Friday, July 30, 2010

Darjeeling: still the Queen of Hill Stations?

In late March 2010, we decided to make a quick trip to Darjeeling. My wife Paula had not been there for twelve years and I had made a brief visit in 2005. From Siliguri, we went up the  new road which is known as Rohini. The road passed Sukna and entered the Army Cantonment. After driving through some tea gardens, the road climbed steeply  navigating a series of hairpin bends and then reached a ridge with a splendid view over  the hot and sultry plains of Bengal. 
As we approached  Kurseong the mist rolled in. The window boxes of the houses in  Tung and Sonada were full of geranuims and hydrageas. The tea  estates of Margarets's Hope and Castleton  were green and lush. The fresh smell of the rain on the pines, the white  out at Ghoom, the dogs asleep on the roadside  and to top it all the toy train suddenly trundling  past at Batasia blowing it's whistle at full throttle through the white out gave the drive it's own flavour. The entire journey done after so many years was quite spectacular  not to mention the rosy cheeked kids chasing each other in front of white and red cottages with washing laid out to dry in the brief intermittent spells of sunshine. 
We passed Ghoom around noon and drove into Darjeeling a while later.  I noticed that large concrete buildings covered the entire hillside cheek by jowl with each other. The traffic was terrible to say the least. Large four-wheel drive vehicles like Innovas, Scorpios and Safaris dominated the roads forcing the pedestrians against the walls of the sidewalks. The fumes from these vehicles clogged the air leading to an atmosphere which was far removed from the clean, crisp air of the mountains. 
 Darjeeling was once famous for it's walks like the Calcutta Road, Jalapahar, Auckland Road, Hermitage etc. most of which have been overrun by continuous traffic and  walking is now a chore not a pleasure.
We stayed at the Classic Guest House, formerly known as Dant Kothi. It is located just below the Mall on the eastern side and has a fine view of the valley and is very quiet.
And, what of Kangchendzonga?  " The Five Treasures of the Great Snows" remained behind a stubborn haze which refused to lift during our visit.  I used to wake up every morning at dawn and look outside the window in vain. The last morning before we were leaving,  we saw the tips of this great mountain floating high above the town from the "Observatory  round", the scale as impressive as always. After so many years it did take my breath away!  Within seconds it was gone, a brief fantasy viewed from a town which we would all like to remember as still being the "Queen of the Hills". Some photographs of Darjeeling follow:
Kangchendzonga from Sandakphu on a November afternoon
North Point, St Josephs College, Darjeeling 
Mendang opposite the Classic Guest House

Lloyds Botanical Gardens

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sikkim: The Green Lakes trek in North Sikkim

Off limit to trekkers for many years and rigidly controlled by a permit system, few have made it to the north east base camp of Kangchendzonga. In the summer of 1987, supported by an Assam Rifles team who were climbing the peak, I reached the Green Lakes Base Camp in the Zemu Valley. The trek is around 8/9 days from Lachen (up and down) and has some stupendous views, rhododendrons and blue poppies, bharal grazing on the Green Lake plain and Siniolchu, that perfect mountain, visible from the Zemu glacier. The trek needs full support with tents, porters and food to be carried. It is on my agenda to take a South Col Expeditions team to Green Lakes soon!

Kangchendzonga as seen from the Green Lakes Base Camp in North Sikkim on the Zemu Glacier, May 1987

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sikkim: The Unpublished Photographs

I spent around twelve years photographing in Sikkim and during this time I built up a very large collection of transparencies. Here are some of the photographs which were not published in the Sikkim book. Thanks to latest scanning technology they can be reproduced on the web. I hope to add some more of this work in the next few months.

The monastery of Ralang in South Sikkim on Guru Padmasambhava's birthday


Prayers outside the Tsulakhang chapel on the day of the Queen Mother's funeral - March 1987

Rumtek monastery

Women bathe at a hot spring near Legship in south Sikkim known as Tatopani

Lal Market, Gangtok

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rhododendrons of the Sikkim Himalayas

One of the unusual rhododendrons found in the Sikkim Himalayas is Rhododendron cinnabarium. Unlike the other varieties of the rhododendron, cinnabarium has bell shaped flowers opening downwards. This was photograph was taken in the month of June near the village of Thangu.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sikkim: A Traveller's Guide by Sujoy Das and Arundhati Ray

My book on Sikkim which is in it's third reprint in now available on-line with quick delivery times. Flipkart an on line book store which I use quite often has stocks of the book. The link is given below:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

No Mountain worth dying for

Indiahikes, a trekking company which runs guided treks in the Garhwal Himalayas has posted the sad news of the death of one of it's trekkers on 3rd July 2010 at Bedni Bugyal, a high altitude meadow on the trail to Rupkund. I am reproducing their post below and my views below this:


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