The Sloans

We are delighted to have more from Denise--thank you



 Feb 9th ,2016.


 This day last year (my birthday) I was on the ferry to London to fly to Kolkata tomorrow , A bottle of wine shared with a stranger now (of course) a face book friend! The lambing started whilst I was away, some murmuring , so this year I must wait until the autumn .its not fair or safe to leave Michael on his own with the cold weather and slippery slopes, also lambs to feed and so on ,I think with some envy of friends in India at present, beautiful sunshine and sweet peas at their best. No“Good Companions” shopping but if anyone would like a tuber of a giant Kolkata Dahlia I will be dividing some pots soon .


It is twenty years since I first returned and there have been huge changes during that time, mobile phones for all, atms ,no more travellers cheques, road building everywhere, usually in the form of long flyovers in the cities. The increase in car ownership means that no amount of road building can keep up, so long delays are inevitable . Tea gardens appear on the whole from a tourist eye to be unchanged but as we read, problems are ongoing .


“The past  is a foreign country” the opening lines from lp Hartleys book  “The go between“. so true, literally for so many of us but happily every so often past friends turn up quite unexpectedly. Rakhi Buruah with her husband and friends were able to spend a few hours with us in the summer, tears in our eyes as we greeted each other after so many years . Then at a Parish fete, what was storing hockey sticks for sale but a warren tea chest, truly an antique as tea is packed in bags now . Home it came, still with its foil and tissue paper intact.


I have a hundred photos but instead I include a few paintings . As we in Northern Europe wonder when the rain will ever cease ( I think there has been some form of precipitation every day for the last three months) ; at least 90 wet dog days!! I like to remember our room in Puri with a gentle sea breeze cooling down the midday heat. One of our daughters tells me that adults can only concentrate for about five hundred words so the essay below is brief. I also include a couple of photos of trees from seed in my poly tunnel I would be very grateful if anyone could identify them for me . As if they are cold hardy I would like to try them outside.


Feb 2015 visit in brief


“Off course it is all a fix; cricket, Ireland beating Bangladesh, a fix . How many peoples “?,


” About five million”


“ Five million” he sighed ,“we have one billion “ another pause,” must be a fix,


“No it is not possible to go to Puri in one day from Darjeeling” ,


We wait, . I watch the Chinese cat waving his paw, bubbles up a lava lamp and wonder about the brass rat pulling a chariot, A golden Buddha smiles beatifically.


“Why do you not like AC” ?


I relate my near death experience on an overnight bus journey in the monsoon .


” But madam the AC will not be functioning, it is still cold weather” .


Relief .


“ Now all is fixed, you will fly from Bagdodgra, better you hire private car to get down the hill , you will take night train 2nd class AC to Puri from Howrah station “.


Darjeeling the pearl or the queen of the hills . my early schooling was here . Through rose tinted glasses I remember sunshine holidays, walks gathering flowers and scented herbs by the armful to lay under rugs at school . Today the town is busy, busy. Indian tourists revel in the alpine cold ,wreathed in quilted jackets and scarves . Pink sunrise and Kanchenjunga on fire , majestic , distant and also sacred, . Emporiums line Chowrasta street, fresh saffron bought by the gram. shoppers jostling with hill women carrying baskets of stone and sand , ,


Down the hill to Bagdora , seventeen hair pin bends . I shuffle my luggage at the airport, thirty kilos having to be magicked into twenty . The embarrassment of a knife ending up in my hand luggage .


Howrah station , the platforms are clean ,all loiterers have been expelled , one canine family quartering the wide concourse , a sweet puppy learning the ropes , families and party groups , sleeping , eating, waiting, A lone sweeper . We play scrabble on an I pad . Second class AC , clean sheets, pillow, a rug . Rumble and clatter of the wheels through the night .


Puri the Bray for Kolkata folk , miles of beach , the sand burning on bare feet . Fishermen surf the breakers in their painted boats , . The beach appears sterile, the tide line marked by lines of polystyrene . A Ridly turtle washed up, ensnared in netting. We hire a tuk tuk , The speed is just right, the breeze welcome, Kornak temple , the erotic sculptures delightful . Puri, is a popular honey moon destination .


In the hotel basement dining room , just ourselves and six waiters , They stand and hover, happy with the cold AC and large TV showing cricket . but of course it is all a fix!.


Each year I visit Mal Bazaar town before Darjeeling . Last year , a nuisance of a scratching and crunching noise in my bedroom appearing to come from a door . Same room this year, A rat scampered across the room , we blocked up the drain hole and searched the room for signs of entry . A bump and clatter in the night, perhaps an earth jolt ,quite frequent in the region , the next day a box of Bengal sweets was found to have been torn apart and mostly consumed As I left I suggested to the manager that perhaps he could deal with this fellow .


“Madam , it will be no problem ,next year we will give you a different room.




From: thesloans
Sent: Tuesday, February 09, 2016 6:40 PM
Subject: trial with photos












Augusat 31 2014                  

           Tourist Ramblings in West Bengal

Feb 11, a calm and sunny day as I started my journey to Kolkata. Air Emirates to Dubai and then on to Kolkata, thus avoiding an overnight stop in Delhi on the way back, smog and overpriced hotels. Tourist class, we shuffle on in single file, casting envious glances at the business class already stretched out with magazine and the prospect of a comfortable seven hours ahead. How many are charity executives I wonder, just jealousy. We settle down and appraise our seat companions . Chaucer’s Canterbury tales come to mind, to my left a nervous middle aged lady, her first long distance flight ,going to visit her son who has found work in the rebuild of Canterbury in New Zealand, to my right a elderly man off to visit the family of his young Thai wife who he met on the internet all so contempory of life today.

