|North India: Darjeeling and Sikkim [pic]|
I visited the North India in March with a group of photography hobbyists. It was a noteworthy one.
The flight from Singapore to Kalkota was uneventful. From there, a short domestic flight took us to the Bagdogra Airport where the journey to the North really began. From then on, we traveled in a car, hired with a driver.
March to June is the best time to visit before the rainy season begins from June to September.
|5-hr drive via winding road to Darjeeling [pic]|
First stop: Darjeeling
The car ride was a roller-coaster adventure. It went up and down the scenic Himalayan Range for about five hours before we reached the Darjeeling town. It may be puke-inducing for some.
Located on an average elevation of 6710 ft (2045 m), the weather is cool in March. Owing to its fine weather, the British Raj set up their summer capital there to escape the southern heat.
The town was originally designed for a population of 10,000. It has now grown to more than 100,000. This has given tremendous pressure to urban infrastructure and caused environmental problems. Our car had to negotiate through very narrow roads and some of those were next to the edge of cliffs. Totally hair-raising at some point.
|The prized Darjeeling Tea has often been called |
the "Champagne of Tea" [pic]
Darjeeling is well known for its tea plantation.
In 1839, a British surgeon, Dr Campbell started tea plantation there with seeds stolen from China. Legend has it that the British brought in tea farmers from China to help cultivate the tea. Today, the tea industry is one of the top two contributors to the Darjeeling economy. The other is tourism.
The prized Darjeeling Tea has often been called the "Champagne of Tea". I am no tea connoisseur but I thought it was quite convincing after just a few sips.
|Vegetables peddler in Darjeeling [pic]|
The Darjeeling People
The phrase 'colorful and friendly' sums it all.
The town is a melting pot of various ethnic groups and majority of them are the Gurkhas. With Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity being the three largest religions there, we found many historial temples and churches.
The literacy rate in the town area is high and English is a commonly spoken language.
|The Kanchengjunga, the world's third-highest peak, |
seen from the Tiger Hill [pic]
The story would not be complete without the mention of the majestic mountains.
Located on the Himalayan Range, Darjeeling is nicknamed 'Queen of the Hills'. About 11km from Darjeeling town, we watched the sunrise from the Tiger Hill. It was insanely chilly but well compensated by the awesome view. You would get to view the Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world from there.
|The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway aka the "Toy Train" [pic]|
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is affectionately known as the "Toy Train". To me, it is anything but a toy.
Built between 1879 and 1881, the railway is about 78 km (48 mi) long. Its elevation rises to 2200 m (7218 ft) at the Ghoom Station. That makes it the highest train station in India. The vintage tourist train that plies between Darjeeling to Ghoom still runs on steam locomotives.
The tourists would ride on the "toy train" with great amusement while the locals see it as a mode of inter-town transport. To the UNESCO, it has such outstanding universal value that they declared it a World Heritage site in 1999.
|Roadside stalls are within reach from the train |
|Star trails above the St Andrew Church |
[credit: Yahua Tan]
Darjeeling is also a trekkers' paradise. Given more time, that might be the next best thing to do. The rest of the story can been 'read' from the photos in the North India photo gallery.
Next stop: Sikkim