Any tourist visiting Darjeeling is bound to be enchanted by the small doll house like homes of the local people of the area. The people of the hills are suited to the climate and geographical conditions of Darjeeling.
The original inhabitants of the Darjeeling Hills were Lepchas or Rongpas with Mongolian features. The greater bulk of the people in the Hills are Gorkhas. Industrious and enterprising as a race, they are renowned for their military prowess the world over. Among the population are also the Newars or the Sherpas. They are well known for their courage, stamina, surefootedness and their immeasurable contribution to Mountaineering.
In my interaction with the people of the hills, I have realised that they are nature loving people who are extremely aesthetic and creative. House – proud, you will notice how well they maintain their homes, painted and decorated with flowers growing on their windowsills and verandahs. They look suspiciously at newcomers but once you win their hearts, they are loyal until the end. Don’t mistake their mild ways and take them for granted, they are after all known for their fierceness all over the world.
However, the world has become much smaller due to communication and transport. It is fascinating to see the potpourri of people on the hills specially during our travel on the hills. The politest are always the local, so-called generalised, Nepalis. They follow the rules of the hills and give right of way to those travelling uphill. They wait patiently for cars to pass each other and take time off to nod politely. In complete contrast are the Taxi drivers from other parts of India. They are brash, always in a mad rush and always ready to fight.
The way the locals dress is another point to be noticed. They are always put together fashionably and according to the weather. You will see them with an umbrella, hat, jacket and looking smart consistently. The youth, in fact, are very fashion conscious and can give models a run for their money. You can always recognise the Marwaris, Biharis, Punjabis, Bengalis and other people who have come from the plains and settled here. Their clothing and manner of speaking are definitely different. Most of these people run shops and hotels.
Then of course, the tourists. They can be recognised so easily. They are either wearing too many layers of clothes or too little. They seem over excited by the might and beauty of the hills. A local friend told us that they have a term for the people who come up from the plains with their monkey caps and cameras – Jhalmuri Party. I laughed and laughed.
My favourite people to watch are the boys and girls going to school. They look so dapper in their school uniform with their sweaters, jackets, ties, socks and shoes. It no longer matters which part of the world people come from. Schools and education embrace all the different communities and cultures and mix them to make a beautiful Potpourri.
The Dorje Team is something like that – there are the Selim Hill folk, some others from North Bengal, those from the plains of Kolkata and some idealistic youthful people from all over India and the world who are working hard together to help Selim Hill Tea Estate survive.
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