29.07.2016 - 06.08.2016
Another airport & another departure lounge..Left an overcast Darjeeling at 6am this morning with a reserved taxi at the cost of 1700 rupees, which I thought was a good deal for a three hour ride to Bagdogra Airport..Thanks to my new found friends at the hotel, who would normally arrange the transport with a slight commission for themselves..Thanks guys & hope you enjoyed the Premium Blend ... And I'm not talking tea..!!!. In the peak season this fare can be around the Rs.2500-3000, depending on how hard you bargain & whether they are able to pick up business on the way back to Darjeeling.. A little early though, as my flight to Delhi is not scheduled for departure till 12:40pm, but I guess it's always best to play safe..
The monsoon weather has played havoc on some roads in the hills of this region with landslides & floods and though I was restricted to the city & it's surrounds due to the weather, it has been a very relaxing & enjoyable stay in Darjeeling over the last ten days..Met some wonderful people, made a few new friends, eaten some delicious local food ( not forgetting the Momos at Penang Restaurant."Yummo".) and visited a number of the highlights around town... Unexpectedly, I even managed a photoshoot for the popular Nuthmalls local tea room & restaurant in town.. All to mainly update their Website/Facebook page and new menus.. Looking forward to seeing the end results of my work...Thanks for the opportunity guys.!!!
Not one for visiting zoos due to the captivity of wild animals, I went against my better judgement & spent a few hours in the Darjeeling Zoological Park. Set on around 67 acres & at an elevation of 2,134m. it's considered as the largest high altitude zoo in India.. Opened in 1958 it's a short twenty minute walk out of town and worth the visit as it specialises in breeding programs for animals specific to the region's alpine conditions, including the endangered Snow Leopard, Himalayan Wolf, Goral (Mountain Goat), Siberian Tiger & the Red Panda..
Being a starting point for trekking & mountaineering their are some good retailers with famous brand names at less than half the price you'd pay at home and although shopping was not really on the list of things to do on this trip, obviously temptation got the better of me.!!
Another tick off to the bucket list and highlight has been the ride on the world famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, probably better known as the “Darjeeling Toy Train”..
Built as a 2ft. narrow gauge railway in 1879, it runs for 78kms.from a height of about 100metres at New Jalpaiguri to 2,200 at Darjeeling and had been declared as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999..The railroad was originally built & used during British colonial rule & the tea plantation owners, who flocked to the hills of Darjeeling for their summer holidays & escape the heat of the plains..
A must for any train buff or enthusiast, it’s an enjoyable round trip,taking in awesome views of the surrounding countryside & tea estates as it trundles through some quaint old villages & towns.. Prepare the need for a shower though, to wash away the ash & coal if you opt for the steam train ride. All part of the fun & excitement I guess..!!..
Costs are minimal too..at around Rs.700 (Diesel) & Rs.1100 (Steam)..and the one advantage of low season as I found..”No crowds & families with screaming children”..I had a compartment all to myself with the full attention of the guard & his tips & ideas from where to be with the camera..A real bonus..!!!
The Grace Inn, my hotel for the ten days in Darjeeling was clean & comfortable with a good bunch of young Nepali staff and being situated at a slightly higher level to the city it did offer some outstanding views towards Sikkim, Bhutan & the Himalayas .. Being the quiet season, for the first few days I did have the hotel all to myself, so the odd early evening was spent watching an Indian movie with the guys over a cup of chai, including, Yes.!!. an old black & white silent Charlie Chaplin film.. Watching laughter & giggles from the guys was probably the more hilarious part of the evening than the movie.!!
Surprisingly, english is widely spoken & understood in this area & with far better grammar & pronunciation than I have heard in other parts of India..Schools abound in and around the city..mainly private.!!..and it's been fun & interesting watching the schools at morning practice on the main square in town, in preparation for Independence Day celebrations on the 14th. of August..
With just over a week to go before I'm back in England, I thought a freshen up should be on the to do list, so the local street barber was my first appointment.. Never a disappointment in India..these guys do an amazing job..Haircut, shampoo & a head massage for Rs.60... Rs.100 & a cup of chai with him while he worked on his next customer made his day & me feeling a lot smarter & tidier.!!.. Another friend established.!!!!
Check in call for IndiGo flight 6E-472 to Delhi has now been called, so here goes, for the next & final stage of my stay in India...On this trip..!!
Weather aside, Darjeeling has been one of the highlights on this trip through the north of India..Perhaps because it’s a newly ventured region for me with so much more to see & explore.
So no doubt I look forward to being back again soon.!!