08 Mar 2011 10:02 pm IST

From Save The Hills: Impact of landslides : Gandhi Ashram School at 6th Mile (Kalimpong) decides to shift

Save The Hills shares the sad news about the necessity of Kalimpong’s acclaimed Gandhi Ashram school relocating to a safer place due to landslide threats.

visions of hell: Impact of landslides : Gandhi Ashram School at 6th Mile (Kalimpong) decides to shift

Gandhi Ashram School at 6th Mile (Upper Tashiding) Kalimpong is a school which was founded in 1993 by the late Father Ed McGuire s.j, a Jesuit priest from Canada. It is a unique school in many respects and is a must-see site for any visitor to Kalimpong…

… the school is now compelled to shift to a (hopefully safer) location due to subsidence in the entire school premises – the cause is scouring and erosion by a natural rivulet or jhora which runs just below the school.

Follow the link above for the complete story and images. Here’s one of the photographs.


08 Mar 2011 09:48 pm IST

Books vs bullets: Stir hits Darjeeling boarding schools


Darjeeling, March 8 (IANS) The violent agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland in north Bengal has taken its toll on the internationally famed boarding schools of Darjeeling, with some considering shifting to safer areas or closing down altogether.

The 50-odd major boarding schools in the three hill subdivisions of northern West Bengal’s Darjeeling district draw around 15,000 students mostly from well-to-do families in various parts of India and even foreign countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand and South Korea.

These schools are worried about the recent spurt in violence, including the death of three supporters of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), which is spearheading the stir, in police firing in the Shipchu area of Jalpaiguri district early February.

Enraged GJM activists torched tourist lodges, forest bungalows, fire service stations, a checkpost, two police outposts and other government offices. The supporters allegedly also looted rifles and ammunition in the hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.

“The recent uproar has created a fear psychosis among guardians. They are reluctant to send their wards to school. As a result, the attendance of students in schools, mainly in Kalimpong, has come down drastically. We are finding it difficult to run the school,” said Rabondra Subba, director of the Himali Boarding School in Kurseong.

He said most of his school’s students come from SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries like Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh, apart from India’s northeastern states.

“The guardians are scared because of the ongoing agitation by GJM and they are pulling out their wards from the schools. A large number of withdrawals has been reported in several schools this year,” he said.

Like Subba, the principals of other schools also admitted that guardians were withdrawing students, but blamed the media for creating a hype.

“Most media outlets came out with the story that the firing occurred in Darjeeling and GJM supporters have torched government properties and vehicles, though it occurred near the Bhutan border. They also published that there was no rule of law in the hills. That’s why parents from outside Darjeeling are scared of sending their wards here,” said Chetan Tiwari, principal of St. Anthony’s School.

“With the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, the salaries of teachers have increased; so have the establishment costs; and if the student strength goes down day by day, we have to close down our school,” said Tiwari.

“Either we have to sell out our school here and move to the plains or shift to another business,” he said.

However, students in Class 10 and at the plus two level have started coming back.

“Our school opened a week ago; students have started coming. Five to six students have taken transfer, but others are yet to come,” said Subba.

The principal of a reputed boarding school in Kalimpong said: “The schools in Kalimpong are badly affected. Because of close proximity, students from Sikkim and Bhutan crowd these schools, but most of them are not attending classes due to the agitation. The student strength in reputed institutions like Rockvale Academy has come down by 60 percent.”

The Sacred Heart school has opened its branch in the plains of Siliguri in Darjeeling. And they are toying with the idea of shifting the entire school to Siliguri, said the principal.

He, however, hoped: “Things will change and we will get back to our full strength in the near future.”

Interestingly, the principals said GJM’s leaders are going out of their way to help them in running the schools.

“During indefinite shutdown calls, they allowed us to import food, medicines and other essential goods for the boarders in our schools. Not a single student was harassed or suffered from hunger during the indefinite shutdown period,” said Subba.

GJM spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chetri said: “We are well aware of the situation. It’s an economic blockade conspired by opposition political parties and the ruling Marxist government against the Morcha to tarnish our image. We have nothing to do with it. If the schools close down, we will do something else to boost the economy.”

He urged guardians to come and visit the hills and talk to school principals to understand the situation better, rather than take a decision based on media reports.

Since the late 1980s, voices in Darjeeling demanding a separate Gorkhaland state to be carved out of the district and parts of neighbouring Jalpaiguri have grown louder. For the last three years, GJM has been spearheading the movement and called several indefinite shutdowns which have brought life to a standstill in the hills.

08 Mar 2011 03:56 am IST

Norm reminder on tea wage talks

The Telegraph

Darjeeling, March 7: The apex body of tea producers’ associations in India today almost rejected the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s demand for talks on garden workers’ wage revision, saying the matter could not be discussed with only one union by flouting established norms of the industry.

