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April 12-18: Darjeeling

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009


Above Picture – the look at the Himalayan Mtns from the plane 

Darjeeling:   Another early morning rise and departure, after a late night at our driver’s home in Delhi.  We wanted to end our trip to India with a visit to a town overlooking a Himalayan Mountain range.  Tim grew up in the foothills of the Himalayans at about 6000 feet, and wanted the kids to see its beauty, plus to get away from the heat.  We thought of going to Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lamai resides, but after some research, we decided to go back to the state of West Bengal, and its premier hill town, Darjeeling (the same name as on the tea label), then fly out of India through Kolkata (not a pleasant thought – but the cheapest). Darjeeling also seemed closer to the mountains than Dharamsala, and we hoped to be able to get a better view.

The main attraction of Darjeeling is the cool air, the tea plantations, the colonial aspect of the town, and the mountain range.  You can see the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th highest mountains in the world (Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, and Makalu). The people in Darjeeling have mostly emigrated from Nepal, which is right next door.

The road up to Darjeeling follows a narrow switchback paved road with spectacular views of the valley.  The road condition was like off-roading for 3 hours but you are on a “paved” road.  There was actually more rock than pavement. It amazes me how bad the infrastructure of Indian roads still are from 30 years ago. 

The Johnson brothers will understand this description of the town, having grown up in a similar town in Pakistan. The town has a main pedestrian boulevard (The Mall), like in Murree, but is situated on the top of a steep ridge, and there really are no trees left or nice hiking locations around the town, unlike in Murree.  The whole hillside is buildings.  It is packed with tourist hotels.  It is also truly a tourist town, mostly Indian tourists getting away from the heat of the plains.   However, it still had that hill town Murree “feel” that I wanted the kids to get.  The plan for the first two days was to let the kids sleep in and rest after the sightseeing that we had been doing.  A couple of the attractions were the Himalayan Mountain Institute developed by Tensing Norgay (he and Hillary were the 1st to climb Everest), the Himalayan Zoo, the Tibet Refugee Center, the tea plantations, the churches and schools developed by the British, a small gauge “toy” steam train (at one time considered the highest train rail in the world), and some trekking into the mountains.

Our biggest disappointment was that in the days that we were there, the clouds and fog never lifted.  We never got to see the Himalayan mountain range and the 3rd highest mountain in the world that sits right at the back door of Darjeeling.  We decided to connect with a trekking company and take a two day/one night trek into the mountains to get a little closer in the hopes that a different valley would have a weather pattern that would allow us to see the mountains.  (See separate blog on the trek)

The condition of the road.  It was actually worse than this.  The people in this specific area are trying to get it recognized as a state.  In this manner, they will get more state funding for infrastructure.  The government has balked at this probably due to the fact that years ago there was unrest due to the people wanting to get their own country called Ghurkaland.


How do you like this view?  Two cars can barely pass each other. 


The building up of the hillside to accomodate a road.


The British built this “toy” small gauge train that runs from the valley floor to the town. 


This is the view that we were meant to see.


This is what we got for the 5 days we were there.  A little discouraging.


Darjeeling Tea – I think back when the British were here, they importated some Chinese tea plants.  But do to the soil and climate, the tea plant changed and evolved into its own distinct taste – from Darjeeling.


The “mall” like Muree


There was a movement to break away from India, because it really is more like Nepal than like India in culture and people.  It was to be called Ghorkaland


Being a steep hillside, men and women cart huge loads up and down for the market and sale.


The night bazaar – the lanterns are all from bottled gas


These stalls are set up and broken down every morning and evening.  The women or men putting the “goods” away in tin trunks or huge gunnys sacks.  Then they cart them up and down the hill to their home.


The people being more Nepali, are more connected to Buddhism, but Hinduism still exists here.  Nepal Buddhism is different than what we say in Thailand or Malaysia.  Here there are more “prayer” flags and spinning wheels (next picture).


This was a strange statement next to the Buddhist shrine/temple.   I didn’t think they prayed or honored such inanimate objects.


Himalayan Mountain Institute:  Tenzing Norgay made Darjeeling his home.  He founded this climbing Institute a year after he scaled Everest.  The Institute provides mountaineering training courses and has taught some of India’s leading mountaineers.  I (Tim) have always enjoyed looking at and reading about mountaineering expeditions.  Early in life, I always envisioned the idea of being the physiologist on an expedition that would monitor the climbers’ health while hanging out at base camp.  Anyways, it was neat to see all the old pictures and gear of early expeditions to Everest and the actual gear that Tenzing used on his famous Everest climb.   They also showed climbing equipment from earlier expeditions (1940’s).  To think that was the type of shoe and backpack they used is incredible considering all the high tech equipment that is used today.


