Once upon a time in the Himalayan mountains there were two brothers, Nepal and Sikkim. Nepal, the eldest, was fierce and strong and would never run from a fight. Sikkim, was younger, regal and was a peacemaker. One day, whilst walking in his kingdom, Sikkim came across a beautiful white horse, all alone, sipping water from a mountain stream. The horse followed Sikkim back to his home and became his loyal steed. The white horse could gallop so fast that Sikkim named her ‘the place of the thunderbolt’, or Darjeeling in his local dialect. In 1790, hungry for action, the powerful elder brother, Nepal, sneaked into Sikkim’s territory, subdued the stable hands and took Darjeeling for his own. Some time after this theft, Nepal also became very angry with his father, Lord Britain, and they were spending a lot of time fighting. For about 25 years Sikkim was unable to get to his beloved horse whilst his brother and father battled nearby. Once the father-son war had been wrapped-up, Lord Britain seized Darjeeling back from Nepal. Britain then returned her to Sikkim, as part of the treatise.
Only about 15 years after that, Nepal and Sikkim began bickering, this time about their borders. Father had to step in again to discipline the children. On his way to dole out this punishment he borrowed Sikkim’s favourite horse. Finding the horse a delight to ride and capable of giving the rider inhuman strength, Lord Britain coerced Sikkim into letting him lease Darjeeling. Now the jewel of the hills, Darjeeling quickly became famous throughout Britain’s lands and people came to see her from far and wide. Even though his father had done much for his youngest son, Sikkim grew jealous of the popularity of Darjeeling and after throwing his toys all over the back meadow, this time he became the focus of daddy’s wrath. Daddy confiscated Darjeeling permanently about 15 years after first leasing her and despatched Sikkim to go and live in solitude in the hills.
For the next 100 years daddy found that Darjeeling was able to mostly look after herself. Then daddy died and without warning, mean Uncle Bengal dropped by and seized everyone’s favourite horse and took her away. The brothers never got to see her again. During the past 30 years in our modern times, Nepal has continued to try to get Darjeeling back from his Uncle. Even though his claim is purer, the younger Sikkim has accepted his horse’s fate but still has strong sympathies with his brother. Just recently, to add salt to the wound, Uncle Bengal told the horse that it had to learn the Bengali language. This was the final straw and Nepal shit the bed and slayed the horse. If they couldn’t have her, no one could.
In her coffee shop in Darjeeling, Sonam laid out our options. The town was going into a strike/seige mode. It had happened before and the last one had lasted about 40 days. Everything would shut down: Offices, shops, restaurants, hotels, petrol stations and eventually internet. The Ghorka’s from Nepal wanted their land back. Or more accurately I think they wanted more control in the governing of the land as a large proportion of Darjeeling is a Ghorka population. Unfortunately the state of West Bengal quite liked owning Darjeeling. It was very hard to work out whose spin to believe. The police in India seem to get stuck into the politics, so everyone was blaming everyone else for the violence that was soon to erupt. Sonam explained we could (a) go south to Siliguri, (b) go north to Sikkim or (c) come and stay at her house (out of town) for a very fair price. She intimated that Sikkim was very nice but because we needed a permit, we had not looked into it at all (fearing excessive bureaucracy). She gave us a suggested Sikkim itinerary including specific places to stay. All we had to do was get there and find them.