#2 November 2007

At the Neonatelogist
Sometimes on is doubtful about the health condition of the children and longs for professional advise. A friend via phone from Mumbai, where he was attending a meeting, referred us to “the best child doctor in town”. Finding this physicians number in the internet was not too difficult, but a number is not necessarily a line. My friend’s wife helped us out with the doctor’s address and the hint that he only consults Thursday and Saturday evening.
All this happened on a Saturday, so after dinner we entered a Rikshaw and went to see the man. Here it is common that physicians consult in a small room next to a medical shop. The advantage is that the space in front of the shop is quite generous to host all the waiting patients. From our Berlin time we are used to fully packed waiting rooms but India is a different category. Plus one billion people now, and the population growing fast. We experienced this phenomenon ourselves – in the waiting room. Approx. 30 kids accompanied by at least one adult – in most of the cases more. Keyword: Joint Family.
The waiting procedure was quite systematical. After reporting we received a number. Though as the only Non-Indians around we definitely catched the eyes – why should it have been different there – there is a slight difference between the situation in the waiting area of a neonatelogist and our usual everyday exotism. While “outside” mothers, grannies, teenagers jump across the street to pinch our childrens‘ cheeks, at the doctor’s most of the adults are much more concerned with their own offspring. In that sense we spent a quite relaxing two hours waiting for the consultation. At quarter to eleven p.m. we were at home again from our Saturday night expedition. Unpacking the medicine we have to wonder: It says “Keep out of reach of children”.

Durga Puja
Diabetics watch out! Crazy days are to arrive. With the Durga Puja the festival season in Bengal starts and a good feast is nothing without sweets. Neighbors carry some, business partners, friends and acquaintances – everyone sends a sweet Hello. Not much, just one or two small boxes. Even if the Viennaise now post a reward on our heads: Compared to the Bengalis every other confectioner pales. The variety is incredible and many of the sweets base on – a bit strange for the European tongue first – on milk. But the goodies are only the whipping cream of the festival. In the last newsletter edition we described a combination of Christmas and Easter. The festival of the Mother Goddess Durga is the highest in Bengal – in that sense Easter. The tradition to carry gifts reminds at Christmas and so does the two week holiday break. One could add Feast of Corpus Christi and Carnival. The first, because temporary altars are erected, the latter because on the last two days artfully decorated figurines are carried through the streets by a joyfully singing and dancing crowd. Destination is a near-by water body, mostly a river. Granted, the comparisons are both difficult and weak. Thus, before the amateurish explanations become a sticky mass, let’s remember the bon-mot “One picture says more than a thousand words”.

Durga Puja - Neues am Neunten #2 November 2007 nan-_2-november-2007_02.jpg nan-_2-november-2007_04.jpg 

nan-_2-november-2007_09.jpg Tanz und Gesang Durga Puja- Neues am Neunten #2 November 2007 Wasserbestattung - Neues am Neunten #2 November 2007

Darjeeling – Between Heritage and Concrete
Puja Season is holiday season and a good occasion for a fresh up in the hills. Like once the English we also fled the heat of the plains and went for the mountains. The trip in a sense was a time travel as well: Purpose of the tour was to draft a heritage programme – at last it was not a pure leisure trip but a working excursion.
Already on the uphill journey one is constantly guided by the tracks of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways. On a narrow gauge the “toy train” struggles up the 80 kms to reach after 7 hours the former summer capital of India in 2000 m altitude. In the year 1999 the UNESCO has declared this juwel of a long gone area a World Heritage – probably the longest in the list of sites:
Toy Train / Darjeeling Himalayan Railways / UNESCO World Heritage
“The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (C ii, iv) is the first, and still the most outstanding, example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, it applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is still fully operational and retains most of its original features intact.”
Whether this fills the people whose doorsteps and shops are only roughly half a meter away from the tracks with pride or whether the train is rather a burden, has yet to be explored. Our accomodation in Darjeeling is the Swiss Hotel; with its more than hundred years of history as well a leftover of a bygone era. Two years back the hotel came under the management of an Indian tourism organisation who now uses it as a nodal point for an experiment on urban ecotourism. With two projects the conservation of the challenged environment has been addressed. A study has been made on the Himalayan Newt, a salamander species that due to biotic influence on the natural balance is on the edge of extinction. Moreover, the hotel has adopted a pair of Red Pandas – also an endangered species. We join the hotel manager on his visit to Darjeeling Zoo to clarify last details about the adoption process with the zoo director. During the stroll through the zoo that followed the director opens doors for us that otherwise remain closed – and thus after a short while we stand eye to eye, seperated only by a grill, with a tiger male of impressive dimensions.
Besides nature protection, the architectural heritage – mainly of British origin – is another key area of the hotel’s conservation efforts. Like the hotel most of the other heritage buildings are surrounded by blocks with up to eight floors. Darjeeling, now counting approx. 100 000 inhabitants, is – and it always was – a tourism destination with currently more than 500 hotels. And not every visitor can or wants to afford a stay in a heritage hotel. It is mainly the upper category hospitality sector that maintains the British (Architecture-) Heritage. But in immediate vicinity to the noble hotels, other formerly magnificant properties deteriorate unused. Or in case of the ones that accommodate offices of the regional government form follows function, means the maintenance work hardly recognises heritage aspects.
There is no master plan – not to mention funding – to conserve these cultural treasures and it would be quite difficult to find a lobby. Other things are top of the agenda – whoever did the “roadrafting” on the National Highway to the city would understand.
The “Queen of the Hills” faces problems: Water is scarce as the British distribution system was not built for the today dimensions of the city and trucks bring drinking water from far away springs. Moreover, the number of tourists is decreasing. Good on the one hand as water demand will go down, bad on the other: the tourists have been a major economic factor.
One solution as is followed by Swiss Hotel is to promote also tourism to the rural areas of Darjeeling thus taking some pressure through tourism from the city. Though the hoteliers will not like the idea too much still this approach is providing some alternatives too migration from the underdeveloped rural areas.
Tea as a major attraction of the region is slowly being recognised as a marketing asset by the tourism professionals. And areas with good tea are equal to recreation sites in the green. The tea plantation workers originating from many different areas across the country moreover offer a potpourrie of cultural wealth yet to be explored.

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