festivals continued 3-tihar or diwali
Tihar or diwali is the festival of lights celebrated by hindus all aver however the nepali diwali is a bit different it is a customery to adorn our doors and windows with marigold garlends.People come to know weather a family is celebrating the festival or not as sometime when some family members passes away we do not celebrate any festivals for one year of the persons death, this applies to paternal family members.
It is celebrated for five days.(will write in detail later) The festival begins with Kag (Crow) Tihar when Crows are given good food as they are considered as the messenger of the Lord of Death, Yama. The next day is Kukur (Dog) Tihar. This day the dog is given good food as it is considered the guardian of Yama.
The next day is Laxmi (Goddess of wealth) puja or Gai (Cow,
symbolises Laxmi) Tihar when the Goddess of Wealth and Cow are worshipped along with money and jewellery. On this day it is customary to gamble. In the evening young girls go from house to house singing Bhaileni (special songs of Tihar) and they are offered money and food. Nepalis celebrate this day with lights and firecrackers in the evening.
The next day is Govardhan puja, when the bull is worshipped. On this day boys go from house to house singing Deusee (singing special hymns to spread the message of Dasain), they are offered money and food.
The next day is Bhai Tika, when brothers go to their sister's house. There the sisters put a special tika on the forehead and garland them with a garland made of thread and marigold wishing them long life. Sisters offer them special food and brothers give them money and gifts. This is a day of merry making for the Nepalis.
Mirik can be visited as a day outing. It takes around 3-4 hours one way journey (by personal cab). Although there is not much to see there apart from a big lake and surrounding park, it is quite peaceful and romantic spending time there watching people on boats and ponies. One side of lake is covered by huge pine trees.
The journey from Darjeeling to Mirik is absolutely fabulous. All along the way you will find green tea gardens. Do remember to take photos there. I took some and they are just great.
As its famous with all hill stations,the Mall-which starts and finishes in Chowrasta, is quite famous ,you can just take a stroll if you are bored of sitting in chowrasta,you can have an awesome view through the way or you can enjoy the pony ride if you do not like to walk.
You'll love the sunrise if you are an early riser mostly people prefer to walk the Mall in the morning you'll find lots of people who will come for morning walks .
Darjeeling Planters' Club is the club of Darjeeling Planters Association, located in the town of Darjeeling, in the Indian state of West Bengal. This association was formed in 1892, though the first annual general meeting of the Darjeeling Planters was held in 1873 to consult problems of the Darjeeling tea estates. Later in 1892,The Darjeeling Planters Association was formed. The association was affiliated to the Indian Tea Association (I.T.A) in 1910.On 1st December,1951,under the post Independence scenario, DPA in their last extraordinary meting unanimously decided to dissolve the Association called the Darjeeling Branch of the Indian Tea Association (D.B.I.T.A).
According to Darjeeling Planters Association, "Darjeeling Tea is the World’s most expensive and exotically flavoured tea. Connoisseurs will assert that without Darjeeling, Tea would be like Wine without the prestige of Champagne".
Donna & Sandy in Darjeeling
"The Long Trip To Darjeeling"
We just returned from another Indian adventure. This one took us up to the northeastern part of India and aside from the normal means of transportation we traveled by ropeway (cable car), pedal boat, helicopter, and yak!
Our original plans were for a “winter” vacation and included going to Nepal but while we were in Darjeeling – with no snow in sight – we found out that there wasn’t any snow in Katmandu either. So we decided to go to Sikkim instead. As it turned out, it was a good choice. The day after we would have arrived in Nepal, the King dismantled the government and there were no planes in/out of Nepal, no phones (including cells), and worst of all - no Internet!
We woke at 4:30 a.m. to be at the airport by 5:50 for our flight to Kolkata (Calcutta). The flight from Mumbai was 2 hours long. Arriving in Kolkata we had a couple of hours to kill before our next flight. We took a cab from the airport with the intention of going into the actual city. We soon found out that the traffic situation is so horrendous that it literally takes hours to go about 30 kilometers (roughly 20 miles). So we stopped at a nearby “sweets” shop to pick up some goodies. (Kolkata is in the Indian state of West Bengal. Many of the sweets here in India are Bengali. Unfortunately no chocolate though!!) After that we stopped at a store to pick up some gloves and long underwear in anticipation of the snow. Then it was back to the airport.
We had a 1 hour flight from Kolkata to Bagdogra. When we arrived it was 25 degrees Celsius (77F)!! We were shocked. Not quite the winter weather we expected! As we walked from the plane to the terminal 2 army fighter jets zoomed loudly down the runway taking off into the sky. They were very cool. Bagdogra it turned out is an active border military base.
After picking up our luggage we hired a car (van) to take us the 3 hours to Darjeeling (“Queen of the Himalayas”). I wasn’t sure how a 90 kilometer (54 mile) trip could take 3 hours but I would find out. As we started to drive the first thing we noticed was how different everyone looked. They didn’t look Indian at all – more like Oriental Asians. We felt as if we were in a different country.
