BPD: The Darjeeling Diary
(BackPack Diary: The Darjeeling Diary, 19–20 Apr ‘15)
After what seemed like a long night, I woke up to a brightly lit up room, that looked like it was noon; but to my surprise the time was just 8 am and I still had the whole day ahead. Stepping onto the balcony, I was greeted with a clear view of the Mt Kanchenjunga range, with all of its peaks. The previous night’s heavy rains had cleared up all the clouds to give this stunning view on my first morning there. Little did I realise that this was the best view I’d be getting of the Kanchenjunga over the next week, that I foolishly didn’t bother to take a picture.
I met with an interesting set of people and explored Darjeeling with them over the next day and half. All travel around the city was primarily on foot and meeting of all these people, chance encounters. I saw the sunrise at Tiger Hill and visited the war memorial at Batasa loop with 2 men from the Czech Republic who were on a week’s vacation to India and Bangladesh. They were puzzled when a large family from the rural West Bengal jumped on them, for an extended photo session. Later on, once they regained composure, they had an innocent question for me — “Why are we so interesting to them?” :) I also met 2 women who were on a 3 month tour of India, one an American activist and the other a Columbian anthropologist who had spent most of their time in India at Dehradun, working with farmers against GM seeds. It was good to know more about GMO, its effect on farmers and the movement currently on in India by people like Dr. Vandana Shiva to fight it at the grass roots level.
It was a nice stroll from the Botanical garden, through the Observatory hill and Mall road overlooking the tea gardens and concluding at the Mahakala Shiva temple in Chowrasta. The Bhutia Bhasti monastery was steeped in history with its ~200 year background and well preserved temple artifacts. The people at Tibetan Refugee camp recounted tales of the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s, over their game of dice, and how India proved a safe haven for those who managed to move out. All these people had made the camp their home and many of their children continue to live here, while managing livelihood through various means in Darjeeling.
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute lived up to the expectations, with the museum carefully stocking several objects from the Mt Everest summit of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa. The museum also captured some nostalgic moments from the earlier failed expeditions of the Everest, including climbing equipments apart from paper clippings about the aborted attempts and fatal news breaks. It was fascinating to see the evolution of climbing equipments over the century, by comparing those from HMI’s recent Everest expeditions. Another noteworthy piece was a replica comparing heights of all the tallest peaks around the world, ranking them by the continent. After much scanning I was delighted to find only a namesake of a mountain that I had been to, but this was the Neelkanth mountain in Rishikesh that I had taken a Jeep ride to! Looks like its going to be some time before scaling something this noteworthy.
The Zoo, which we covered since it was part of the same campus as the HMI, sprang some surprises, inspite of the low expectations. There were a lot of first timers for me — Royal Bengal tiger, family of Leopards (snow leopard, black leopard & clouded leopard), Himalayan Monal and several other exotic birds. Finally, an early morning walk to the Japanese temple and Peace pagoda had a serene and calming effect. Particularly the 4 Buddha gold-covered statues depicting different stages of the path towards Nirvana is life-like and brings out subtle emotions with great effect.
I bid goodbye to Darjeeling with a visit to Glenary’s, a bakery that serves delicious apple pie and cappuccino with a lot of other great smelling pastries, apart from serving the precious commodity of free-Wi-Fi! The place is frequented more by travellers for its free Wi-Fi, and one can see backpackers browsing and transferring files from laptops.