We watch films, we chat, we read, the time passes and next it’s a long walk through Dubai terminal for the next leg ,a long walk indeed., Dubai is one of the largest and busiest hubs in the world, no time to browse the high end merchandise . My seat companion a very pretty Indian girl off to visit her granny in Kolkata. She is at odds with her father because of her failure in his eyes to tie the knot on a long live in arrangement with her Swiss partner. she agreed that her grandmother would wag her finger and then spoil her rotten for the rest of her stay.

My hotel room in Kyd street was waiting, this hotel, called the Emirates suits me fine A first floor room 900 ruppees, wide double bed a necessity as then I can arrange my things close at hand. A cheaper room can be had another floor up but its worth the extra to avoid more stairs. No kitchen or dining room but the best omelette ,toast and tea is produced for breakfast if I want . I am in India as a tourist and not to visit just to live through the past. A rest, a change and I am out. First to Onyx tailors with the copy shirts for the boys . This year its dark colours some flowery patterns and black linen for the older boys. Next on to the fruit juice man, “same” he knows my usual, pineapple and orange mix. The familiar sights and sounds sink in ,a bit of me is at home The child in all of us never leaves .back in my room the hard, hard bed takes some getting used to as does the noise at night so I read through the night “ How to get filthy rich in a rising Asia” a good read ,next book the continuing saga, The pearl river , rather too many names, a long read .

As I wrote before, I travel with a small electric kettle and battered tin tea pot so I drink endless cups of tea and in the evening have a couple of long whiskeys it is a relief to know that I don’t have to be anywhere, do anything just lie on the bed and read for hours on end . I visit Mrs Moons girls on school street for the customary pedicure and paint , walk to the framers and leave the oil portrait there . When I am in Kolkata I walk miles and miles wandering here and there with only some vague destinations in mind . The Great Eastern hotel has been reopened after years of closure, basically rebuilt with the main entrance on the side road. It had only been open for twelve days so the staff were overflowing ,for old times sake I had a coffee and mutton puff , 500 rupees this was in the new café where elements of the original bakery ovens were on display. The bar looked trendy and perhaps will be the place for young and successful to be seen at . I don’t know what will happen with the street side of the hotel as hoarding was still in place, pavements however wide have another layer of traders on them, any entrances there will be very congested . I was lucky to have a few days in Istanbul last year in a similar hotel also acres of marble flooring, swimming pool and spa. Could be anywhere. This area of bbd bagh must have been a splendid place once with the busy commerce and the Great Eastern in its hey day, now totally spoilt by a large building built in the centre, imagine if that was gone and a park setting restored, how beautiful it could be A green lung in the city centre . Walked to St Johns church , viewed Bob Charnock’s mausoleum, whist I was there a party of tourists were having the guided tour, an air conditioned coach with tinted windows was their view of Kolkata . one American lady asked me if it would be safe to go shopping in Chowringee! My friends ask me what do you do on your own , well I walk as I have said and find places such as Metcalf house, a magnificent building near the old warehouses with a most unusual exhibition of bricks and tiles , two synagogues both in good order although the Jewish community is very small now , and eventually found the Armenian church with resident sisters of Bethany , very ornate, the church is at a junction of a very busy wholesale bazaar and here I bought a dozen bouncy balls and some colourful head bands for the children in Mal. However many presents I bring out it is always hardly enough so extras are needed, the rubber balls came through the thin paper bag so we were all scrambling among feet and stalls to retrieve them. End of Feb and early March, its not too hot but dehydration is still inevitable, street chai and jalabees are a quick pick me up and I cannot pass fresh fruit in a leaf bowl Street food so tasty, fresh and popular . Evening meals I varied between Ruchini near the new market and a street side place where I\ learnt how to cook fried puris . Guptas near Kyd street is also good ,all easy places to eat when alone not forgetting the famous Kolkata snack of kati roll on Park street more of a meal then a snack .The All Bengal women’s union serve good day time meals , chicken, veg, dhal ,rice, papad ,chutney and a sweet all for R307 .

The Sunday after I arrived the heavens opened, it poured and poured, monsoon style for the whole day After church in St Paul’s I walked back looking like a very large orange plastic bag, as a last minute item I had thrown in one of those throwaway plastic capes that are issued out to open top bus tourists in Dublin. It was a saviour . I had arranged to meet a friend at the airport . still raining heavily we had to walk quite a way to find a tuc tuc before reaching her apartment . Seeing the road deep in mud and puddles and the grimy exterior of the small apartment block I wondered how she coped after her upbringing in the space and green of a tea garden , the dark stairwell and clutter of shoes on the landing was such a contrast to the bright, clean and shiny home she shared with her husband, young son and in-laws, bright coloured walls, no hint of magnolia and the furniture mainly gleaming chrome. In a small space she had created calm, no balcony but the use of the roof space meant they could get out into the air. Coming back, not a taxi or any form of small transport to be had, the rain still streaming down. I bundled into a packed bus and waited for the conductor to tell me when to get off .through the steamed up windows we passed one notable landmark, The original Dum Dum armaments factory . In the evening I checked emails in a tiny corridor of booths, the rain still drumming and dripping . these establishments are becoming scarcer, smart phones taking over, news from home was that a few hours after I left the worst storm ever hit the country , airport closed, public transport disrupted, trees uprooted and, phone lines down. I was lucky.