Members of the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations sat down for a meeting in Calcutta today to discuss the embargo on the first flush of Darjeeling tea by the Morcha to press for the fulfilment of a charter of demands, including hike in the workers’ wages.

Members of the Committee include the Darjeeling Tea Association, Indian Tea Association and Terai Indian Planters’ Association.

The Committee said in a press release after the meeting that there had been a practice of holding parleys with all major trade unions in a composite manner on demands for wage hike and others. “The union (Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union) has departed from these established norms threatening to completely disrupt operations of the Darjeeling tea industry,” said the Committee.

The associations want the Morcha to provide time for negotiations.“Our associations received the charter of demands on March 3 but they again issued a threat of blockade without providing any time for discussions,” Monodeep Dasgupta, the secretary-general of the Committee said over the phone from Calcutta.


07 Mar 2011 09:30 am IST

Road blockade

The Telegraph

The Queen of the Hills Tourist Co-ordination Committee has decided to organise a two hour chakka jam in Darjeeling from noon to 2pm on Monday. The decision was taken after a committee member, Seewan Tamang, had been found murdered on Sunday morning.

“Tamang seems to have been murdered last night and his body was dumped at mudrahatti (graveyard) in Darjeeling. He was hit by a heavy object on his head,” a police officer said on Sunday.

The 27-year-old Tamang was a driver and a resident of Kalyan gram in Darjeeling.


07 Mar 2011 09:29 am IST

Hill front to avoid common candidates

The Telegraph

Darjeeling, March 6: The Democratic Front will not have candidates under its banner in the coming Assembly elections in the hills, but the conglomeration of the anti-Gorkha Janmukti Morcha parties might support each other’s candidates.

The ABGL, CPRM, GNLF-C and the Sikkim-Darjeeling Ekikaran Manch are the main constituents of the DF.

Dawa Sherpa, the working president of the ABGL and the convener of the DF, said: “The ABGL today held a meeting and we have decided to actively take part in the elections. An 11-member team of the party has been formed to explore the possibilities of tie-ups and to select candidates for the polls.”

He made it clear that the DF would not have common candidates in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong Assembly seats. “The Front is not an electoral alliance but a political alliance formed essentially to restore peace and democracy in the hills. In fact, this was stated clearly when the Front was formed,” said Sherpa.

The ABGL is of the opinion that the identity of each party in the DF must be safeguarded. “We will not have a common candidate but we might talk to other parties to work out a situation where we might support the other party’s nominee and similarly seek their support for our party candidates,” said Sherpa.

The ABGL leader’s announcement is significant as during the last Assembly elections in 2006, the same parties had come under the banner of the People’s Democratic Front (PDF) and had fielded three candidates in the three hill seats. All the three candidates came second in the elections, polling together nearly one lakh votes in the hills.

It was largely expected that the DF would field common candidates in the hills this year also. Observers believe that a common candidate could have strengthened the anti-Morcha forum.

“Even if the parties do decide to support each other’s candidates, there will be no united fight to win the elections as the onus will be on the party fielding the candidate in a particular seat to ensure victory. The other parties in the front will only support their partner’s candidate and not actively campaign in the polls,” said an observer.


05 Mar 2011 07:46 am IST

The kind of massage you only want once

A hilarious account of this author’s encounter with a Kalimpong local masseur.. A must read.
This particular version seems to be an edited/summarized version of a much longer essay published By Bruce Kirkby some years ago. The original & much longer version can be viewed at this link.

The Globe and Mail

Published Friday, Mar. 04, 2011 12:30PM EST

My ponytail dripped with stale-smelling oil, liberally poured from a glass jar that once held mango pickles. I was standing in my own hotel shower, naked, and slightly bewildered as a very pleasant, short, brown man with grey hair vigorously scrubbed my armpits, bum and back. He was the massage wallah of Kalimpong. This was my first spa experience.

The day began with a bang – literally – as our Airbus A320 ingested a goose while taking off in Delhi. The great steel bird still managed to lurch into the air. Smoke poured from beneath the right wing. A few people screamed. And on we flew, for almost two hours, eventually making an unscheduled stop in Guwahati, where a bent rotor blade was replaced. Then onward to Darjeeling province and into the Himalayan foothills aboard a Jeep, jolting along rocky roads, past pollution-belching lorries and greening tea plantations.

The sun was low in the sky when we finally reached our upscale hotel, once the home of David Macdonald, a British emissary to Tibet who aided the 13th Dalai Lama’s escape. This vine-covered mansion was, according to a bespectacled Swiss historian in the lobby, “once the biggest nest of spies this side of the Bosporus.” A stopping point for nearly all early travellers in the region, a guest book by the teak doors bore ink-smudged signatures from Heinrich Harrer, George Mallory and Edmund Hillary. The scent of frangipani floated in open patio doors. I peered at faded photographs from another era, sipping chai, when a commotion broke out at the front door.

