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The Loyal Family visits Darjeeling

From October until a few days before Christmas, the workshop is abuzz of activity! Normal production tasks such as stitching, packaging, ordering materials and posting goods keep us busy. We do all of these tasks with the goal of producing quality leather pieces and ensuring they get to our customers on time and in top condition. As important as quality products and customer satisfaction are to us, our little workshop is primarily focussed on something different. We are business that exists for freedom.

As esoteric as this might sound, for us, freedom is grounded in specific rhythms and practices. One of these freedom rhythms involves packing our bags and heading out of the smoky, overcrowded concrete jungle that is Kolkata. This year our destination was Darjeeling – a far-off, cold, mountainous, green land covered in ancient pagodas and tea fields. While these elements describe Darjeeling, they are also on the list of things not found in the red light area where we work. Hence, the thought of venturing to Darjeeling meant peace, respite and fun!

Thirty-seven of us – artisans, kids, office staff and the foreign crew met at the crowded train station on a Friday night. The journey to Darjeeling took us over 20 hours. This comprised of an overnight train ride, followed by waiting around in a dusty transport hub at the Himalyan foothills, then boarding a bus and a jeep to ride up 3,000 metres of elevation. Our much awaited interlude was stopping to eat some ever-tasty momos for lunch as we looked back down into the valley. Our time that followed in Darjeeling was short, sweet and cold. We headed out to the zoo one morning, shopped in the markets, and ate plenty of good food. As is custom for our workshop family, we bookended our days with song and prayer and a reflection on the day that had been.

Perhaps the most exciting element for our crew was seeing the grandeur of a mountain up-close-and-personal for the first time. Kolkata is a remarkably flat place and the biggest hills anywhere close to the city are no more than 100 metres high. The mountains we could see from Darjeeling had snow on them as they peaked above the cloud-cover. They were so breathtaking that we all decided to rise early on the last morning, rug and snug up, and sit outside in the guesthouse’s garden to wait for the dawn sunlight to land on the Himalayas. Although it is not something I have ever been able to make a consistent habit of, there is something truly sacred in waking up early, sitting in stillness, and waiting for the day’s warmth and light to arrive. We all sat motionless, in near silence on small lawn chairs waiting for the sun to appear on the horizon. Hampered by fog, the sun finally came and coloured the snow-capped mountains with its orange hue. We sipped on cups of Darjeeling tea, ate Darjeeling doughnuts, and stood in awe. It seemed like the perfect way to close out our little reprieve into the hills.

For many of our artisans, a trip to Darjeeling was something only possible in their wildest dreams. The chance to travel your own country and play tourist is something that many of us born into comfort are used to. Perhaps it's even something we take for granted. Being able to take a break is freedom. So too, is choosing to go somewhere entirely different from home just for the fun of it. Freedom is also singing songs, drinking tea, eating momos and sitting in stillness. These are our rhythms and ways. May we continue to see more and more of this freedom enacted out in our neighbourhood and among our family!