Next day on to the north, a seventeen hour very uncomfortable bus journey, Stephi asked “how could it be even worse and why do you do it”? (apart from the cliché its so good when it stops) before I left for India somehow I had rekindled an old rib injury, too painful to go to the Doctor in case I was told “don’t travel” breath stopping pain in some movements but within a few days I was almost better ( the aching hips from the hard bed cancelled out the painful ribs)and with quite a heavy bag,, at least with the bus it goes into the hold and that’s that until the end of the journey, no twisting around climbing a bunk or trying to secure luggage under the seat. The long trunk road is still in a state of reconstruction to dual carriage way, much swerving and jolting. . I think I was sitting over the wheel . The best chicken curry and chappati eaten at the midnight supper stop. By the time we reached Siliguri it ws after 2pm and all the way I had self debated to go on or go to the hills, tired and grubby from the journey I felt not ready for “what is your programme” and school discussion so up to Darjeeling by jeep. In Kolkata everyone had been saying don’t go to Darjeeling, its freezing, there is snow and so on . It was cold but not damp . Up to the planters ,puffing a little up those steps with the porter trotting quickly out of sight . Darjeeling club as the planters is now named ,so, only the suite available I think I heard this the last time I was there but after a phone call and a little negotiation I was back in the same room as usual. Not a soul around . The dining room now called the opium bar. My video/camera was non functioning , I was just in time to visit the photographers “have you dropped it madam” after the journey up it must have bounced all the way for seventeen hours. Darjeeling shops close earlier than Kolkata so no time to really browse or visit the shop that sells good value saffron, time though for a hot whiskey , jaggery and cloves from the bazaar and then a meal in the veg restaurant Tasty Hastie .Our youngest daughter is living back at home and as a very committed vegetarian we eat very little meat in the house, if she is away we tuck into bacon and eggs Michael’s all time speciality ! Louisa is an adventurous and excellent cook so we never have boring meals but now and then I miss the roast popped into the aga, ready in a couple of hours whilst I am out gardening, I relished gnawing on chicken and mutton bones whilst I was in India.. A hotish bath at the planters is a good reason for staying there and off course the hot water bottle in the bed, it wasn’t so cold that I needed the coal fire , I set my alarm for five hoping for the snows and I was not disappointed. Kanchenjunga and the range glowing in pink, by seven I had breakfasted and packed up and was out to walk the Gymkhana Chowrasta walk, the mountains crystal clear , the air crisp and clean The small postcard I include was painted on that walk. The cloud starting to lift from the valleys like a sheet being drawn up, by afternoon the mountains would be gone from sight . I need more numnah rugs but the sizes were too small. Next Kalimpong, not an easy place to walk around, up down up down on the crowded pavements, but a spring day ,azaleas in bloom and on the steps to the market the Kalimpong hankies are still to be found, my church friends request “bring us more cotton hankies“. while I was in Kolkata I found two Kalimpong cloth pictures, behind glass so they were like new R 6000 for the two a bit more than the R500 I paid for the last one but they are becoming very difficult to find . I am looking for the one of the dancing Tibetan girl and the most likely place is probably an auction house in Aberdeen or Edinburgh . If anyone reading this sees it please let me know.

Bus down the mountain to Coronation bridge, the wheels seemed very near the edge especially with all the road works . At Coronation bridge I got a lift in a jeep to Mal . The Kasturi hotel has good rooms . During the night I was continually disturbed by a loud gnawing scratching noise coming from the door , inside the plywood ,very strange, too narrow for a rat ,very loud for a mouse , super sized woodworm? The tourist lodge in Mal was full but I ate there with the same friendly staff usually alone in the dining room the other visitors prefer to eat in their room The new dining room open at the sides is very cold in the winter and probably full of mosquitoes in the hot weather. .The atmosphere has changed it’s a favourite meeting and lunch place for politicians but in spite of the new build of reception and dining room no information leaflets or local handcraft souvenirs The staff running back and forth to the bells.. The foreign liquor store operates beside the lodge, government tax is high so the more FlS the more income My reasons for being in Mal apart from nostalgia and I like the town are to visit the school which family and friends helped build .Its is ticking along, nothing changes, very much learning by rote enough English to gain a place in Caesar School .The Sloan Music academy was in full flow on the Sunday morning. I meet with a boy’s family our daughter has been helping and a little girl whom another friend has taken on. Also this year to present an oil painting to the family Bose of their late father . No long walks in the tea !. Time spent with Father John who was recently in hospital suffering from hepatitis. he looked well and as ever never complains of pain . The x-ray of his hip was quite shocking the metal hip moving up through the crumbling bone At the hospital the staff couldn’t believe that he wasn’t in a wheel chair One day we went up to lankapara beside the Bhutan border it is here that the dolomite trucks come out from the mines , over a thousand a day not the border that foreign tourists are allowed through,. Some of the tea gardens near by were on lockout for years so are totally denuded of trees , the labourers having cut them down to sell as firewood . What ever the mines are doing to the mountains which is very visible from the border it does mean there is employment .

My friend’s son recently purchased a small farm, about five acres but every crop possible growing , enough rice for the family, enough potatoes, green vegetables, fruit trees, a fish pond and a flurry of hens and ducks all with their chicks and ducklings running here and there and even better , he built a concrete hut for a couple to live in who look after the place and share the proceeds .

