My eyes were closed, but all I could think of was when was I going to see the sunrise at Tiger Hills. As soon as my Alarm went off at 3:30 am, I got ready to hop in the car and ride to the Tiger Hills, Darjeeling.
I arrived there at around 4:30. It was freezing out there. I have seen winters in my town. But this chilly was out of the world. What can I say, they are closer to the Himalayas! The vegetation here is Alpine as well.
SUNRISE AT THE TIGER HILLS
I forgot to wear my gloves, and my fingers became dead. It was a miracle that I was able to click the pictures. Sunrise at the Tiger Hills is all about luck; you see the sun or the clouds will shadow the rise.
The picture you see above, where the sky is orange-red, is taken when the sun is about to rise.
And after the sunrise, you can see the glowing yellow ball of light amidst the clouds. It was surreal to see the sun play hide and seek with the watchers. I have a video made of it; it is funny how the sun showed up when I asked it to *winks*.
GETTING DOLLED UP
Just after watching the sunrise, we headed towards the Batasia Loop. The traffic on the way back was horrible. We reached the loop at around 8. It is an Eco- Garden, where there is the track for the famous Toy Train of Darjeeling.
In the morning you can’t see the Toy Train travel on the tracks. But at least you can see the War Memorial and get dressed up in traditional tea picking dress.
The vendors charge 50 INR for one costume. And if you hand them your camera, they can click your pictures. You don’t need to hire a photographer to click your pic because they will charge 100 INR.
After all the hustle and bustle of the Batasia Loop, we headed straight to our hotel to eat our breakfast. A short break and we were ready to start our Day Trip around Darjeeling.
RISKY DRIVE & A QUIET GARDEN
Driving in the hills is dangerous, but it is also deadly, and I did not know it. My driver was a guy named Naren, who was a kickass driver.
When I got scared of descending 6,000 ft below, he was so thoughtful. He pulled over and clicked some pics of me, then he put on his sunglasses and said “ Don’t Worry!” in that cute, weird North Eastern Accent.
All throughout the drive, my heart was in my throat. I finally reached my destination, the Ganga Maya Park. It was quite unlike any tourist destination, and there were little to no visitors. I roamed around and clicked some beautiful pictures in the Hilly Forests.
At the end of the park was a waterfall, not just a waterfall, there was also a reservoir below it. As I was on a trip of changing myself, I thought to take a risk. To be honest, I don’t know how to swim, I am super- freaked out when I see a lot of water. You can call it hydrophobia, but I call it “fear of drowning.”
But I took the chance and booked a boat and paddled my way around the tank. I didn’t feel a twinge of fear, I was a bit apprehensive in the start, but later I enjoyed the ride. The waterfall from up close was beautiful.
OVER-RATED TOURIST SPOTS
If you ever visit Darjeeling, you will know that Rock Garden is one of the overrated destinations here. I was excited to visit it as I heard it is made of rock.
But once I saw it, I was disappointed. The crowds filled every level of the park. And you hike and hike from one level to the other to see nothing except the made up scenery. I personally did not enjoy my time here. You can see my pic, do I look happy? Duh no!
ANIMALS AND MOUNTAINEERING
The other most hyped spots here are the Zoo and the HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute). My next destination was the Zoo. As a kid, I had never been to one. So this was my first time, and my *inner-11 year old* just squealed at the prospect of seeing Leopards and Tigers.
The cages at the Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park are huge. It is designed that way to make the animals feel at home. There were different kinds of Animals here, ranging from snow leopard to yaks. It was a joy to watch them.
Just next to it was the HMI. It is a mecca for the hiking enthusiasts. It not only has all the amenities to train the Mountaineers but it also has a superbly equipped museum. Cameras are a no-no inside the museum. So you cannot click pictures. But inside the museum, you get to see the gears used by famous mountaineers like Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary.
TEA AND PEACE
After a long day of sightseeing, my legs were sore, and my back sprained. Still, we had places to go. The tea garden we went to was one of the biggest in Darjeeling. The estate was huge, I just took a few steps around and soaked in the beautiful scenery. Just outside the estate, there is a stall which sells Darjeeling Tea.
They gave me tea; I tasted it. And then I bought four gigantic packets of Darjeeling tea. And as I am writing this, I am drinking tea made from those leaves.
The last stop was the best – the Peace Pagoda. Before my trip, I saw the Peace Pagoda in pictures and I dreamt about seeing the Peace Pagoda in person. When I saw it with my own eyes, the pictures did not do it any justice.
It is like a creamy white cake perched amidst the coniferous trees. If you want you can visit the Japanese temple, which comes before it. But I skipped that part and went straight for the Peace Pagoda.
It has three levels, and the top level has the “Parikrama.” It is on the third level that you see the various phases of Lord Buddha’s Life sculpted around the Golden Dome. It was gorgeous just seeing the sunshine on the sculptures at the highest man-made point in Darjeeling.