Letter from Margaret Cowham nee Dibdin to her brother
Lionel Dibdin and Cecily
Margaret was 34 at the time of writing.
15 Feb. 1930
My Dear Lionel and Cecily
Thank you so much for the Christmas Cable. It came in the evening and was quite a surprise.
I am afraid I am late in wishing Joan many happy returns, time simply flies past. We cannot realise that it is over a year since we left home. We are still enjoying glorious sun, though it has been bitterly cold and we had a fortnight that made us think of Lancashire, constant rain and fog or rather cloud. It is much warmer now, primroses are out, daffodils in bud, pansies out and the whole garden promising gloriously. We almost live out of doors, getting all the sun we can before the rainy season.
We are all getting very brown – in the plains you “bleach” – an unhealthy pallor – and the children are splendidly fit.
February has been half asleep, only 40 men and a handful of women and children till last week. Now ½ the regiment have returned, the rest will soon follow and in April the Loyals and No L. will come up for the hot weather and we shall be in full swing.
At present Darjeeling is almost empty except for parties of tourists who dutifully get up in the small hours and climb Tiger Hill to see the sun rise on the snows on which occasions the immortal snows frequently retire behind clouds to everyone’s disappointment. We frequently look out of the window at our ease. The other day at dawn, I woke and saw it was clear and bundled on a dressing gown and went to the drawing room window. The whole vaste Kangchenjunga range glittered gold and rose above banks of clouds as if they were island floating in the sea. I woke Gerard and we watched the marvellous scene – and then hurried back to bed to get warm being nearly frozen stiff.
The other night, in dazzling moonlight, we saw the snows clearly, a cold silver gleam absolutely clear against the black blue velvet sky every peak clear and clean, though sixty miles away; the air is so marvellously clear. We catch a glimpse of the Machenzie Sisters, two outlying spurs of Everest, though they are 140 miles away.
We have great fun walking and we are making the most of it while clear weather lasts, though the hills make me very tired.
Still I get up the 1000 feet into Darjeeling fairly often and Gerard can do it in 17 minutes, he is amazingly fit, and getting very weather beaten with the constant riding. He did about 20 miles on Christmas day taking Services at two churches and visiting hospitals, Barrack Rooms, Married quarters etc.
We are looking forward to watching the tea gardens in the picking season. At present, the buds are coming and soon the little white blossoms will be out. After that picking begins and goes on for months. We were interested to learn that the quality of tea depends not on the kind of bush so much as the time of year when it is picked and the altitude at which it grows. There are two short spells when the leaf is at its best, and it is during then that the most valuable tea is picked. We are hoping to watch the whole process of drying etc. Tea bushes grow wild here too, by the road side, and one often walks past or through the gardens, which are very quaint, so orderly, neat with their curved terraced ledges, neatly hoed and kept and the bushes so smooth and round almost like box trees, with constant pruning and picking. It forms such a contrast to the wild grandeur of the great forest covered mountains all round.
I have been busy dressmaking for myself and the children, durzis [ dressmakers ] are not so easily to get here as in the Plains and are not as good at original work. Now term has begun, I have no time in the mornings, and want to be out in the afternoons. Shopping here is better that at Dinapore or Patua, as we have got some European shops, but frightfully expensive and very limited. I find it pays to send home for most things, even including duty and postage in the cost.
Mary Christine send love to Joan- they of course remember her quite well and are quite clear about English life, but Hugh gets muddled, though he remembers some incidents of life at home perfectly clearly. It is most amusing to hear them talking Hindustani, they speak a wonderful jumbles but understand it with surprising clearness. Mary often interprets when I am at a loss. Here most of the people are Nepalis or Tibetan, and their Urdu is as bad as ours, nearly, so great are the complications at times.
On the 27th the famous Llama dances are held. People flock from far and wide to see them. They are performed at the Buddhist Monastery, about a mile away and above us in the forest. We shall go and watch. They are busy practising now and one hears a tremendous noise of gongs and drums and horns being blown. My servants are and I want them to explain the dances, which are supposed to teach religious truths to the ignorant, in fact are a kind of Buddhist “Mystery Play”.
Llamas have been coming in from Tibet for some time, each one, if possible, dirtier than the one before him. Some are very rough and beg brazenly swinging their wheels the while, but the other day we met an exceptionally exalted – and filthy – one, obviously pure Chinese, very “donnish” in his way, a sort of Tibetan “Oxford Manner” and he had two juniors or attendants who held the begging bowl. I did so long for more fluency in Tibetan, to have asked questions, but perhaps shouldn’t have stayed behind for queries if I could, as with a bright sun his presence was more than one’s nose could bear.
Love from us all Yours affectionately Margaret.