Monday, 10 November 2014

Lost in Darjeeling

After finishing the Kanchenjunga Trek, rather than going back to Kathmandu, we crossed the nearby border into India and spent a few days in Darjeeling. Raj (our trekking guide) came as far as the border with us and arranged a car to take us the rest of the way.

As we made our way up a never-ending winding narrow road full of horrendous potholes and very sharp switchbacks I wondered what on earth possessed us! This feeling continued as the vehicle numbers increased, traffic often came to a standstill and the sounds of blaring horns became a constant. Anyone who thinks Saskatoon has a traffic, parking or pothole problem really needs to spend a few days here!

Our first day got off to a rocky start, as noted in Andrew's post. But once settled in, even though we seldom left the hotel without getting lost amongst the maze of tiny streets and alleyways, we saw and did lots.
View of Darjeeling hillside from the garden in our hotel. Due to altitude and time of year it was a bit cool so
we didn't sit in the garden as much as we expected to.
Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn't let sleeping dog lie because then they are up all night barking!

Crazy busy traffic on "Main Street"
We got up at 5:30 one morning to watch the sunrise. This was often the only time to get a clear view of Kanchenjunga because it usually clouded over by mid morning or earlier. 

The one exception to that rule was the day we went paragliding. It was clear pretty much the whole day. 

There were lots of monkeys roaming the city. They weren't really cooperative photographic subjects so you had to be quick on the button!

Not surprisingly, we went to the zoo. Although not one of the best zoos we've been to, it's the largest high altitude zoo in India and specializes in breeding animals adapted to alpine conditions, such as the snow leopard, the Himalayan wolf and the red panda.
This red panda actually cooperated for photo! 
Himalayan black bear
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is on the zoo grounds and there is a lot of tribute paid to Tenzing Norgay (first to summit Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hilary). Although Tenzing was Nepali, he lived much of his life in Darjeeling and was the Director of Field Training and Advisor at the Institute from it's inception until his death in 1986.

What would a trip to Darjeeling be without going to a tea estate? Happy Valley just on the edge of Darjeeling. Although it was within walking distance, our record with getting lost was getting ridiculous by this point so we decided to take a taxi. Quite happy we did!

This is the size of tea/coffee cup Andrew and I would like to have!
A ride on the "Toy Train" is another unique thing to do in Darjeeling. In operation since 1881, the rails that are only two feet apart, along with the various loops and Z-reversals, make it capable of negotiating the unusually steep grade for a train. Andrew's assessment of the train ride was made after we once again got lost and made at least a half hour detour to the train station!

The train and traffic
Our stay in Darjeeling coincided with the last week of the month-long Cultural and Tourism Festival. The Chowrasta (the open area below - photo taken from paragliding) was packed every night with people enjoying the live entertainment (music, singing, dancing) and the fireworks display on the final night.

Darjeeling is a very unique place to visit and I'm glad we stopped here!

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