to function well thanks to the 4 T’s : Tea, Toy Train, Timber and Tourism. During my stay in Darjeeling, I drank about 5-6 cups of tea per day. It’s a good hydration for the body, and the tea is of such good quality, that it just beats any other drink available! I have a tiny regret I did not have the chance to visit any of the tea factories and educate myself better on tea production. I would have liked to understand the different grades of tea and what is all the business about first and second flush. For those curious about tea gardens in Darjeeling, well it’s a beautiful and almost a serene sight. During my trip, the weather was mostly misty and viewing of the Himalayas was quite impossible, but even so, the mists lent a mysterious quality to the air in Darjeeling.

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The Toy Train In Darjeeling is a wonderful sight. Looming straight out from the colonial times, the ‘Darjeeling Himalayan Railway’ or the Toy Train is considered as part of UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a narrow gauge railway, and was built between 1879-1881, and it still runs today and everyday! 🙂 Inspite of the misty conditions in Darjeeling, the train was packed with tourists savouring the feel of being inside this heritage train. I have decided to have my trip on the very old-fashioned steam engine train someday later when I plan my vacations better keeping in mind the weather in Darjeeling!

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Here’s a lovely oil painting I found of the train, which is hung inside of the gorgeous Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling, which is beautifully titles ‘Spirit of the Toy Train’ drawn by an artist named Martha Johnson.

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Darjeeling has retained much of it’s quaint colonial charm which can be found on the old building structures, especially the schools which look lovely. This little town located on the northern-most tip of the state of West Bengal, is a popular tourist destination, and it also shares borders with it’s neighbouring country, Nepal. The local people are a big mix of Indian cultures, but the predominant language spoken is Nepali, and the original race of people to occupy Darjeeling have Mongolian features. Darjeeling has an elevation of 2,045 meters. I was struck by the beautiful flowers that grow here. And the local people, though they are simple and not rich, have a love for beautiful things, and they decorate their front porches with many beautiful pots of flowers. I leave you with some of the random lovely scenes of Darjeeling.

The ancient Town Library of Darjeeling:

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Lovely orchids from the Botanical Garden, Darjeeling.

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Inside of a lovely Buddhist Monastery.

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