Mr. Singh

My Sikh taxi driver had a small heart attack while driving me and Eddie home from soccer practice this week.   It was Guru Nanak Jayanti, a festive holiday for the Sikh community and a government holiday in India – yet still, he was working.   I could tell the driver was tired, but he dutifully drove us half-an-hour across town to a local school where Eddie’s league plays and agreed to wait for us.  It was dark and chilly 90-minutes later when we left.

About half way home the driver struggled to loosen his seat belt.  His breathing was heavy and he fumbled for nitroglycerine pills on his dashboard.  He said that he was ill and that today was his “last day in this world”.  The sweat on his brow glistened in the headlights of the on-coming traffic.

The car slowed and I asked him to pull to the side of the road.  He stopped the engine.

The driver was clearly in trauma.  He mumbled and swayed his body forward and back.

What’s most important to know at this point in the story is that he survived despite few reliable ambulances or other emergency help in Delhi.  Ambulances here work best when you pre-order them for an event, like a soccer tournament.  But wait for one on the side of the road and you wait forever, if you live that long.

For my taxi driver, Mr. Singh, there were good Samaritans willing to help, including the police. (Surprise!)  I still hear a young man calming the driver, calling him “uncle”… so caring and genuine.  A flurry of Hindi led to phone calls:  Mr. Singh’s doctor; his son.  The son appeared in the crowd Star Trek fast.  Sometimes it seems that time bends when it has to.

Son drove father to the hospital.  Mr. Singh had already survived open-heart surgery and this episode was related to his weakened heart.  When I checked on him at the taxi stand a few days later, he said something about fluid, an infection.  I couldn’t understand everything he tried to share.

How to handle a medical emergency in Delhi worries me, just as it did in Beijing.

In China, ambulances were unreliable and under-equipped.  When Eddie had a seizure in the middle of the night, I drove alone, 18 minutes to the hospital.   I sang through my tears to keep him awake and to keep my mind focused.  (Jim was out-of-town.)

Ask Jim about the time he ate a plate of bees and ended up in the ER of a local hospital in Kunming.  (He forgot that he was allergic!) The staff would have let him rot in the corner had Jim’s friend not threatened his way into the Communist Party wing of the hospital to save my man’s life.

Lala too, ended up in the ER in Beijing in the middle of the night.  With controlled panic in her voice she wheezed at me as I was flipping out because she couldn’t breathe:  “I have to concentrate.”  She had a nasty form of pneumonia.

There was also the harrowing drive to the hospital with the mother of  a boy who drowned in our neighborhood pool.  A lifeguard and a friend of mine performed CPR on his little body in the back seat of my car while I drove.  The mother sat next to me in shock.  To keep her from watching her son being pumped and pushed, I gave her my shirt and told her to hold it out of the window like a flag.  Somehow, the traffic parted between that flag and my beeping.  The child was meant to live – he survived.

Dare I write that in Delhi, my emergency contingencies have not been tested?  God willing, we have at least six months of good health and safety here and continued blessings in our next adventure.

Mr. Singh, the other day was not your last.  Yet even when you thought it was, you showed concern for me and my son:  you wanted someone in the crowd to make sure that we got home safely.  Thank you.

I wish for you many, many more days filled with peace (and less traffic and good fares)…

And may you afford to retire soon.

God Bless.


Mr. Singh.  I took this photo to show Eddie that he was OK.  


Our annual trip to the Ganges:



Darjeeling tea tastes bitter when it steeps for more than three minutes.  But unlike the tea, Darjeeling city unfolds with time:  The longer you stay, the more charming it becomes.

Darjeeling’s famous tea grows on the high vertical hills of the Himalayas. Tea plantations cascade from the city like a lush ball gown and fade across the horizon.  The city hangs – sometimes impossibly – from the side of a mountain and flows into the tea.

I did not fall for Darjeeling easily.  To my fresh eyes, the city was gritty and growing sloppily upward.  It smelled of diesel and coal and the narrow streets seemed dark and Dickensian.






Darjeeling has a softer side though.  It was once a temperate mountainside respite for India’s colonial British rulers who hopped trains north to escape the searing summer  heat of the lower plains.

There are original colonial homes and newer buildings that pay architectural homage to the city’s British influences.  We stayed in a lovely old hotel/home, “more British than Britain” an English friend joked.

One lesson of many that I have learned in India:  Stay in a nice hotel if you can.  The best of this country challenges and charms its visitors to extreme degree; it’s almost necessary to wrap yourself in comfort at the end of a day.  Where you sleep can tip the scale in favor of loving or hating a place.

Perhaps less known of Darjeeling is its close ties to Nepal and Tibet and its entrenched Buddhist heritage.  Look to the horizon and you see Nepal and Sikkim, a sliver of land that lies between India and Tibet.  The city teems with refugees looking for economic bounty or religious freedom.  Buddhist stupas dot the hills and prayer flags string across valleys and cling to trees.





Darjeeling is also home to India’s Gorkha tribe.  You may recognize the Gorkhas as a military unit that heroically served (and continues to serve) the British army.  The Gorkhas are a Nepalese hill tribe known for their strength and warrior instincts.  The British recruited the Gorkhas in the 19th century to serve the British East India Company’s army, and later the British army.  A few years ago, Gorkha soldiers were permitted to retire in England, but many are still fighting for fair and equal pension from the British army.

