Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dirt on Darjeeling

I have very little to say about Darjeeling, and even the little that I do have to say about it is hardly flattering. Touted as the “Queen of Hills”, Darjeeling really is about as attractive as the present Queen of England. You would do yourself and the filthy, crowded hill station a huge favor if you choose to give it a miss!

The Himalayan Zoological Park here (for me it’s all about the four-leggeds, huh?) houses quite a number of animals and boasts of a successful snow leopard breeding program. The snow leopards here have far too much attitude – or so I say because I am rather peeved after I narrowly missed being peed on by one audacious kitty.

If museums and stuffed dead beings in glass cabinets are your things, then a visit to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is in order. This has a huge amount of information on the history of high altitude climbs and is the place where Tenzing Norgay was laid to rest.

The Japanese temple and Peace Pagoda are also places of some note and relatively uncrowded. Tourists are too busy gawking at the tea-field covered slopes, snapping pictures of a hazy Kanchenzonga, or haggling at the curio shops in the market and getting ripped off.

Chunnu Summer Falls (yes, that is the name, I fool you not) and the Rock Garden also offer some good photo ops. We were fortunate enough to have my enthusiastic cousin along who more than willingly draped herself in the traditional Nepali garb being rented at the place and posed brilliantly, even braving our hysterical laughter and mockery.

Batasia Loop is a Gorkha war memorial, which has a good view of the Himalayas. The Himalayan railway track loops around the garden, giving the place its name.

The drive to Kalimpong from Darjeeling was quite pretty – lush green coniferous trees dotted with colorful flowers and fluttering Buddhist prayer flags. Kalimpong is a street shopper’s haven. At this time of year, the markets have an array of jackets, jumpers and sweaters to choose from. The pavement vendors also offer a lot of “Abibas” and “Roobok” gear—so much for brand consciousness.

If you’re looking to set up a house with dainty crockery and bone china, this place is a steal! I almost bought out the first store we entered – tea sets, little bone china bowls with prints of the Chinese zodiac and geishas, delicate paddling porcelain tortoises – all at significantly lower rates than places like Gangtok.

Two words for Darjeeling: “Pooh pooh!” All right, if I sounded too harsh, then here’s something in its defense – buy the oranges, they are divine! There is plenty of the famous Darjeeling tea to be bought too, but overall, this tourist hotspot barely even qualifies as Sikkim’s poorest and ugliest cousin thrice removed. As for Kalimpong, shop till you drop, but it is best if you know someone local who can function as a guide.

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