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Rhododendrons on rolling hills

Rhododendrons on rolling hills

HYDERABAD: It’s springtime in the Himalayas and the riot of colours had me in raptures. Huge trees of white Magnolias filled my frames, the rich visuals enhanced by a sprinkling of the occasional pink Magnolias. The omnipresent Rhododendrons in myriad hues were simply overpowering!
One can’t contain this joyous beauty: it fills you up and yet you want more! Sterling Darjeeling, where I stayed had a picture postcard view right outside my window: the gorgeous Kanchenjunga covered in a thin veil of mist, an alluring scene, a perpetual beauty one can’t take one’s eyes off.
The resort is located in Ghoom, a hilly locality at a height of 7,407 ft and 6 km away from Darjeeling town: a short drive would take me to nearby interesting places.

Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park

It is a high altitude zoo specializing in breeding animals adapted to alpine conditions with captive breeding programmes for the snow leopard, the critically endangered Himalayan wolf and the red panda. It was my first time with red pandas and what a delightful time I had!! Four pandas were actively jumping, running, chasing each other, generally having fun and providing joy to the onlookers.

Though nocturnal, they seemed to be quite active during the day. Could it be because of the noisy visitors around? Two huge black bears were either in an embrace or wrestling – I couldn’t make out which. The snow leopard was floppy and lying lifeless for almost an hour that I was around. In spite of people calling out it never moved an inch. I wondered if the poor animal was missing snow.

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and Museum

Part of the Zoo campus, HMI comprises of a residential school for mountaineering students, Swiss-style houses for the Sherpa trainers and a museum. Set up in 1957, India’s oldest mountaineering museum serves as a key resource for researchers and students of mountaineering. The museum with many mountaineering artefacts and expedition displays, though open to the public, prohibits photography inside.

Sunrise at Tiger Hill

I got up at an ungodly hour (3.30 am) in the biting cold, left at 4 am, after a 30 minute ride (travelling through hairpin bends that churned my stomach), we reached the Tiger Hill that promises a gorgeous view of the sunrise and the magnificent Kanchenjunga reflected in the first golden sun rays. Hundreds of tourists gathered at the venue by 4.30 and the crowds were swelling every minute: some wrapped in heavy woollens some in thin cotton dhotis and shawls, all waiting for the sun to appear.
I waited patiently along with hundreds of people. There were vendors doing a brisk business selling woollen caps and mufflers on ‘charpai’ stalls and Maruti vans. Chatty women sold coffee and cigarettes promising a bright sunrise that morning after a couple of cloudy days.

The gigantic structure of a promised gallery (for people to sit and watch the sunrise) stood with scaffolding poles, cement and sand still lying around: a proof of the project that has been going on since 2013. Amidst this rubble, I chose a spot to sit and watch the promised glittering Kanchenjunga. But it was not to be. After a long wait, the sun made a brief appearance for a few minutes, by then the Kanchenjunga was covered with mist/clouds, only to reappear much later fully covered in snow.
Meanwhile, the sun left on his business to other parts of the world. Disappointed? Not really...it was a beautiful experience...a misty Kanchenjunga looked even more mysterious!

People made full use of the photo ops offered by Tiger Hill with KJ as the backdrop. Hundreds of selfies were clicked for posterity and social media. As we drove down the hill, the discarded coffee cups looked like white flowers stuck in the sloping grass: don’t blame my eyes, for I got so used to seeing pretty flowers all the time in hill slopes.

Japanese Peace Pagoda

Situated on the slopes of the Jalapahar Hills, a few kilometres from the town of Darjeeling, the Peace Pagoda is designed to help people of all faiths to unite in their search for world peace: it houses the four avatars of Buddha including Maitreya Buddha.

As I was climbing the hill, the lovely pink Magnolia flowers filled my heart with joy: as the petals drifted down at the gentle breeze, I stood there overwhelmed by this sudden shower of blessings.
The Pagoda stood serene in its pristine white encircling me with peace and love...I bowed in gratitude.
Moments like this lift me up taking me higher in my thoughts and actions: the proof is, I desisted from taking out the camera for recording. Don’t we lose many such precious moments trying to capture with a gadget what we need to receive with our inner self?

Fact File:
Interesting places near Darjeeling:
Lamahatta Gardens: Spring is the best time to see all its splendour!
Mirik Lake: Picnic spot with boating facilities.
Seemana View Point: in the Indo-Nepal border, a 60 feet by 40 feet plateau where the road is India’s and the viewing area falls in Nepal.
Flash your identity card at the check post and enter another country at no extra cost!!
Grab imported goods in Pashupati Market (Nepal); prices here are a steal!

(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; she blogs at ijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)

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