It’s 7:30 in the morning in Makiabari, the small mountain village in the Darjeeling area where we have arranged home stays. It is a hazy morning—the clouds have not yet lifted. But you can start to see the surrounding valleys and ridges.
I have heard the sounds of a community coming to life since 6, at least: roosters crowing, dogs barking, children chattering. Neighbor calls to neighbor. Trucks and jeeps roar up and down the one narrow road carrying goods and people. I can hear a man sharpening knives in the yard below me. Someone has been playing Bollywood music for an hour or more. I also hear someone singing a simple melody in Napali, the local language.
The houses are crowded together, stacked up on terraces, separated by paths that pass for streets in a mountain village. Lots of color; the railing on my porch is pink and green, not nearly as gaudy as that sounds against the lush green of the mountains. The Buddhist homes have flags—yellow, green and blue ones flutter from bamboo poles just below me. The houses themselves are bold colors, bright yellow, purple, blues and green.
The people here are not poor. Most work in the tea gardens or tea factory in the village. They have tidy homes, small gardens, potted plants on stair steps. Red flowers seem popular. There is a learning center and a day care along the road. A medical center too. No stores to speak of, at least not in the way we understand stores. The few small shops are connected to homes and sell vegetables and a few package items. The shops on the road sell packaged tea to the tourists who travel up and down the mountain.
I can feel the warmth of the sun, although I can’t see it yet. My host, Passang, has brought me tea—not the sweet milky chai of south India. Just tea. It is velvety in my mouth and smells of the rich mountain soil. I miss my wife. And I imagine a simpler life. I don’t expect the lives of these people are as simple as they appear to me, of course. They have cell phones after all. They have children and family and obligations. But they have less stuff. And fewer expectations.
There is something to that.