We started climbing up the curvy road. After 90 minutes we came to Lake Mirik at an altitude of 1,767 meters (almost 6000 feet). Lake Mirik is a 1.25 km natural lake with boating, horseback rides, and picnic spots. We got out to take a walk around and discovered it was a little windy and very cold! After about 30 minutes we went back to the van to discover a flat tire. The driver changed the tire and a short way down the road found a place to get the tire repaired. It was another 20-30 minutes before we were back on our way. By this time we were tired and hungry. It was starting to get dark and the road continued to wind up and around and up and around – hairpin curves! Fog set in and visibility was at a bare minimum. I wasn’t sure if I was more nauseous from the road, tired, or terrified. I settled on terrified. In most spots there weren’t any rail guards and the ones that were there were just concrete posts that only would have dented your vehicle on the way off the road rather then keep you from falling!! We could barely see the narrow road but I knew the drop over the side was a long way down. After a very long 2 hours and feeling relieved, we arrived in Darjeeling (altitude 2,134 meters, 7,001 feet) in the early evening. (The Darjeeling hills are the highest mountains in India.)
"The Cedar Inn"
We went to our hotel, the Cedar Inn. It’s a really nice place done in Victorian Gothic architecture and set high above the town.
With no central heat, it was pretty cold when we went inside to check in. When we got to our room, it was even colder! The room was nice – handcrafted woodwork and a sitting area with a fireplace! They sent someone up with a bucket of coal, some wood and kerosene to get a fire going. We ordered room service and then drove them crazy ordering more and more buckets of coal to keep a fire going! They brought up a small heater (which was not too much help). They brought up hot water bottles and placed them between the sheets and the blankets of the bed. We still thought we were going to freeze during the night. As it turned out, the blankets included a wonderful down comforter so we managed to get a good night’s sleep.
"Ganga Maya Park & The Zoo"
The next morning we ordered breakfast. We checked out the view from our room – mountain vistas and the town below. The sky was full of clouds so we couldn’t see Mount Kanchenjunga as we hoped we would. (Mount Kanchenjunga, located in Nepal is the 3rd highest mountain in the world at 8,586 meters - 29,169 feet.) After breakfast we went back to sleep. We fell into a deep sleep and didn’t wake until around noon. What a luxury!
After showering and bundling up we walked the 15 minutes downhill to town where we found a driver to take us around. We made our way down the narrow, winding road 14 kms from town to our first stop, Ganga Maya Park. (Just a note - ALL of the roads the whole trip were narrow and winding!!). Ganga Maya Park had some nice flowers and a creek flowing over large boulders along the walkway. It had a small lake with a waterfall and pedal boats. We got a boat and had a good time pedaling around.
We made our way back to the car and drove back to town. I really enjoyed the people’s faces (especially the elderly and the children with their rosy colored cheeks) and the landscape – tea plantations and colorful houses – some built on stilts into the hillside.
We continued onto the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoo. We had a short walk uphill to the entrance and stopped along the way to buy a paper cone full of cranberries to enjoy along the way (they were delicious). I was particularly interested in seeing the Snow Leopard breeding center, which I had read about, but unfortunately they didn’t have an active center any longer.
The zoo was a little depressing as most zoos are. Most of the animals were in cages and the cages of course were too small. The one snow leopard that we did see continuously paced unhappily back and forth in his cage. There was also a rather disheveled looking Siberian tiger. After seeing tigers in the wild it really was heartbreaking to see such a beautiful animal in a confined area. We spent time watching cougars, Tibetan wolves, cute Red Pandas, funny Himalayan Black Bears and many Himalayan birds.
"Hasty Tasty & Surviving The Cold"
It was rather late now and cold (temps in the day were in the single digits). We went back into town to a little place called Hasty Tasty for some steaming sweet corn soup and chow mein. It really was one of the better meals we had this trip!! Aside from Indian food, much of the food was Chinese. The chow mein was more like (U.S.) lo mein only with thinner noodles and was one of my favorites. By now it was dark so we walked around the market area and made a few purchases including some pipes and a great mask for our wall.
Back at the hotel that night we ordered dinner and several more buckets of coal! We were getting the hang of keeping the fire going nicely. Due to a combination of being tired and trying to keep warm, we went to bed early! I had forgotten how the cold knocks you out.
"An Unexpected Ride On The Famous Toy Train"
The next day we were up and out earlier. A car came for us and we headed out to a monastery. As we were driving, traffic was stopped because a train was coming through. It turned out that it was the “toy train” – one of the things Darjeeling is known for. We had wanted to take a ride on it but were told that it wasn’t operating this time of year. (One of the things we constantly faced on this trip was incorrect/conflicting information!!)
