The next morning, I found a gazebo with a table and chair where I could sit alone in the early morning light. Upon our arrival the night before, I couldn’t see a thing. Not the colonial-style bungalows, the chef’s vegetable and herb garden, or the hillside dancing with marigolds, tea picker huts, and blue butterflies. Nor could I see the cinematic backdrop of snow-covered mountaintops scraping the sky.
The Glenburn Tea Estate, a boutique hotel which started out as a Scottish tea company in 1859, has been run by one of India’s pioneering tea-planting families, the Prakashes, for four generations. It’s often booked long in advance, and regulars sometimes stay for weeks. Now as I watched Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak on the planet, turn pink in the sunrise, I understood why. Where else on earth could one watch such a spectacular scene unfold?
The sound of drums, flutes, and singing wafted up from the village below and mingled with the kitchen’s curries. Tiger spiders as big as my fist sat in the epicenters of their glistening webs. Like me, they were waiting for breakfast. I sipped my tea, noting that it came from the very fields surrounding me, and watched a thick roll of fog snake through the Rangeet river valley.
What a welcome respite from the din of Delhi, I thought. And these rhododendron bushes, they’re beautiful. I went to pluck one of the bright pink flowers to tuck into the band of my sunhat. But no sooner had I bent the stem than an ungodly mechanical wail shot through the air.
On instinct I ducked. Then I thought of running. Was this a weekly test of the Emergency Broadcasting System, like we have in the States? Maybe it was an earthquake warning. In this part of the world seismic activity is just about as common as the Northern Lights at home in Montana.
Six months earlier an 8.1 magnitude earthquake in Nepal had killed 8,000 people and injured 21,000 others. The aftershock a month later killed another 153 and injured 3,200 more. It could certainly happen again. And just where does one run to in such an event, I wondered as I stepped out from under the gazebo.
The wail faded into silence. No more drums or flutes. No more singing. No more roosters crowing from the fencepost.
“It’s a rather low siren, really,” said a voice with an English accent. I looked up to find a man in khaki trousers and a pith helmet standing on the ridge behind me. “Not like World War II or anything like that,” he said. “Just a means of letting the workers know it’s time to go to work.” I stared as he gently returned his tea cup to its saucer, which he held most properly at chest height. “Rather patriarchal, I think.”
“Mm,” I mumbled, reaching under the wicker table for the pen I’d dropped during all the ruckus. I sat up, straightened my hat (still without a flower), and started to discuss the matter further. But it was too late. He was gone.