Remembering the British Raj - Penned by Sarah Aitchison

Sarah Aitchison

I came to Darjeeling on the 3rd of March 1928 with my husband then Major J.E.E. Packard of the 2nd Btn., the King's Own Royal Regt., from Rawalpindi where the regiment was stationed. He had been seconded to the staff command based in Calcutta where he had a flat in Fort William for the winter months. The whole staff came up from March to October making their headquarters at Jalapahar.

We put the car on the train from Calcutta to New Jalpaiguri and motored up to Darjeeling to our first house The Limes. It was like entering Paradise after the heat of the North-West Frontier.

We had a very social life with dances at the Everest Hotel, Rockville Hotel, visits to St. Joseph's and St. Paul's schools, riding or motoring to Ghoom and Tiger Hill or down to the Rangeet river. We played tennis, watched clay pigeon shooting or went down to the races at Lebong. Somehow our two horses Tommy and Stinka Karez arrived from Rawalpindi but we often rode the tat ponies from Chowrastha down the steep hills or had coffee at Valdos or the Rendezvous. We used the Gymkhana Club a lot as there was skating, bridge, amateur dramatics, children's parties, dinners and dances. When the General came up, there was all the more formal functions held at the Maharaja's palace then called Government House. We often had friends to stay for holidays in the hills, and we enjoyed the company of resident friends like the Mazumdars and their daughter Tara.

The social life was only made possible by the help of our Nepalese and Tibetan servants. The cook came for his orders every day as he did the shopping. I had to give him at least three days' notice if we wanted coffee or a curry. There were certain customs to observe to make life run smoothly. For instance turning a blind eye to certain amounts of food disappearing. Some wives gave themselves a lot of trouble by counting the eggs or measuring the tea. My husband’s personal servant, Bhudrahdin, was always with us. He used to be on the station at Karachi in some miraculous manner to meet us after we returned from leave in England. Nima, a red-hat Tibetan, pushed the pram for Nanny; once he was delighted to collect up the locusts that had swarmed all over it.

Our elder daughter was born at The Limes on the 2nd of April, just a month after our arrival. My mother-in-law stayed with us and grew vegetables in the garden there. She came with us on a riding/walking trip to Sikkim being carried in a “dandy” chair, often demanding “Put me down” as she observed some rare plant.

An entry in my diary for 8.9.1930 blandly announces the arrival of our second daughter. “Put petrol on my hair” must have been a craze” then; had tea with James, did not feel very well, took rickshaw to Eden Sanatorium, baby born 11 pm. We were living at Catherine Villa No.1. Later we had No.2 Mounteagle.

We had several shooting expeditions from Darjeeling, leaving at 5 am, motoring to Chilipari via Siliguri and into the jungle to a dak bungalow near Madan Hat where nine elephants would be waiting for us. The elephants, each with its mahout would proceed further in to the machans, a platform in a tree, where we would sit in silence from 8 pm, till 1 am, with a dead goat below us waiting for the tigers.

We left India for England in October 1931and often thought of our wonderful life in Darjeeling.

Sarah Aitchison
Melton Constable