Shiri, the massage man, had arrived, and my co-guide on the Himalayan photo tour – who had been here before – was delighted.

“Go on, have a massage. Seriously. You’ll love it,” she urged me. Our guests were already tipping back the their second round of cold Kingfisher beers at the bar. There was an hour until dinner. What the heck? It had been a tough day.

As Shiri bolted the door of my room and spread a thin sheet on the hardwood floor, I fidgeted nervously, uncertain what to do next. With a wave, he showed I should lose the clothes. Hesitant, I left my underwear on, but the wallah was not to be disobeyed. Off they came in a flash, along with a ratty collection of necklaces around my neck.

Then Shiri handed me a tattered, oil-stained book. The first page read: “I specialize in following parts – head, sinus, thighs, chest, full body, half body. I can heal twisted ankles and sinus.” Great. The remainder was filled with glowing endorsements from earlier clientele.

I lay face down on the sheet. Shiri began by hammering on every bony protrusion from my neck to my ankle, muttering with concern. He dug into muscles, yanked joints in directions they were never meant to go, and eventually retrieved a plastic shopping bag with seven dirty bottles of oil. One after another, these were poured over me like a sundae. Much slapping, smacking and rat-a-tat finger-whapping ensued. When Shiri began to pour oil in my hair, I protested, but he silenced the uprising, proceeding to use my oil-drenched ponytail as a whip across shoulders and back.

“Front side,” he eventually nodded, giving a motion like flipping a burger. This was it, the point of no return. I contemplated folding, feigning fatigue or some other excuse, but an overriding belief in suspending judgment and experiencing everything possible while on the road pushed me forward.

Shiri retrieved a tiny perfumed bottle, depositing a few drips in my belly button, throwing a splash across my chest, and then emptying the remains on my crotch. As he traced ticklish circles on my belly, an overwhelming dread of what might come gripped me. I didn’t have to wait long. Following a few kicks to the hips, Shiri grabbed the goods, moved everything to one side, and massaged the opposite thigh. Okay, it was mildly unsettling to have a strange man haul the twig and berries aside, no matter what the cause, but really, it didn’t seem too bad. I relaxed, which was a mistake.

Soon Shiri was focused on the penis, slapping it back and forth like a soft whip. I had to bite the sheet to stop from laughing. I fought, with all my might, an urge to jump up and run from the room. Finally, in a move that to this day still baffles me for its therapeutic advantage, Shiri used the heel of his palm to grind everything in the crotch region into a pancake. In the dizzying minutes ahead, he picked wax from my ears and rubbed it into my cheeks, apparently tried to pop my eyes from the sockets and finished with a flying crosscheck to my neck.

Then off to the shower, where he diligently cleaned the rancid oil from my body. A quick signature in his book, a beer at the bar, and then Shiri was gone. He had evening appointments, where he would continue to practise the tradition and lineage he was born into, the art of massage, a skill that his father learned from his grandfather, and so on, back through the centuries.

The days ahead held spectacular views of Kanchenjunga, tours of dazzling orchid plantations, ancient monasteries and silent monks, but it is Shiri I remember most vividly, even a decade later. I must confess though, I have not visited a spa since. Once was enough.


05 Mar 2011 04:22 am IST

Interlocutor calls it a day

The Telegraph

Darjeeling, March 4: Vijay Madan, the Centre’s interlocutor to hold talks on the Darjeeling impasse, today tendered his resignation, indicating that not much progress could be achieved on the issue.

“With the Assembly elections round the corner, there is no possibility of some dramatic announcement. I have tendered my resignation as I did not want to hang around uselessly,” Madan told The Telegraph over the phone from Delhi.

Observers believe this is an indication from Madan that a new government in the state could think of a different arrangement which could nullify the entire negotiations that Madan had been working hard to get through. He had been appointed by the Union home ministry to co-ordinate the talks between the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the Centre and the state.

The fact that no concrete settlement could be reached on the impasse shows that the interlocutor could not influence the negotiations much.

Sources said Madan had been pressing hard for an early settlement on the interim set-up for the Darjeeling hills before the model code of conduct came into force in Bengal on March 1. Madan had also called Morcha president Bimal Gurung, hours before the Assembly polls were announced on March 1, to impress on him the need to sign an agreement, claimed a source.

“Gurung was, however, adamant that unless the formation of a joint verification committee featured in the settlement, he would not agree to ink the deal. This, perhaps disappointed the interlocutor,” said the source.

Harka Bahadur Chhetri, the spokesperson for the Morcha, said a text message had been sent to the party by Madan informing them about the resignation. “It (resignation) is his personal choice and we cannot comment on that,” said Chhetri.

It is, however, not clear whether the Union home ministry has accepted Madan’s resignation.

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