These are THE  actual flags that were used in the HIllary/Tenzings climb of Everest and also the American, Indian, and two other countries 1st ascents of Everest


Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Center:  This center was established in 1959 and comprises a home for the aged, school, orphanage, clinic, and craft workshops that produce woodcarvings, carpets, leather and woolen items for sale.   There is also an exhibition about the history of the Chinese occupation of Tibet and its struggle to gain its nation back. 


Old women weaving – this picture is primarily for Natalie’s mother since she does this kind of weaving.  She actually designed and produced her own loom.


India has been kind to the Tibetan cause.  The Dalai Lama lives in Dharmsala in northwest India.


Quotes form the Dalai Lama


The next Dalai Lama is chosen by the  present Dalai Lama himself.  They call him the Panchen Lama.  Well, as you can see from this picture, he has been missing for close to 15 years now.  The belief is the Chinese have abducted him and hidden him away.


Himalayan Zoological Park:  This park/zoo was established to study, conserve, and preserve Himalayan fauna and to exhibit Himalayan wildlife.  The main attractions are the Himalayan Red Panda, Black Bears, Snow Leopards, Tibetan wolf, and Siberian tigers.  Again, Annika was in heaven, looking at animals.


April 10-11: Jaipur (2nd)

Sunday, April 26th, 2009


After our lunch break, AC cool-off time, we headed to the following:

Hawa Mahal:  the cities most distinctive landmark, a honeycombed, pink sandstone structure.  A five story building constructed in 1799 to enable the ladies of the royal household to watch the life and processions of the city without having to be in it or be seen (sounds very Islamic).  The architecture is considered Rajput. 


Closer up view:  halla-2c1.jpg

Below  picture is the backside or the above.  It is the entrance to the “city view” for the women of the court.


At the top – looking out over the city


The main corridors of the Mahal


The small half circle sitting area for the women to look out on the city


The intricate carvings and viewing window


The view from the windowhalla-3e.jpg

Went to a carpet and ajrak “cloth” making emporium.  The men below are using blocks to print the color onto the cloth (black, red, yellow, white, etc).  It then is put into a chemical to make the colors fast.  30 years ago they used to use wax – its like batiking.


Rajasthani carpet making.  Josh tried his hand at it.  Each knot is tied and cut.  Three to four people are working on the rug at the same time.


City Palace:  is a huge complex of courtyards and buildings.   One part of the complex is where the present maharaja actually lives.  If he’s in residence, there’s a state flag flying above the residence, which happened to be the case while we were there.


This was a guest house for dignitaries, but is now just a museum.


Note the marble carved railings and intricate detail


Another meeting place – notice the wood door with its inticate metal art workings.


Extravagant chandeliors and decorative work – obviously a womens area


The backside of the “Maharaja’s Palace Residence”.  I am surprised we would get so close. Security didn’t seem to be too heavy.  This courtyard was very unique.  There were 4 doors situated around the courtyard.  Each door was colored differently base upon the four seasons: red, yellow, blue, green.  They were beautiful and exquisite.


Just an interesting travel shot


The Maharaja’s “Lake Palace”


Dinner at our Driver’s House! Our driver did not speak much English and was quite excited that Tim could speak Hindi.  They had long, roving conversations that Tim could catch maybe 80% of.  It was both a blessing but also kind of a curse.  Playing the ignorant “foreigner/tourist” can sometimes be helpful – not getting into a big discussion or debate.  Sometimes, when on the streets, Tim would use English, and then, when we knew we were being scammed, he would turn on the Hindi and get a better price.  During the drive, Natalie mentioned that it has been a shame that we have not been able to see what a family life is like.  We see what the city life looks like, the businesses, the tourist sites, but have not gotten into a home.  Well, while Tim was conversing with the driver, the driver asked us if we could meet his family when we arrived back in Delhi.  He really wanted to show his family this American family with a guy who spoke Hindi.  We accepted. Tim felt comfortable accepting this invite, having spoken so much with the driver. Natalie was a little worried at first (the protective mother), but decided there would be safety in numbers and the experience was too good to pass up. Plus, the gut feeling was that our driver, Amar, really did want to just share his life with us.  