From Mal new junction its possible to pick up the Kolkata train so with a provisional booking . I am not sure what happens if there isn’t a bunk but on I went with a packed meal from Fidelma in her granddaughter’s lunch box, my destination was Bolpur if I woke up at 5am. The train doesn’t stop for long or very often but the inner clock wakes one up in those circumstances .The journey anything but quiet a group of young singing women off to Kolkata for a shopping holiday and a very heated argument between a passenger and the ticket inspector which went on for a long time, ripples of the argument moving through the carriage At Bolpur I sat on a stone bench on the platform, it was still dark so no point moving . Just in my eyeline was a pair of feet waiting .Once it was light I stood up and without a word the porter picked up my case. lighter of all the school presents and clothes for Father Johns boys but weighed down with Mission hill tea, then a cycle rickshaw to Santanikepatan,. the streets were being swept and pi dogs basked in the early morning sun, each in a nest of rubbish The Tagore university at Santanikepatan is clean, calm and shady, university houses are museums to Rabrindranath Tagore’s life and work life and all very well presented .On a walk around the back of the hotel I came on very low thatched mud houses and a house advertising local craft work it turned out to be a large almarah in a family house but I sat on the floor whilst the contents were spread out, eventually buying some embroidered salwar cloth and some bags one of which I am using daily. Finding local craft work is quite difficult, the road to the university was lined with souvenir shops but all selling the same touristy items The hotel was surrounded by trees which were full of mosquitoes still my room and bed were comfortable at only R600. The next day I caught an early bus, destination Plassey. The bus journey went through quiet agricultural land ; rice, mustard, bamboo groves, banana and the tall brick chimneys in the distance , the landscape I enjoy the most in West Bengal. The bamboo reminded me of the task that faces me of how to rid creeping bamboo which is threatening to tale over the back yard. Three buses later I was nearly through Plassey, later than I had hoped but I had to wait a while in Berampur and the last stretch was back on the trunk road , agonizingly slow . Plassey , Indian friends told me was historically the division between old and new history in India . Plassey is basically one street ,no hotels and as I found out has a closing day when most of the few shops and eateries are closed With a bit of difficulty I found someone who could give me a room in a school , nowhere to eat till I found a stall selling some Bengal sweets and samosas also small loaves of bread . Back in my vast room early, not wanting to be wandering around after dark( I had taken a photo of the building in case I lost my way on return) so supper of samosa and rassagouli whiskey and tea ,no glass, so the lunch box became tea vessel and the lid my whiskey drink one dim light bulb and no bed linen so I was thankful for the salwar cloth and head torch, not that it was cold but friendly mosquitoes, around .No electricity in the morning and everywhere locked so it was a case of knocking on any door without a large padlock on the outside to find the caretaker I had to forgo tea and nothing left to eat . I trundled my bag along to the railway and caught the 7am to Kolkata , a women only carriage, the liveliest journey , everything was being offered for sale ,saris ,night dresses, toys, torches and other sundries all spread out and examined and felt by all . My feeling as I arrived back in Kolkata was good old Kolkata and back to the Emirates . The staff concerned by my travelling alone, first mission was to find a mistri to saw off the padlock on my case which had finally jammed. During the next few days I had dresses to buy, shirts to collect some silver engraving to collect from Walters . Before I travelled last time I had lost a ruby earring minutes before leaving the house . I never found it and this time picked up the box before leaving so that Walters could make a replica , too sad ,I never looked in the box, wrong box so the earring will have to wait for another year The engraving was a family coat of arms on some plain silver cufflinks, a baptismal present from a daughter to a nephew. In Ireland the jeweller had pursed his lips, muttered I couldn’t even give you an estimate of cost but it would be high ,. In Walters the design was copied faithfully all for R300 . Finished the book the Glass Palace. Interesting and a bit disquieting , racism was not unknown in the tea gardens and we all knew planters who were such, circumstances of history and culture also dictate ,as children we were not aware but my desire aged nine to marry Rajendra Singh of Tara was never to be fulfilled When I look at many of the photos of early days there is hardly an Indian to be seen. Indian planters were just coming in but generally from Delhi The death of Nelson Mandela earlier in the year must have raised some questions in the minds of many of us could we have been so strong in his situation ? A son in law now travelling at times in The Congo, Nigeria and other African countries has such a good open mind, no background of colonialism or prejudice (except for being Irish and his family having been involved in the Land league a century ago) His father once bought a large estate with joy that once developed the local people would be able to walk through the front entrance..

With so much in the news of attacks on women and tourists it made sense to be more aware ,always move with the crowd when travelling .The only time I felt insecure was a walk in the Botanic gardens . I felt a need of some greenery and fresh air . But in spite of it being a Saturday the gardens were very empty, all the lakes were being dredged so there were four ft mounds of silt covering most of the place, trees were in leaf and plenty of birdsong and butterflies but the feeling of insecurity was pervasive only dispelled by the knowledge that every so often there are bench seats and there would be an amorous couple on them . In the week I had been away from Kolkata the trees has leafed up and the grass after the heavy down pour was green again I had finished three books and started reading A new World by Amit choudary. The weather heating up each day, fans on. .On my first evening back I was greeted enthusiastically by a young couple “how wonderful to meet you again after seeing you in Mumbai” I have that sort of face, reminds strangers of someone else) The parks such as Eden Park were looking lovely . Such, huge dahlias , grown from cuttings mainly . Each garden seemed better than the last, the perimeter of the Victoria memorial garden is ringed with different coloured bougainvillea , a small park opposite St Pauls is perfect. I have a far fetched aim of learning tai-chi and being able to join up with other practitioners in the park so far I an about twenty seconds into the sequence “embracing the moon “.The puppies on the pavements were quite adorable only the fittest will survive Some mornings I breakfast in Fleuries which has lost the crowds of the early days of its smart makeover. First question Michael asked “well is the Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson) look alike still there”? .Yes he is, Those who read this who know Kolkata will recognise the bearer I just kept expecting a teddy bear to appear with him.. Middle aged, he has the slightly distracted look and vague air about him., A return visit to Mother Teresa house, also a museum , quite moving . Mother Teresa never used a fan and slept in a small room at the noisy front of the building