We arranged a meeting place with the driver, hopped out of the car and onto the train. The train was a cool little steam engine train that runs on a 2 foot track. It made a short stop at Batasia Loop where the train made a unique turn and we were able to get out and take some pictures of the surrounding area. There is also a war memorial in the middle of the loop. We continued on to Ghoom and got out at the highest railway station in the world at 7,410 feet.
We met up with our driver and drove through a forest of oaks, magnolias, and ferns before making a stop at Tiger Hill (altitude 2,590 meters, 8,482 feet). Most people rise at 4:30 a.m. to make the journey to Tiger Hill to catch a sunrise view of Mount Kanchenjunga. Since the recent weather had been so foggy we decided not to go that early but still wanted to try and catch a glimpse of the mountain. Unfortunately when we were there it was also very foggy.
"Yiga Chholing Monastery, Art Gallery, Peace Pagoda"
On to Ghoom (a Buddhist) monastery - real name is Yiga Chholing Monastery. Outside the monastery are the prayer wheels. As you recite a prayer you turn the wheel and it is supposed to bring purification. (Prayer Wheels are to the left of the monastery sign in my picture.) The inside of the monastery was so colorful – reds, yellows, blues. There were pictures of the Dali Lama, a 15 foot statue of (the “coming”) Buddha, musical instruments used during prayer services, dozens of monk’s cloth covered prayer books and a table full of candles. I was fascinated by the surroundings. Unfortunately at the time all of the monks were at another monastery. Sandeep and I each lit a candle before leaving. (Being in this area has piqued my interest in Buddhism.)
On our way back to town we stopped at the Ava Art Gallery. The works were paintings and embroidery works of Ava Devi. Most of the works were very “dark” (in color) but she was considered an embroidery genius.
Then we went to a Japanese Temple/Peace Pagoda. The Japanese Temple was a small place with a central altar. The Peace Pagoda had a large gold statue of Buddha and sculptures around the outside showing different stages of Buddha’s life. Still no monks in sight.
"Tea Plantations & Fantastic Faces Of Darjeeling"
After a late lunch – more soup and chow mein, and a garlic chicken dish (none of which was very good), we went to the Happy Valley Tea Estate. There are over 70 tea plantations in Darjeeling – which produces world famous tea. The factory is closed now because the season is over but our driver managed to find someone with a set of keys to give us a personal tour. (That is the wonderful kinds of things that happen to us.) It was interesting to see the place and learn about the working environment – how the leaves are separated and dried, etc. That particular place employed a couple of hundred people most working in the fields picking tea. They were required to pick 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) of tea per day for Rupees 45 (about $1). If they picked less they were paid less. The tea plants look like “bushes” and you have to pick only the “bottom” leaves. Mostly what were left on the plants now were the unusable top leaves.
It was around this time that there were some people hanging outside their houses. I managed to meet an old man who let me take his photo. He was delighted to pose for me and even more thrilled to see his photo in the playback screen. Some other people declined having their photo taken – I always ask – and some were quite willing. Outside the factory there was a group of 3 women and a baby. I think the elderly woman (in the hat in the photos) would have happily posed all day!
"Sweet Faces, Meeting The Monks, Off To Sikkim"
After that we drove to the Tibetan Self Help (Refugee) Center. The production and sale of handicrafts is the main stay of the center, which is why I originally wanted to visit. I had no idea what to expect. The center was set up over 40 years ago when Tibetans fled their country to live freely. Today there are over 750 people living there. We made some purchases including a wall hanging and went outside. I met two adorable children and took some photos. Sandeep was over with a group of kids playing basketball. We stayed for a while - I could have stayed there for hours taking photos of the children but it was getting late and we had one more stop to make.
We drove to the Druk Sangak Choeling Monastery. I had found the monks! After taking a couple of photos outside, we removed our shoes and went inside. Unbelievably there was a service going on. There were hundreds of monks on benches in two sections facing each other. They were chanting to the rhythmic drums. We made our way to the back of one of the sections and sat down on the floor. I was absolutely entranced. To be part of this was amazing. I felt like I was part of a secret club. Alongside me about 8-10 feet away was a small group of young boys (monks) fidgeting through the service. A short while into our stay one of the elder monks went and brought us 2 mats. At one point several monks came in carrying pots and started pouring drinks for the monks on the benches. The chanting and drums continued. It was so easy to get lost in it. We stayed a little longer before (unfortunately) making our way back outside. By this time my interest in Buddhism was more then piqued. It was truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
By this time it was getting dark and had started to precipitate. We were hoping for snow, which was not to be. We later found out that it only snowed once a year in Darjeeling and we had missed it by a week!! We made our way back to the hotel and our fireplace. By this time Sandeep had become a pro at stoking the fire. We ordered our dinner and went to sleep early in anticipation of traveling the next day.
Our last morning in Darjeeling brought blues skies and finally a - brief - view of Mount Kanchenjunga through passing puffy clouds. We were in no hurry since this was a travel day so we leisurely finished our breakfast. Our driver arrived; we packed up the car and were off to Sikkim in search of snow.