Thursday, May 17, 2007

Himalayan Holiday - More Darjeeling

We left the hotel for the second time shortly after nine. John, our guide, wasn't available as he was busy sorting out details for our forthcoming mountain trek. The replacement wasn't as good, not leaving the car when we were takeen somewhere, so John was missed. First of all we had to negotiate the narrow and crowded streets of Darjeeling. By now the trains were running, and they staked out there own claims to the roadspace. Our first stop was the zoo. It had a fair collection of local wildlife: leopards, snow leopards, wolves, deer, yaks and various birds. Unfortunately quite a few of the animals just paced up and down their enclosures. We also saw some red pandas; a native animal not related too the Giant Panda of China.

Adjoining the zoo was the Himalayan Mountain Institute. The museum had some interesting exhibits. These included the flags that Hilary and Tenzing took to the summit of Everest. There were also various items of equipment from expeditions past. More esoteric was the freeze dried carcass of an eagle recovered high up Everest by an Indian army expedition. Outside the museum was the last resting place of Tenzing Norgay - a black slab surrounded by prayer flags.

We left the zoo area and drove to Tenzing Rock. This small outcrop has a fixed rope for tourists to clamber up. San had a go and was soon at the top. She found going down a bit harder, as she wasn't too keen on leaning back as she descended the rope. A short distance down the road was a tea estate. There were a group of tea pluckers conveniently sited for photographs. After watching them for a while we had a cup of the estate's tea, and bought a small pack of leaves.

The race course was next on the bill. This is one of the smallest and highest race courses in the world, but it is currently under army occupation. Our guide showed us a nearby football pitch instead. We quickly moved on. This time we headed out of town and to the Tibetan Refugee centre. This part of India is home to many Tibetan refugees who have fled their homeland since the Chinese occupation. The refugee centre provides work and shelter for those without. It has a museum detailing the history of Tibet, and the centre itself. As might be expected there is a lot of China bashing, most of it deserved. We went to the shop where I bought a long sleeved stripey shirt, and San bought some miniature prayer flags and some incense.

Our local tour complete we headed back to the hotel. We decided to eat out at Glenary's, a nearby restaurant. The food was alright, but nothing special. After lunch we walked around the town and did some more shopping. We bought some traditional wooden masks. The faces look quite demonic, but apparently they're meant to be friendly. Shopping complete, we headed back to the hotel for another early night.



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