Monday, 20 June 2011

Darjeeling, West Bengal

Darjeeling is a beautiful hill-station, situated in the Shivalik Hills of the Himalayas, in West Bengal. It is a picturesque hilltop, with unscathed beauty and interesting tourist spots to boast of. It is internationally renowned for its tea industry and Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (nicknamed Toy Train), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from scenic grandeur, Darjeeling also offers spots considered a trekker's paradise. Nestled amidst the rolling mountains, this place offers a perfect getaway for those seeking a rendezvous with nature. The salubrious climate and serene atmosphere of Darjeeling are some others reasons the tourists instantly fall in love with this place.

Darjeeling was once a part of Sikkim. It was then lost to Bhutan, regained from it and then again lost, this time to Nepal, in 18th century. However, during the Anglo-Nepalese war, Nepal lost the hill resort to the East India Company. The British then developed Darjeeling as a major hill resort, to provide them a getaway from the scorching heat of surrounding plains. Darjeeling also became a frontier town in British India, because of its strategic location and contemporary political situations. Later, at the time of Indian Independence, Darjeeling was merged with the state of West Bengal.

The cultural diversity of Darjeeling also makes it an interesting tourist spot. Apart from the indigenous ethnic crowd of the Lepchas, Bhutias, Sherpas, Rais, Yamloos, Damais, Kamais, Newars and Limbus, other communities like the Bengalis, Marwaris, Anglo-Indian, Chinese, Biharis and Tibetans can also be seen here. Hinduism and Buddhism are the two widely followed religions here, while Christians and Muslims form the minority group. English, Nepali, Hindi, Tibetan and Bengali are the languages, which are prominently used here. Darjeeling is also famous for its British-style public schools, which attract students from many parts of India and even abroad.

Once you have landed in Darjeeling, you must try the local market and taste the delicious cuisines of the place. Apart from Darjeeling Tea, you must buy the curio items pertaining to Tibetan and Himalayan cultures, such as thangkas, miniature monasteries and garments made from yak wool. Other than these, the beautiful portraits of Himalayas available here should be on your must buy list. After you are done with your shopping, do not forget to taste the yummy 'Momos', savor a hot cup of Darjeeling Tea and drink 'Thentuk', the hearty Tibetan soup. 

Places to See:

Tiger Hill is one of the most popular vantage points in Darjeeling. From here, you can get to see world's third highest peak, 'Kanchenjunga', easily. If you are exceptionally lucky, you can also get to see the highest peak of the world' Mt. Everest' from this place. Tiger Hill also offers some awe-inspiring views of surrounding mountains and valley.

The war memorial was built in Darjeeling, in the memory of those brave Gorkha soldiers who sacrificed their life for their country, in all wars and operations that taken place since independence. It was constructed by the Zilla Sainik Board, in 1995. When in Darjeeling, you must visit this place to pay homage to those brave-hearts.

The Dhirdham temple in Darjeeling roughly resembles the famous Pasupathinath Temple of Kathmandu. The presiding deity of this temple is 'Lord Shiva'. The temple’s ceiling reflects the influence of Tibetan architectural style. It was constructed by Rai Saheb Purna Bahadur Pradhan in 1939. It is situated near Darjeeling Railway Station.

Japanese Peace Pagoda is one of the Peace Pagodas in the world, which was built under the guidance of a Japanese Buddhist monk, 'Nichidatsu Fujii'. This place was constructed with the motive of providing enlightenment and focus to the people of all races and origin, to come together and work for world peace. The height of the pagoda is 28.5 meters and diameter is 23 meters. Its foundation was laid in 1972, but it was opened to visitors in 1992 only.

Buddhism is one of the most widely practiced religions in Darjeeling. There are many monasteries in the hill resort, standing as a witness of its tryst with Buddhism. The most popular ones include Sakya Monastery (Ghoom), Dali Monastery, Bhutia Busty Monastery, Yiga-Choling Buddhist Monastery and Makdhog Monastery. Each of these monasteries has its own glorious tale to tell.

Darjeeling is internationally renowned for its premium quality tea. There are about 70 tea gardens in the hill resort, producing one of the finest-quality teas in the world. While in Darjeeling, you must visit a tea garden to know about the entire manufacturing process of the tea.

Bengal Natural History Museum provides a complete view of the fauna native to different altitudes of the eastern Himalayas. More than 4,000 specimens have been classified here. The museum has different divisions for birds, butterflies and beetles, reptiles and mammals.

