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Himalaya

Day 93: Digboi, Assam

Michael Palin - HimalayaA priest in dhoti and thick, knitted sweater moves among them, offering a plate of sweets and a prayer. He gives me a tika mark on my forehead. I want to tell him that the last one I had was put on by the King of Nepal, but he'd only think I was mad.

The protection of the gods is taken very seriously. Built above one of the mine entrances is a small, pink temple to the goddess Kali (alias Parvati, Sati, Uma and Durga), and as she is the consort of Siva the destroyer, she must be constantly propitiated. When the motley group of miners does eventually enter the mine shaft, I notice each one first touch the tunnel entrance, then his forehead and then his heart.

No sooner have they gone down than a greasy cable stiffens and begins to turn. Out of a second tunnel emerges a line of wagons filled with slack. As they reach the top of a low rise they're grabbed and pushed on by a work gang largely composed of elderly women in grimy saris. These ladies roll the narrow, coffin-like wagons down a short slope and assemble them into a train. When enough are ready they are collected by a very old saddle-tank steam engine called 'David', built in Lancashire in 1864. Its boiler is now so caked and encrusted with deposits that it resembles a moving fossil.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 93: Digboi, Assam
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Digboi
  • Book page no: 217

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