Friday, November 12, 2010

A short trip to Darjeeling

Let me begin by showing these two pictures:

This is a picture (post card) of Darjeeling which is more than 90 years old. 

When we were leaving Darjeeling little did I know I was almost at the same spot for taking the picture!

There was a definite chance for me to visit Darjeeling in 1990 when our official cricket team went to Calcutta for a tournament.  Many team mates had planned to visit the Queen of Hills after the engagement, but I opted out to reach home to be with my young child.  Another opportunity was there about ten years later, but things did not take off.  In 2008, there arose the real chance and that too by air, thanks to our Bharat Sarkar.  It was the first time we and many such families had their maiden flight experience.

I had not seen an Airport.  Bangalore International Airport was open a few months before.

For the first time, sitting in an aircraft and watching with thrill!

Bagdogra is the nearest air connection.  From there we first reached Gangtok, (Darjeeling was on the 3rd day) the beautiful hill capital city of Sikkim.  I must say, one of the cleanest!  It was a journey of nearly five hours, mostly through winding roads in the beautiful hills.  For most of the journey River Teesta accompanied us on one side.  A lovely river with its bluish green water.  I had been following it during the flight and wondering which river it must be. We even got down at one point to have a break in the road journey and made our feet wet in the very cold water coming down from the icy mountains.   

The sand there was like white talcum powder!

We reached Gangtok at dinner time.

When I woke up early morning, darkness was starting to brighten the Gangtok skies.   I stood near the window not knowing which is east.  I was just waiting to see what happens.  I soon guaged that the rays of the sun would fall on this moutain peak and what a sight it presented!  I woke up my family to have a look at a sight we wont be getting down here in Mysore.  Luckily there was no fog that morning.  Fog in those areas can be a factor to sight-seeing visitors in the morning.

First rays of the sun on a snow-capped peak and then when the sun was brighter and higher, nothing spectacular!

That day, we were taken through very tough and winding ghat roads in huge mountains.  We enjoyed the beauty of the enchanting hill ranges, the greenery, the typical terrain, the slopes, the depth of great valleys. 

Click to enlarge - observe the winding roads in the background hill.  An Indian Army truck is on the left. They are always moving about as this is close to the China border.

On the way we had stopped by to appreciate a little water fall.  It is named as the Kynognosla Water fall.

Kyongnosla Water Fall, J.N.Road

Crystal clear water

Both Nathula Pass and Baba Mandir are 25 km from this spot.  But since Nathula was closed that day, he took us to Baba Mandir.

Border Roads Organization maintains all these very tough roads. Land slides are common.
After the long journey, we reached Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir which is a worshipping place esp. for the Army people as it is attached with a legend. It is close to Sino-Indian border and in a remote place that is usually very cold.

On our long return journey to Gangtok, we saw, felt and stepped on snow for the first time!  We had seen ice only in our refrigerator!

The sun was going down and the clouds made the late afternoon darker as we were closing in on Tsongmo Lake there.

We stopped by the Tsomgmo Lake and took a feel on yak back.  We only have shiny buffaloes in our area but this huge hairy creatures dressed like our Kole Basavas presented a menacing appearance, yet they were very docile tame bulls.

Next morning we left Gangtok for Darjeeling, again by road. Yet another long and fascinating journey on winding hair-pin bends amidst greenery of the best kind - pine trees and the likes took us to Darjeeling.

This is the picture from an old 1895 book - "Glimpses of India" by J.H.Fairneux.  We would surely have used that same road with the rail track of the great Himalayan Railway, beside.

It was drizzling a bit but cleared off by afternoon.  Hill weather is so unpredictable, they say.  We were taken to Ganga Maya Park that evening. 

I saw a Fuschia flower for the first time. 
Again, another picture from that old book.

When I saw pictures of Darjeeling Loops in the old book and also in a couple of 1920 Post cards, I was wondering what they were. 

The Loop was created to lower the gradient of ascent of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in Darjeeling.  At this point, the tracks spiral around over itself through a tunnel and over a hilltop.  It is now known as Batasia Loop and in the 1990s was made into a Memorial.

This is a picture postcard I bought in Darjeeling to compare the scenes from the old book!

This is my picture.

Another loop, picture from that old book.

Ghum is at an altitude of 2275.65 m ASL and boasts as the highest altitude railway station.  The Himalayan Darjeeling Railway was opened in 1881 and is under the UNESCO.  Read the tablet in this picture.

This is the narrow-gauge track.  We had no time to travel by this lovely little train on such a track. But we were content in seeing a vintage steam engine getting ready in the station. (Pictured above).

Next early morning was the trip to Tiger Hill.  It is renown for its vantage point where we can see the panorama of the Kanchanjunga range and also the sunrise point.  People from all over the world throng to this place to the spectacular sight when the first rays of sunlight fall on the high peaks and the beautiful play of colours!  All this, provided, the sky is clear and fogless. 

It was very cold when we went there well ahead of sunrise time, like the hundreds who were already there.  Tea was served free.  It is at an altitude of 2585 m ASL. Click on this picture to see the temperatures that prevail!  It was biting cold!

When it began to brighten up, we saw low hanging clouds that never moved or changed thickness! 

Everyone there was tense and expecting disappointment due to such skies. They said, the previous day's view was excellent! But that is hill weather. When the sun was seen peeping between small gaps of clouds, we saw its rays on the hill ranges like this.  We had to content with it.  But the Gangtok window view of the orange peak was some solace after all!

Sunrise at Tiger Hill.

Picture below is by my daughter who was fortunate to get this view as the sun rose higher, but at that time, the mountain range was obscured by clouds.

If conditions were fine, a view like in the borrowed picture below would have enthralled all.

Our next place to visit after breakfast was to the Darjeeling Zoo and Himalayan Mountaineering Institute museum.  It was fascinating to see some rare animals and the items used by great mountaineers in earlier times.  Tenzing is a name that stands tall there.

This is Tenzing Rock.

Next was a visit to the vast Tea estates. Darjeeling Tea is world renown.

It was time to return towards Bagdogra.  We stepped into the neighbouring country of Nepal!!  That border town (forgotten name) attracts such tourists for shopping.  Below is a picture of that shopping street.

After that, we were taken to a sleepy little town of Mirik. 
There is a calm lake, but boating that day was having a holiday. 

The final place on the agenda was Kolkata (formerly Calcutta and Indian capital city till 1911).  We were taken to Belur Math and Dakshineshwar.

Victoria Memorial and Science City.

After an enjoyable tour, we flew back home. Thanks for visiting this blog.