With the arrival of the Gates couple it is Christmas in the Queen of the Hills. This Australian couple has been celebrating Christmas in Darjeeling for the past 20 years and plans to continue doing so.
The Gates couple enjoy Christmas Carols at Hotel Windamere, Darjeeling. HT photo/Suman Baraily
“Christmas is very different here than other parts of the World. The hangover of the days of the Raj complete with the traditional Christmas spread draws us to Hotel Windamere in Darjeeling each year” stated David Gates, talking to HT.
This septuagenarian couple from Kiama, 130km from Sydney, Australia had visited Darjeeling for the very first time in the winters of 1991. “It was a trip around India and Darjeeling was part of the trip. It was Christmas. We just loved the way Windamere celebrated Christmas- the carol singing, the entertainment and the Christmas dinner. Since 1991 we have not celebrated Christmas anywhere else” stated David’a wife Pat.
Soon the couple became a part of the town. “Over the years we have befriended many of the town’s folk. We pay them a visit every year. Many of them have passed away” stated David.
What attracts the couple the most “Darjeeling is a safe place. It is amazing that different communities, speaking different languages, practicing different religions, coexist peacefully here. One does not feel threatened here. There are a very few places in the world where one feels such nowadays” stated David.
Earlier the couple used to visit Sikkim after Christmas and then return back to Darjeeling for the New Year’s celebrations. So much so that the couple did not stay away even during the turbulent days of the political upheaval (since 2007) that had engulfed the Hills.
“For the past few years we have been staying in Darjeeling throughout. We arrive before Christmas eve and leave Darjeeling on the 3rd or 4th of January” stated Pat. From Darjeeling the couple visit Goa. “We have many friends in Goa too“ added David.
However this time things are quite different and indicates a special Christmas. “It is sunny and warm in Darjeeling with clear blue skies. During the day we do not need jackets also. This is for the first time we saw the sun set and the Mount Kanchenjunga turn pink with the setting sun while travelling up from Ghoom. This time even the Overseas entertainers (the Hotel arranges for overseas entertainers for Christmas every year) are from Australia” stated Pat.
“The couple have become a part of the Windamere family. We look forward to their visit each year. We try to keep our Christmas celebrations as authentic as the Christmas celebrations of 1939. There are many tourists who keep coming back just because of this“ added Shubhana Rai, Sales Manager, Windamere.
The Christmas menu of 1960, proudly displaced reads “Hors D’oeuveres Varies; Cream of Tomato Soup; Lobster Mayonnaise and Russian Salad; Roast Turkey and Ham Croquette Potatoes, cauliflower and garden peas; Christmas Plum Pudding and Brandey Sauce; Pickled Sardine on Toast; Dessert and Coffee. “The same menu with minor variation is served every Christmas” added Rai.
However over the years Indian delicacies like Navratan Pulao and Dal Makhani have also crept in. “We will keep coming back till our health and wealth permits” assured David.