My luggage was as heavy as possible, embroidered table cloths, five heavy patterned bed sheets these make welcome casual table cloths, seven shirts, eight dresses, two kilos of tea, a piece of dolomite . Time to leave, the three weeks passed so quickly. A bumpy plane ride , bus to Wicklow. I now qualify for free travel In India Oaps get a terrific discount on the trains, my ticket from Mal to Kolkata was, R160 the bus journey up was R 400 .

Within an hour of reaching home I was lying in the straw holding a ewe down while Michael delivered a difficult lamb. The lambing was well underway now the lambs are growing well the usual mantra “no grass” and off course “there is no money in it” has been replaced by “well they are looking good this year” the tea seeds which germinated so well have lost their leaves but the roots seem healthy so with warmer weather they may come on . Some tree seeds from years back are tall but unidentified so I will put up some photos at a later date and see if anyone can identify them For my next visit I am torn between the visiting Nainital hills or Hyderabad (reading again White Mughals by William Dalrympal )

As they say in Ireland

God Willing.

The Gardener LXXXV Rabindranath Tagore

Who are you reader, reading my poems a hundred years hence?

I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of spring, one single streak of gold from yonder clouds.

Open your doors and look abroad.

From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the vanished flowers of a

hundred years before.

In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one spring morning, sending its glad voice across a hundred years

 Hiapatha days Mal bazaar

Mr Bose standing above left shoulder of Dennis


 Colourful Muslim Dress


 Kanchenjunga  -- The Sacred Mountain
 The New Bridge over the Hoogli
 Chess Groups meet under the Flyover
February 2 2014

Here we have a note from Denise Sloan telling of her visit to India plans, and offering
to obtain purchases for anyone interested--Denise's e-mail is

We wish her a safe and fun trip


February 1st  Officially spring begins in the northern Hemisphere, for many in the UK
and Ireland it seems like a continuing monsoon season .The temperature in Kolkata
is around the 27 mark and according to the hotel staff in the hotel Emirates "very hot
for you Madam". I leave next Tuesday  for Kolkata via Dubai mainly to avoid Delhi
smog and overpriced airport road hotels on the homeward journey. As before, one of
my first visits in Kolkata is to the Good Companions shop for  some beautiful smocked
children/s dresses  so if any one would like me to buy for them let me know  email-- With eight grandsons I can only shop for others, My last visit
took me to Assam and Amristar  this time I will be on my own so it will be bus up to
Mal Bazaar, possibly Darjeeling depending on the weather and some visits to the
early sites on the Hoogli and maybe Santiniketan while I am in Mal as well as seeing
the school and visiting friends and  Father John Thwaytes  I will be buying and posting
home Mission Hill tea,  a Darjeeling tea with a bit more body than some of the pale
and watery brews that one is expected to knowledgeably appreciate . A few spoons
of Mission hill in our usual Barry's tea bag brew gives great flavour and comments
are often forthcoming as to which blend of tea we use? Now that I know the protocol
for wrapping sewing and sealing (all seams with sealing wax) plus photo copies of
passport and visa I can also post for others. The tea is sold in foil bags 100 gms or
250 gms so keeps wonderfully, visiting India or bunking off to the sun as some
would call it is not without thought these days , the foreign office guide is much
more cautionary and I have been regaled with* have you heard about such and
such person and female tourists molested* so I looked into the self protection items
available on the internet . Best to consult with Indian friends and see what they
advise Certainly the days of walking alone in the countryside are over/ I was lucky
to get away on the  only very bad incident that I have encountered in nearly twenty
years of travelling. Advice, not to travel alone in a taxi would be awkward. Kolkata ,
so familiar and still such a great city for exploring, plenty of street food not sampled
yet. I would like to eat in Shiraz again but a male companion is needed for such |
a place. Just to remind everyone that there was a time when flying was exciting I
have included a typical BOAC menu from the time when we unaccompanied minors
travelled out for holidays . nor did we have to spend most of the time belted up for
a little turbulence as now . we roamed around the plane  generally helping ourselves
to the many freebees on offer, a visit to the cockpit was also normal .However  two
of the grandsons were lucky and were invited up to the cockpit when they visited
India a few years ago

The BOAC Menu from yesteryear

 May 7 2013

We have to thank Denise for sending her comments and
story of their rece
nt visit to Assam

Denise and Francis

A few jottings and memories from my latest travels in India ,
Denise Sloan (Pollard


