On April 17th eight of the fellows and Sridar descended upon Darjeeling!! Or I guess I should say ascended. April 17th was also the local election day, so arranging the visit was a bit of a challenge. In Darjeeling district, many of the private drivers are pressed into service for the government on election day, driving around police officers to locations where they are needed, ferrying election officials, taking people with mobility issues to their polling locations, etc. This meant that it was hard to find drivers that were available that day to pick up the fellows from the airport/train station/bus stand and take them up the mountain. We eventually succeeded, but not without many bumps along the road (pun intended). I was also in near constant fear in the days leading up to the election and during the visit that there would be a strike. Unlike cities in India where strikes temporarily affect a small part of the city or one specific thing, like electricity or auto drivers, in Darjeeling, strikes shut everything down. The roads close, all the businesses shut their doors, and no one can get in or out. Not the best environment to have a bunch of people come and visit. When I came here was at the end of a 40 day long strike, and I saw first hand the effect it had on the city and it was not great. Fortunately, there was no striking this time and hopefully there won’t be when the election results are announced. Keep your fingers crossed for me!!
The first destination on the Darjeeling visit was Ambootia tea estate just outside of Kurseong. Sridar knows the owner of this estate, and so we got the stay the night there in the director’s bungalow. The CHHIP staff drove down to meet the fellows on their way, getting dropped in Kurseong to wait for the first fellows cab to come by us.
Ambootia is a beautiful place. I have been working on tea estates since I have been in Darjeeling, and I was surprised by how well maintained the road were, the cleanliness, the nice housing for the workers, the high quality schools, etc. It is definitely an estate the other estates should try and live up to.
After spending the night at Ambootia, we went to one of the CHHIP partner communities, Marybong, which also happens to be a tea estate. This community has three schools where we work, and the fellows visited two of them. Our School Health Activist for the community came to talk the fellows through the work that he does and who them the materials he uses in his work in Marybong. The fellows had lots of questions and I think they enjoyed learning about CHHIP from a community member instead of just hearing about it from me.
After that, the fellows finally got the see Darjeeling proper!! The drive into town was entertaining as I explained to the fellow in my car about the toy train, the towns we drove through, the monasteries we passed, etc. The fellows came to the CHAI office to meet our office staff. We then settled in at the pent house apartment in my building, which is AMAZING. I had never been up there before but it is absolutely beautiful. And there was a bathtub!! Bathtubs are so rare here I thought I had hallucinated it. Sridar and I walked the fellows around for a little while then picked up a delicious packed dinner of momos. Everyone that comes here just wants momos all the time. It is pretty funny actually. The fellows spent a fun evening watching movies, playing games, and hanging out. In the morning, I made breakfast and the fellows were sent on their way. And just in time too. Gabrielle stayed back an extra day and we spent the afternoon dodging on and out of buildings avoiding rain and hail storms. So glad it held off until the other fellows left!! It was a nice change of pace (we rarely get visitors here) and I miss all the fellows a lot!!! One last shot of all of us together at Ambootia!!