12.30.2012 Before seeing everything else in India, our travel started in Darjeeling (It was actually a good start to get oriented with the country, I believe.). We arrived the day before New Year’s Eve via cramped tiny jeep and bumpy roads. Darjeeling seem to have that Nepali vibe. People speak Nepali, and they have momos on the menu! We just came from Nepal couple of days ago and here we are again, up in the mountains, but in a lower altitude. Here, you get a great view of the Mt. Kanchendzonga – the third highest mountain in the world.
Darjeeling is a region and a town that is clearly alive and well. It has excellent climate all year round – very cold in the night, and during the days, it is perfect. This pretty little town tucked in the foothills of the Himalayas was a favorite during the English Raj era, hence the big part of the tea.
Our first mission is to find other travelers to celebrate the New Year’s Eve with. We already wrote to a couple of Couchsurfers earlier that week and we were fortunate to get a reply from a local woman living in Darjeeling – Christabel.
We met her the next day at the Glenary’s in Nehru Rd., spent a couple of hours chatting with her, giving us helpful information about her hometown, which places to visit, etc. Nice thing about Couchsurfing: you don’t really have to host or “surf” on someone else’s couch – meeting people to hang out with, chat over a coffee or drink is just enough to totally sink into a different culture and make new friends.
The rest of days we are in Darjeeling, we went to see the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, the toy train, and a couple of monasteries which names I forgot.
The HMI was started in 1954, as a result of the success of Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Everest with Edmund Hilary in 1953. It has two museums – mountaineering and Everest – as well as a training department that runs courses in mountaineering. There’s also the zoo which is housed in the same complex as the HMI. The zoo is small but very well kept. I was delighted to see the red panda, Royal Bengal Tiger and the Black Himalayan Bear.
One of the main attractions in Darjeeling is to enjoy a ride on the Himalayan Train, lovingly named the Toy Train.
We also stopped by the Mall Rd. Mall road is actually a very narrow street with long stretch of shops and kiosks on both sides. Here, one can buy local handicrafts, souvenirs, yak wools, finger foods and whatnots.
2km from the Khanchendzonga view point, is the Bhutia Busty Gompa. It is said that this gompa stores the original Tibetan Book of the Dead. We actually came here to see that. But there was a big notice by the entrance, saying that the a particular guide book was wrong about this information for they never really had the book at all.
We could’ve visited some more interesting places in Darjeeling but the fog and cold prevented us from further explorations.
Our next stop: Sikkim