“We said we wouldn’t look back” , a favourite song from the musical salad days but reading of other visits by Koi-hai readers and realizing that the political situation had become more settled this was the year that Frances and I decided that a trip to Assam was on the agenda so after three flights here we were feeling like players in the film, The best exotic marigold hotel , arriving into Gawahati on the most hectic night of the Dussera puja, every one in holiday mood including the taxi driver from the airport. With roads closed or impassable due to all the lorries and floats on their way to the Ghats we made slow progress through the crowded streets. We had landed into the colour and noise of India at its best Our hotel called the star hotel could have been called the 101 steps but the staff were friendly, our room bright and clean and the dining room turned out to be the kitchen where the rather inebriated staff managed to put together an excellent curry without falling over each other. A room for two was about R1000 quite adequate as we were likely to be out all day and my trusty well travelled kettle and tea pot plus some biscuit bars set us up well for breakfast. I immediately fell for Gawahati ,the beautiful wide Brahmaputra in front with the little hills behind, all very pretty lit up at night .The oldest church in Assam rebuilt after an earthquake with the church land given to the state for a park All around the park were terracotta sculptures of Assamese dancers and musicians. . Boat trips leave the Ghats all the time as there is a small island shrine where devotions are made. In the evening the sun sets over the river so it’s the best time to take a boat trip

From Gawahati we hired a jeep and driver for six days, the cost including the drivers food and lodging was R 37000 .Off course you can fly to Dibrugah but then so much will be missed Our driver called Hari was excellent, no racing lorries and stopping where ever we took a whim Kaziranga tourist lodge was our first stop, too early in the season for elephant rides but due to the recent floods the rhinos were obligingly grazing near the road which goes through the park. In the morning I did see about ten jeeps crammed with sightseers going out, a far cry from my first visit to Kaziranga with our parents and the Kennewells, a dak bungalow and about three elephants on the morning ride. Sivsagar tourist lodge was our next stop after a leisurely day visiting the strange conical temples and ruins of the old city At night the temples were busy , full of pilgrims and lit by hundreds of flickering oil lights as well as the streamers of electric bulbs. My sister feeling a bit jaded decided to forgo a meal so I walked back into the town to find a restaurant , a good meal in solitary splendour probably far too early for most Indians but I was conscious of the walk back along a dark lane and wanted to be back before the temple crowds dispersed . The following day we were driving through the familiar tea country . A quite apprehensive feeling as we approached Doomdooma, so many memories of coming home. Memories, are they best left untouched ? The welcome from our kind hosts Ashish and Nita Sinha put away any thought of sadness and then to see Tara and the bungalow Order all around, the bungalow and compound immaculate , Can there be a more gracious way of living ?. Some little jealousy allowed here, to have servants around,. to be able to plan and execute the fanciest ideas for a garden and have a mali on hand for the digging unlike the mali !! Here, such grumbling as we attempted to dig the malibari , mutterings of Russian labour camp and don’t give my love to Monty if you see him ! to have the mundane chores like cleaning and washing taken care of would be such a luxury. A huge difference was to see that most of the cooking and food preparation is now done in the bungalow, the bortchi khana fifty yards away now obsolete . The high ceilings and large rooms, what space. Still plenty of clay pots around the verandas. All the bungalows have metal security grids around the verandas and the thatch has been replaced by corrugated sheets After so much exhausting mental excitement instead of falling asleep I started reading the camellia magazine so it was the early hours before I turned out the light. The internet although slow was available and every one has a mobile, also sky TV. What a contrast from the days of radio and a message sent by car. What did we do at in the evenings ? in our bungalow we played cards , played darts and read the airmail edition of the telegraph which was shared between several bungalows . Our parents always changed for dinner so bath, change and dinner took up some of the early evening As youngsters we ate an early supper with the Ayah .Club days and nights feature in most of my parents letters, what film was on, how the golf went, Mary being a regular winner of the monthly medal. A club meet and sale raised 600 rupees for Chubua hospital helped by the river boys arriving halfway through with some mahseer and wild duck to be sold towards the proceeds. Another club party ended up with two fiat cars being lifted up the steps, one to the dance floor and one on to the veranda Any wedding or impending wedding was major news . In the early sixties there were also quite a few resignations It was difficult time for those planters with children at boarding school . The company paid about the first £100 of the fees but the rest had to be found as did the boarding costs for holidays. Inflation in India was running away with any profit and bonus’s were very small compared to the fifties . The devaluation of 6-6-66 knocked a few planters sideways (off their bar stools) if their pension was in rupees.

Our stay on Tara was in late October so tea was still being manufactured . When we went around the factory we noticed many changes . high security , white hats and aprons as well as shoe wash. Every bit of the leaf is sorted and sorted I am sure there are many more grades than in previous times. the call to work is still the siren The wonderful tea aroma fills the air and time seemed to have stood still as we watched the labour lining up to weigh their baskets. I think scent more than anything else can take one back to a place or person at a particular time. Our car here is a Suzuki very nearly the same as the Suzuki gypsy very popular on the tea gardens , a very robust jeep, better in the snow and ice than many of the fancier range rovers around. Glancing through a box of my parents letters the waiting for a new ambassador car was endless, about eleven months and then the colour was as it came, no choice .My father write of his admiration of Rajendra Singh motoring to Rajasthan in his little old ford 8 .In the early sixties before the new Ambassador we had a ford V8, probably not the best car to try my hand at driving my father came back from the factory with a mock stern face “well who has been trying to mow down the labour force “.Aged fifteen I had taken the car out with the driver and thinking that I was getting on reasonably well decided to drive around the factory, unfortunately it was pay day so the place was crowded, luckily there was no injuries In another letter my father advises me not to marry a tea planter as there would be so little opportunity for travel. he suggested a diplomat . Well a farmer was my choice so for many years there wasn’t much travel . Travelling in the mind through books has always been my delight and now with face book friends, I can take an e trip through Canada ,California, Australia, India, Spain and France with a few taps of the keys. Small world indeed when my cousin in Melbourne mentioned the weather , next day a friend of a friend writes you must be in Melbourne as it’s the same temperature as we are having. Today the planters and their wives can be in daily contact with their sons and daughters by email, face book and twitter . Our dogs featured in our parents letters every week and also friends pets My father writes that he admires Alec Bruce’s well trained labrador who would walk to heel without a lead around the golf course but he goes on to add that really he likes the fighting character of our terrier who was not so disciplined and would take on any pi dog who crossed his path .