Above the Tea and Temples and History looms Kangchenjunga, the third tallest peak on earth at 28-thousand feet or 8,586 meters.  This is why we traveled to Darjeeling in November:  to see snowy Kangchenjunga floating in blue skies.  Most of the year clouds above Darjeeling block the view – but November, December and May are often clear.

And what a sight!  Her earthly beauty and heavenly distance stole the show.  Even the kids “got” it.  On our first morning and first clear view, Eddie hopped on the hotel balcony shouting “Wow… Oh my God!  Where’s Lala?  Where’s Lala?  She has to see this…  LA-LA!!!”

And this is what he saw:

Tea pickers in Happy Valley tea estate:

Our travel crew:

A stupa: 

Hiking antics:

Beautiful Babies:





And Handsome Georgie:

Georgie doing “Gangnam Style” on the Nepal/India border, with one foot in each country:


Playing with children at the Tibetan Refugee Center.



I was walking through the botanical gardens in Srinagar last weekend during the Greater Eid holiday when a brazen local boy grabbed my fanny.  (British definition… not American.)

I chased the kid and gave him a tongue-lashing to remember.  Do you think he felt shame when I yelled that his behavior was appalling and sacrilegious?  He hid behind a friend and looked embarrassed, even scared, so I think that having a foreign lady lob rage at him was good punishment.  I hope he said a few repentant prayers as well.

I went to Kashmir with a friend and despite this opening drama, we had a wonderful trip.  It wasn’t without slight incident though.  Two young men reprimanded us for being inside a mosque, even though we wore head scarves and the guard at the entrance let us enter the central hall.  My travel mate, Rani, pointed out that the mosque was built by the Mughal Empress Nur Jahan – A Woman.  This didn’t seem to impress the youths.

At the Jama Masjid, the caretaker was worked-up that we were at the mosque because police had placed the imam under house arrest during Eid.  The imam is also head of the Hurryiat Conference, a group of pro-Pakistan political parties.  He was arrested to curb protests during the holiday, celebrated for three days beginning October 27th this year.  This was the same day that Indian troops first entered Kashmir in 1947, the beginning of a turbulent 60+ years.

The US and other nations have active travel advisories for Kashmir and US state department employees in India are not permitted to travel there, except to the Ledakh region in the east of the state which borders Tibet and is largely buddhist.

I canceled my trip to Srinagar a few weeks ago after a scurfuffle between the Indian army and militants.  There were a few deaths, including a bell boy at a hotel.  The details of such confrontations are not always clear so I postponed the trip to see how things settled.  Jim wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a renewed campaign to disrupt tourism.

There is a healthy influx of domestic visitors, but I saw only three non-Indian travelers.  The residents of Srinagar whom we met wanted us to send friends and spread good word about the region.  Everyone is exhausted from over-twenty years of militancy.

Kashmir is a complicated story.  I offer one quick paragraph that doesn’t even scratch its knotted history:

Pakistan, India and China claim areas of Kashmir.  A disputed election and other tensions in the late 80’s led to a Pakistan-supported insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir that sparked India to send troops.  All these years later, Indian forces still oversee the region.  The army and para-military police stand guard at intersections in Srinagar and are more heavily stationed in the old part of the city and the airport.  Troops operate under the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).  The act suspends the constitutional rights of citizens in areas where the government has declared a state of emergency.  This generally means that under certain conditions,  soldiers can shoot at citizens if they feel threatened and they can conduct searches without warrants, among other leniencies and intrusions.  Many feel that the act is draconian and over-reaching, especially during these more peaceful times.

There’s also rooted Hindu/Muslim tension.  And there are factions that want complete sovereignty in Kashmir, which means independence from Pakistan and India.  However, talk to people in Srinagar and you will hear simple demands:  access to jobs and education and technology.

But the beauty, The Beauty! of the place….  Enchanting.  Srinagar is dotted with lakes and surrounded by mountains.  I will go back with the kids the beginning of June when the wild flowers bloom and soft green blankets the hills; when the lake shimmers and birds celebrate the warm weather.

And we will take friends.

I am spreading the word – go!  Go to Kashmir!  Float on the lake in Srinagar, glide through the floating gardens, sleep peacefully on a houseboat, ski Gulmarg, drink Kahwa tea and eat lamb meatballs.   Celebrate the hospitality.  It’s all there, waiting for attention.

The boy in garden… what a silly misdeed!  Maybe if there were more visitors wearing jeans and walking with girlfriends, I wouldn’t have been so much of a spectacle and he wouldn’t have been tempted to grab me.

Have a look:

And I know many of you have been waiting for a peek of Lala in her school play.  I will edit video to share as soon as I clear my end-of-the-semester plate.  I’m still having technical difficulties –  I put the photos of Lala in the Srinagar gallery above so that you can enlarge them.  I can’t figure out, despite changing HTML coding, etc… how to separate gallery photos from other pics.   (Any WordPress experts out there?)

Proud parents:

And finally, Halloween: