Wednesday, November 26, 2014

India - Darjeeling and Sikkim: Part 3

The next day, we visited Yuksom in Sikkim, and went to Norbugang.
There are 4 stone seats beneath an ancient pine tree. This was the coronation throne of Sikkim's first King in 1641.

The garden which surrounds this place is really peaceful.
We visited a nearby village - see how they're drying the corn for the winder just under the roof.
The block of wood at the bottom right corner of the house is actually a beehive, and the villagers can collect honey from the hive.
Dropped by an orphanage - the kids were having lunch of buttered rice, and they are impressively well behaved.
They took turns washing their plates and cutlery at the tap outside the kitchen.
Spotted NYJC's adopted orphanage - brightly decorated walls for the children staying there.
We also visited Khecheopalri Lake, which is a sacred lake. Its supposed to have wish fulfilling powers - hopefully it does so that all my wishes (that I wished there) will come true!
The locals believe that no leaf which falls into the lake will remain there. The day we went to the lake, it was drizzling so we weren't able to see the mountain range behind.
Met a friendly but very hungry cat there.
The next day, we got up bright and early and dragged everyone to watch the sunrise (again). Sadly, it was way too cloudy and we could barely see the sun peeping out from behind the clouds.

After unsuccessfully trying to watch the sunrise, we went for a short walk up to the Sanga Choeling Monastery.
It's a rather steep climb up a rocky road, I wonder how the locals do it (especially the elderly people, but I suppose that they are much hardier than Singaporeans).  The views from the Monastery are spectacular. Can you imagine waking up to the Kachenjanga mountain range every morning and breathing ultra fresh air. I might be able to live to a hundred.
We were very fortunate to visit the monastery during a festival, and they had invited 2000+ villagers for a meal at the monastery.
This is their outdoor kitchen, where there were many people helping with the food preparation. 
Here, they are making something similar to mantous, with spring onion and parsley. 
They were very friendly and we got to try making the mantous and the momos, which is actually quite technically difficult (my momos were all deformed and looked like an ugly caterpillar). 

Found a butterfly on the ground - it was probably quite cold in the morning and it was rather sluggish, but finally managed to fly away after resting for a while.
Stupas in the monastery. 
We also ate some of their local snacks - I really like the flower snack right in front - it's available in Singapore but I'm not sure what it's called.

Monday, November 24, 2014

India - Darjeeling and Sikkim: Part 2

After spending 2 days in Darjeeling, we drove to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim.
Along the way, we saw a peaceful student protest. I think it was for free education or something. The local police were directing the traffic and not trying to arrest everyone.
We visited the Buddha Park, which was built in commemoration of the 2550th Birth Anniversary of the Gautama Buddha. It was quite cloudy that day, if not we would have been able to see the spectacular mountain ranges behind the Buddha statue.
We dropped by a small village farm en route to Gangtok - these are cardamon plants. 
The scenery along the way - lots of plants and hills and clean, fresh air.
We stayed in the Chumbi Mountain Spa retreat for 2 nights. Chumbi has a spectacular view of the scenery. The next day, we got up at 5am to see the sunrise (at 530am) at the Helipad near our hotel.
We tried doing some jump shots with the mountain range behind us. These 3 Indian tourists also wanted to follow us. Many jumps later, they finally managed to get a good shot.
We dropped by Hotel Garuda for breakfast - they had a small display of traditional Sikkimese clothing.
The magnificent Kangchenjanga waterfall, which had many many tourists. It involves hopping over some rocks  and climbing up quite a few steps.
We spotted a herd of domestic yaks coming down from the mountain. Yaks have lots of insects and flies on them.
Dropped by a small village school which has 5 classes and 3 teachers. The lessons are all conducted in English. The kids are ultra well behaved.
Pinky, the resident dog at Hotel Garuda. She's being photobombed by a cat. She has to be the cutest dog ever! Her legs are incredibly stubby and she's very well fed, and has a really good temperament.

Monday, November 17, 2014

India - Darjeeling and Sikkim: Part 1

 Hello everyone! I've been MIAing the last month - was busy planning my holidays (clearing up annual leave). I've just gotten back from India - it's my first visit to India and I really enjoyed my trip. Didn't get gastroenteritis too! Decided to upload some photos and write a short travelogue and organise my photos before I go off to Tokyo (back to back trips, poor timing and planning but I'm not complaining). I spent 8 days in Darjeeling and West Sikkim and this trip is probably the highlight of my year.
We took an evening flight from Singapore to Kolkata, stayed 1 night in Kolkata and then took a domestic flight to Bagdora in West Bengal, and subsequently travelled north to Darjeeling by car.
We had a quick lunch at one of the hotels in Bagdora. The fried rice is quite similar to our local fried rice, just that the grains are less starchy and lighter.
We dropped by Mirik, in Darjeeling. which is a popular tourist spot.
The weather was perfect and the skies were clear.
There is a small bridge - called the Rainbow bridge, which is built over the lake.
We also took a short horse ride around the picturesque lake.
Check out my horse - his/her hair has been tied up into a small bundle. Super cute.
We also had our first taste of Momos, which are essentially dumplings (similar to what you can get at ban mian stores in Singpaore). We had chicken and vegetable momos. These momos are served steaming hot and are a delightful snack.
During our first day in Darjeeling, we got up at 4am to catch the sun rise at Tiger Hill. 
Unfortunately, so did hoards of other people - the whole place was so packed and squishy, so I didn't enjoy the sunrise as much (as my 2 other sunrises later).
The whole hill was so insanely crowded, that we had to disembark from the car and walk up the hill, with throngs of other tourists. Many people were hanging out of the window and standing on the roof to get a better view of the sunrise.
 We watched the sunrise, and the brilliant colour change of the Kachenjanga mountain range.
 It initially appears pinkish orange as the first sun rays touch it, and then becomes white as the sun rises.
 We took a slow walk down the mountain (once all the other tourists went off) and took the opportunity to breathe in more of the crisp morning air.
 It wasn't snowing when I went, but the ground was covered in frost.
 The mountain range, with the many buildings in Darjeeling along the hills.
We also saw them repairing the road, which tar. They used firewood to heat up the tar, something which we don't see in Singapore.
Betel nut - which is also known as paan in India. Lots of betel nut chewers in this area. The brownish powder on the left side is tobacco, and there's also some bits of dried coconut for flavour.
 The Toy Train in Darjeeling - didn't ride it cos it didn't seem very interesting (to me, at least) but it's UNESCO world heritage site and a 'must try' for most tourists to the area.

Lots of people selling vegetables and fruits along the railway lines
Toy train station
 Japanese Peace Pagoda - read the stone signs at the bottom - it's self explanatory.

The next day, we took a walk around Darjeeling. I think this is the St Andrews Cathedral (please correct me if I'm wrong)
 We also visited the Himalayan Zoo in Darjeeling. Unlike our zoo in Singpaore, the zoo is located in a hilly area (most of the places in Darjeeling are), so it's a steep climb within the zoo compound.
  Map of the zoo exhibits - which include the Bengal Tiger and Snow Leopard.
 The highlight of the visit - the super cute red pandas.
 There were 2 red pandas when I visit, and they were very active, gambolling around the enclosure.
 Totally doesn't look like Master Shifoo in Kungfu Panda. But very cute nonetheless.
 The exhibits all have a very steep incline, and most of the time the animals were quite far away.

The other interesting place we visited was the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, which is located within the zoo compound. There's a museum there, documenting most of the early attempts at scaling Mt Everest - it's pretty interesting especially the displays with the old equipment used by the first few people who scaled Everest.
 Our hotel in Darjeeling - which had a really nice garden (though it was a bit too cold to sit outside for prolonged periods of time)

Awesome scenery during most of the drives - lots of rolling hills, and on clear days, Mt Kachenjanga, the 3rd tallest mountain in the world. It got really cloudy during the later part of our trip - and we couldn't see the mountains well.
 We stopped by the scenic 'Lover's Point' where rivers Teesta and Rangeet meet. There were so many bees and wasps there - I think there must be a huge nest of them nearby :/
 We also drove through a tea plantation - which had lots of cherry trees in bloom. 
 The tea plantation - which was way cooler (temperature wise) than my tea plantation visit in Sri Lanka last year. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking.
Of course we made many stops along the way to have the world famous Darjeeling Tea - which the locals boil with milk and sugar.

I'll be blogging more in a while - stay tuned!