All over India road building is in evidence Assam will eventually have a motor way through it to the border; unfortunately cutting through many tea gardens A motor way is also under construction very much bit by bit from Kolkata to the north There appear to be so many different stages in progress that it will be a miracle if it all joins up before the first sections are due for repair Similarly here the N11 near Ballard is finally after a long delay being upgraded to a motorway.. Work has already started so plenty of excitement for the grandsons to watch the heavy machinery and progress, two years of road works ahead

When I am travelling I make time to paint , an afternoon painting the river by Duamara with the sun warm on our backs, another afternoon painting the bungalow, tea and cold drinks brought out without asking. Many painting interludes turn into portrait sessions,

Our visit to Samdang golf course was very nostalgic to see the names on the honours boards , our mother still the only person to have a hole in one on the eighth The course was looking quite serene , the sun setting over the bheal and a silver moon coming through the evening mist. If there are ghosts they were there, anyone who has played on the course will be able to recollect that special evening atmosphere . The planters club has hardly changed ,the bar is exactly the same, the library, how well I remember my father searching for suitable books for me to read when I spent a time away from school aged nine My love of reading stems from those dusty shelves .. Our mother a worthy winner of the silver scissors. followed the next year by Tunoo Buroah The billiard room, the dance floor, the club has witnessed some great social evenings. The pool which was so controversial when it was being built has stood the test of time but is only filled in the hot weather I don’t suppose the children are as hardy as we were back then. Coming from the winter in England we were going to swim where ever and what ever the temperature!

Elephant incursions are frequent all through the tea, their old territories gradually being colonised The drive between Tara and Duamara which used to be mainly jungle is now cultivated by small land owners growing just at few cuttas of tea with supari nut trees as shade trees, two crops in the space of one. Tea plucking machines are in use on some of the gardens . Although we didn’t see them in operation . It takes two workers to handle one With the higher educational standards young men do not always feel that a life picking tea leaves like their mothers and grandmothers offers much scope for advancement , handling and maintaining a tea plucking machine can seem more skilful, disaffected youth can become the loose cannons in society.

Doomdooma town has extended but the statue of Gandhi still stands opposite the planters stores From Tara the drive to Doomdooma goes past Sookerating air strip ,Dry goods and groceries flown from Kolkata were very welcome .Then, long bicycle rides and exploring abandoned world war 2 huts. Today the airfield is operational with the Indian airforce so high wire fencing surrounds the area The road past Sookerating in to Doomdooma is as potholed as ever which made the “sleeping policemen” rather superfluous our host Ashish noted. We were sad to leave DoomDooma district, I hope to go back and explore further, the region to the north east and perhaps the newly created forest park After another couple of nights in Gawahati this time in the tourist lodge, beware the lift, usually out of order (another 100 steps) Next the train to Alipur Duars and a grandprix drive in a tuc tuc to catch a connection to Mal. We were back in the tourist lodge in Mal bazaar, twelfth year for me A visit to the school, As this trip had to be taken during the Durga puja holidays I missed seeing the pupils and staff. A new sign up this year,” Sloan Music Institution “as well as North East English School and there was music going on,,taught by Abraham on Saturday mornings. Father John Thwaytes in Caesar School is still managing as best he can, never complaining and I am pleased to say that he is now in a much more secure position and surrounded by love and well wishers Looking at his birthday celebrations in the school on you tube when the children sang and presented him with flowers it was interesting to see how wrapped up all the children and teachers were It was a very cold winter in the Dooars, no central heating or go home teachers if the mercury drops below what ever the British schools consider too cold, in other words when ever the pupils have to wear a jumper as well as their tee shirts From Bagdogra we flew to Delhi with an overnight stop in a very indifferent and expensive hotel near the airport before an early morning flight to Amritsar The smog filled the foyer of the hotel and we weren’t even right in the city . A good reason for avoiding Delhi in the winter How anyone can live with such pollution I don’t know. Amritsar couldn’t be further from the tea gardens in more ways than distance ; not a sari to be seen,, turbans of every hue and a dry dusty landscape Our first hotel booked through ipad was a disaster, unfortunately paid with the air fare in advance, after requesting an immediate clean of the room then a look at the view which was of a rubbish recycling depot. Frances had already cleaned the bathroom herself (she has a bit of a thing about loos) also noting that the bathroom wall didn’t reach the ceiling so bathroom noises and conversations would be shared by the next room we had a quick cup of tea and decided to walk the one kilometre to the golden temple, three hot kilometres later, walking along a road full of lorries under repair we reached the centre and the Golden temple, plenty of hotels so into one we went and yes they had a room with a balcony and a view of the temple . While Frances settled down with a cold drink I went back and collected our luggage, money lost but it was worth it The owner of the first hotel did ask me wistfully if I would write something nice in” make my trip” so I wont give the name of the hotel The central hotel we stayed in was the VJ hotel The staff couldn’t have been kinder and we were so near the temple complex that I was able to leave my shoes in the foyer when we went out to the temple which we did every day. The huge temple complex, busy but quietly devotional even with the loud speakers is quite awe inspiring Always spotlessly clean it was a place to walk, sit quietly and just watch the Sikh families. A guided walk around the old streets gave us an insight to how the city must have been before the traffic congestion of mainly scooters and carts At times even as a pedestrian it was impossible to move back or forth along the narrow alley ways Plenty of delicious street food and of course while we were there we took the trip to see the border ceremonies between India and Pakistan.. Great fun .One evening we were also informed by the staff that we had visitors and they turned out to be a Swedish friend who used to live in Ireland and her travelling companion It was quite a surprise and as luck would have it not only had we our evening medicine ready but had bought nuts and savouries as well ,The hotel staff were tickled pink to surprise us with the reunion. We had four years of catch up and local gossip to exchange! Amritsar is also quite a shoppers paradise, a good reason to travel with female companions . Husbands never seem to have the same thrall as two hours in a carpet shop or repeated visits to the derzi .