So, we arrived back in Delhi, checked into our hotel by the airport then headed to the opposite end of Delhi into a more “very low end” neighborhood (some would consider it more like a ghetto – not in the bad sense of the word – just economically).  The driver apologized that he lived in only one room, but we said that didn’t matter.  We were hoping to  stay a couple hours because everyone was tired and we had a 5 o’clock wake up to catch our flight to Darjeeling and the Himalayas.  We thought once we got there, that we would eat, talk a little, and we would be gone.  Well, it turned into a four-hour visit, with us being the center of attraction for the whole neighborhood.  Every ten minutes or so, another set of family members would come in to see us, along with kids and mothers from other parts of the community.  With nothing to do but sit and smile, the kids handled this very, very well.  They really came through like troopers without complaining or putting up a big fuss.  The curry and rice were great.  They did treat us like royalty.  However, it is a little different than what we are used to.  Due to the small room, we did not eat together.  The family served us first and would eat after we left, so they all stood there watching us eat, which Tim said was normal.  Tim brought out the camera and that became a big hit, taking pictures.  The entertainment of the evening was to see themselves on the replay.  It almost seemed that they had never seen a photo of themselves.  The giddiness and laughing that accompanied this was interesting and fun to watch.  We promised to send them pictures once we arrived back in the states.  It was so great to see another aspect of India – a huge family and neighborhood that was so obviously closely connected. It was also sobering to realize that our driver’s rented home was about the size of our master bathroom. There was one bed that the whole family slept on (he had two kids, aged 8 and 6), and they cooked in the corner on a small burner. All the chopping and preparation for a typical Indian meal, took place squatting on the floor. I’m not sure where the washing up took place. This was one of the highlights of our trip. The pictures that follow are just people pictures, but they take place in a room no bigger than maybe 10x10ft.  Traveling through India you constantly see the trash and garbage and  wonder what a home would look like.  Well, the inner “sanctuary” is often very clean. Everyone was dressed up with bright colors and very clean. The inner “sanctuary” tends to be clean and taken care of.  Its a shame that the corporate, group, city cleanliness does not seem to happen.  Everyone seemed to enjoy each other and the “event”.family-11.jpgfamily-21.jpgfamily-3.jpgfamily5.jpgfamily-4.jpg

Our driver and his

April 10-11: Jaipur (1st)

Friday, April 24th, 2009
halla-4.jpg Jaipur:  called the “City of Victory” is totally chaotic and congested, however, it still tickles the travelers pink.  It is also called the pink city, more on that later.  ... [Continue reading this entry]

April 9: Agra

Friday, April 24th, 2009
acar-driver.jpg Above:  the jeep we took on our driving trip to Agra, Jaipur, and back to Delhi  Agra:  home of the one of the seven wonders of the world – the Taj Mahal,  ... [Continue reading this entry]

April 7-8: Delhi

Sunday, April 19th, 2009
sights-13.jpg India Gate - built by the British - it is down from this gate and through the "concourse" where the funeral march scene in the movie Ghandi took place.   Delhi:  “encapsulates two ... [Continue reading this entry]

April 5-6: Veranasi

Thursday, April 16th, 2009
hotel-v.jpg VARANASI:  (above - hotel we stayed at - inside old pictures of maharajas, the british, etc) Leaving Kolkata, we took a 12 hour overnight train to Varanasi. This time, we had two ... [Continue reading this entry]

April 2-4: Kolkatta (India)

Thursday, April 16th, 2009
indiaphoto_edited-2.jpg  Sorry, but finally back on the web due to travel and lack of internet avalability.  We have reduced our India trip to only a couple of weeks ... [Continue reading this entry]

Mar 28-31: Pai

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009
travel-11.jpg Leaving Chiang Mai to head up north to Pai.  Above, we now used another form of transportation - a minibus. Pai:  North Eastern area of Thailand – next to the Burmese ... [Continue reading this entry]

Mar 22-27: Chiang Mai

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009
train-1.jpg Leaving Bankok - another new travel experience - night sleeper trains in Thailand - you start out with 2 sitting seats ... [Continue reading this entry]

Mar 19-21: Bankok

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009
family-14.jpg Time to catch up on our travels: Josh seen here waiting in Siagon airport drooling over a toblerone chocolate bar while waiting to catch the flight back to ... [Continue reading this entry]