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Set for holidays? Read this

Down memory lane, on horseback

By Vivek Chhetri in Darjeeling
  • Published 9.12.19, 3:40 AM
  • Updated 9.12.19, 7:22 PM
  • 2 mins read
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(From left) TN Pemba, Norzin Norbhu,TY Pemba and Norden Dagyab in Gangtok in 1947 The Telegraph India

Every December, a young schoolgirl and her three siblings would carry boiled eggs in their fur coats, wear masks and ride on horseback through the snow-covered Nathu-la Pass to reach Tibet.

For the young students, this arduous journey would be the most anticipated event of the year.

“This was the only time we would get to meet our parents,” recalls Norzin Norbhu. “For nine months, we would neither see them nor get to talk to them as there were no telephones then.”

For boarders in the Darjeeling hills, December is a month of fond memories. Classes close for the three-month winter vacation, after their annual examination, allowing them to meet relatives.

The story of Norzin, now aged 85, offers a window into a forgotten world but bridged by the holiday season thrill that has survived handy modern communication devices.

Norzin’s father Rai Sahib Rimshi Pemba from Jorebunglow, Darjeeling, enrolled himself in the British cadre and was posted in different regions of Tibet like Yatung, Gyantse and Lhasa as the trade regent in Tibet from 1924.

He was the last trade regent of the British in Tibet and Rimshi was the fourth highest honorary title of the Tibetan government.

Norzin was born in Tibet. So was her elder brother T.Y. Pemba, younger brother T.N. Pemba and youngest sister Norden Dagyab.

Rai Sahib Pemba, however, decided to send his children to India for their school education.

Norzin and her younger sister Norden were enrolled at St. Joseph’s Convent, Kalimpong, while the brothers were sent to Victoria Boys in Kurseong.

Come December, the four siblings could not contain their excitement about the journey that lay ahead.

“We would go to Gangtok and then travel to Tibet through Nathu-la Pass. We would carry boiled eggs, wear mask to beat the chilly winds and travel on horseback or sometimes on mules. We were allowed to stay in dak bungalows during our journey,” recalled Norzin.

The journey to Yatung would take four days but to reach Lhasa and Gyantse it meant a travel of 17 and 12 days, respectively.

“The journey to Tibet was always fun because we were going home. December also meant pleasant weather,” said Norzin.

The return in February was always heavy on heart as it is for all boarders leaving home. “Even the weather would not be good as there would be much snowfall during that period,” said Norzin.

The children had to return to Gangtok “a little early” as they had to get their school uniforms stitched there. “There were no tailors for western outfit in Tibet then,” recalled Norzin.

Norzin was enrolled in Class IV in 1944 and completed her senior Cambridge in 1951.

During one of her journeys to Tibet, Norzin recalls meeting His Holiness Dalai Lama’s eldest brother Taktse Rinpoche. “We got down from our horses and I still remember getting hit on the face by its tail,” said Norzin.

Norzin’s father and her mother Tshering Yanchen died in the flood at Gyantse on July 17, 1954.

By then Norzin had married a police officer from Darjeeling. She, however, carried on her studies in Shimla and London and also established Himalayan Nursery School in Darjeeling in 1969.

Her elder brother went on to become a doctor and is settled in London while her other younger brother is an engineer in England. The youngest sister Norden is settled in Germany.

“I must say our father was farsighted,” said Norzin.