Our holiday had come to an end ,The weather had been perfect, the sun shone every day, we made new friends and saw old and new places Back to a rather Indian household for me as I arrived back to find a daughter and her family had moved in so we had a winter of small children, some good company and shared cooking both son in-laws are excellent cooks but how we yearned for an ayah at times..(Also a guilt free lieback time) We had girls so Michael and I find, even now, after seven grandsons that we are still not used to their destructive powers, boys seem to want to hit or bang every thing in passing, as for three year olds playing pippa pig on I phones etc it invariably leads to disaster as the phone ends up in water somewhere. Michael took to a chota peg quite early in the evenings. Peace now reigns again . The little treasures have moved to a rented house nearer the city. I consider myself very lucky because all my family including four of the grandsons have visited India and seen tea gardens in the Dooars and stayed in Darjeeling and Kolkata So when I natter on they know some of the people and places. This has been a long winter weather wise and we are still buying meal for the sheep, lambing is over and we were lucky, its been very wet at times then very cold but we missed the snow, I still consider Darjeeling one of the coldest places to visit , the cold damp air really gets under your clothes.

The teagardens will be in full production now, Assam has more regular rain than the Dooars where they were still desperate for rain a few weeks ago. In March I was lucky enough to go on a little jolly to Istanbul as a co director of our eldest daughters children’s clothing business. A small note here is that the clothing factory was state of art, free lunch for the workers, free medical care What a beautiful and romantic city, on a little wander around the flower market I came on a seed merchant selling amongst other things sacks of tea seeds. I had not known that Turkey has a large tea industry so with most of my other seed trays sulking with the cold my tea seeds, after soaking till they sank have germinated rapidly so perhaps there will be a Ballard cuppa in the future. Even with the late spring the primroses are out in abundance which brings to mind a letter from my mother with the exciting news that she has one primrose in flower on plants brought down from Darjeeling .With all the emails and I information now available the written letter is still more precious. With 2000 plus emails sitting on the computer, procrastination sets in when ever I think of sorting and filing especially with the amount of form filling required for any farming enterprise. Photo albums also so much more fun to look through than scrolling through Cds. I include an eclectic selection of paintings and a few photos past and present

Readers of Koi-hai are most likely like myself surrounded by souvenirs and artefacts from India which makes me think that most of India’s history and heritage is probably displayed in cabinets and on mantelpieces in England, Scotland (especially) and Ireland . Cloth pictures from Kalimpong, .ivory Carvings from pockface in Digboi. Smiling wooden buddhas and the most unbreakable of all ,,ancient brass ornaments and vases. These days I search out cloth pictures in the antique shops in Kolkata, no longer made but I am still hoping to find one of the dancing Tibetan girl as displayed in the planters club in Darjeeling. Last time I was in Kolkata I bought after several visits and long deliberation including many glasses of tea, a carved tiger in a beautiful striped stone .Just before leaving for Dublin airport I dropped a ruby earring as I was taking it out . The car was waiting so the search had to be immediately abandoned. I fully expected to find the earring on my return, not so, every hoovering of the carpet has been sifted through, the floor has been examined on hands and knees . A Georgian bedroom chair has been dismembered but no luck so it’s a good excuse to make sure I head back to Kolkata on my next visit to have a replica made by Walters at which point the original is sure to turn up Do readers remember the two leaves and a bud brooches and cuff links usually made in gold on black onyx. I have the cuff links but not the earrings my mother was so concerned about in a letter of having the design right .

The weeks whiz by and I hope that next November will see me back again . A school friend has already asked to come with me in 2014. In the meantime there are rows of sweetpeas to tie up, perhaps my Mali! will give me a hand. although like the young and not so young tea garden men he prefers to garden with a machine in hand , chainsaw or strimmer and of course the ride on mower , designer paths through the wild flower paddock.


A quote from plays of Gods and man by Lord Dunsany caught my eye as the preface to Somerville and Ross ‘s book, Irish memories

What is this child of man that can conquer time and is braver than love

Even memory

He shall bring back our year to us that time cannot destroy Time cannot slaughter it if memory says no It is reprieved though banished. We shall often see it, although a little far off and all its hours and days shall dance to us and go by one by one and come back and dance again.

…… It is a trick that memory can do, He comes up softly in the town or the desert where ever a few men are, like the strange dark conjurers who swing to snakes and he does his trick before them and does it again and again.


                                                         Below are     Denise and Francis





 Part two

Tennis at Doomdooma



Mary Denise in her Python Skin sandals

                       Gandhi Statue

        Sivsagar Arches



                  Weighing tea at Tara


                                   Samdang Golf Club




                              Honours Board