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute was inaugurated in 1954, by India’s first Prime Minister, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru. Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, the first man to climb Mt. Everest, was the first Director of Field Training, at this institute. It is one of India's finest mountaineering institutes, which also houses a mountaineering museum that boasts of a rare collection of historic mountaineering equipments.

Spread over an area of about 44 hectares, Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park is renowned for its successful captive breeding of several critical endangered species, like Snow Leopard and Red Panda. Situated at an altitude of 2133.5 meters, on the Birch Hill, this zoo now serves as home to many species of endangered animals as well as birds.

Spread in about 40 acres of land, Llyod Botanical Garden has been made as a distant annexe of the Calcutta Botanical Garden. This place has wonderful collection of orchards and it is also known for its collection of several exotic species of flora.

The real name of the Toy Train in Darjeeling is 'The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway'. It is a 2 ft narrow-gauge railway, running from Siliguri to Darjeeling. One of the UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in India, it offers a wonderful and pleasing journey, of approximately 86 km, amidst beautiful mountains and forests. The journey to Darjeeling is incomplete without an experience of the Toy Train. 


Kalimpong, West Bengal

Kalimpong is a hill station in the or Lesser Himalaya in the Indian state of West Bengal. The town is the headquarters of the Kalimpong subdivision, a part of the district of Darjeeling.
Teesta Valley

Kalimpong, located on a ridge overlooking the Teesta River, is a tourist destination owing to its temperate climate and proximity to popular tourist locations in the region. Horticulture is also important to Kalimpong: it has a flower market notable for its wide array of orchids; nurseries, which export Himalayan grown flower bulbs, tubers and rhizomes, contribute to the economy of Kalimpong.

Zang Dhok Palri Phodang Monastery

Home to ethnic Nepalis, indigenous ethnic groups and non-native migrants from other parts of India, the town also is a religious centre of Buddhism. The Buddhist monastery Zang Dhok Palri Phodang holds a number of rare Tibetan Buddhist scriptures.
Neora Valley National Park
The area around Kalimpong lies in the Eastern Himalayas, which is classified as an ecological hotspot, one of only three among the ecoregions of India. Neora Valley National Park that lies within the Kalimpong subdivision and is home to tigers. Acacia is the most commonly found species at lower altitudes, while cinnamon, ficus, bamboo, cacti and cardamom, are found in the hillsides around Kalimpong.

The forests found at higher altitudes are made up of pine trees and other evergreen alpine vegetation. Seven species of rhododendrons are found in the region east of Kalimpong. The temperate deciduous forests include oak, birch, maple and alder. Three hundred species of orchid are found around Kalimpong, and Poinsettia and sunflower are some of the wild species that line the roads of Kalimpong.

The Red Panda, Clouded Leopard, Siberian Weasel, Asiatic black bear, barking deer, Himalayan Tahr, goral, gaur and pangolin are some of the fauna found near Kalimpong. Avifauna of the region include the pheasanta, cuckoos, minivets, flycatchers, maynas, orioles, owls, parakeets, partridges, sunbirds, swallows, swifts and woodpeckers.
Red Panda
Fly Catcher

The Rishi Bankim Chandra Park is an ecological museums within Kalimpong. Citrus Dieback Research Station at Kalimpong works towards control of diseases, plant protection and production of disease free orange seedlings.

Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu

Kodaikanal is a city in the hills of the taluk division of the Dindigul in Tamil Nadu, India. Its name in the Tamil language means "The Gift of the Forest". Kodaikanal is referred as the "Princess of Hill stations" and has a long history as a retreat and popular tourist destination. It's a lot cooler in temperature than lower elevation cities such as Chennai.
Kodaikanal was established in 1845 as a refuge from the high temperatures and tropical diseases of the plains. Much of the local economy is based on the hospitality industry serving tourism.

Kodaikanal has several scenic natural attractions which are enjoyed by its visitors and make it a popular romantic destination for newlyweds.
Kodaikanal Lake: 500 metres (1,600 ft) from the bus stand, is an artificial, roughly star-shaped 45 ha (60 acres) lake built in 1863. It is recognized as Kodaikanal's most popular geographic landmark and tourist attraction.
Bryant Park: Just east of the lake and 500 metres (1,600 ft) from the bus stand, is a wonderfully maintained 20.5 acres (8.3 ha) botanical garden. The park was planned and built in 1908 by a forest officer from Madurai, H.D.Bryant, and named after him.
Coaker's Walk: 500 metres from the bus-stand, constructed by Lt.Coaker in 1872, is a 1-kilometre (3,300 ft) paved pedestrian path running along the edge of steep slopes on the southern side of Kodai. The walk, winding around Mount Nebo, starts in front of the Van Allen hospital, running parallel to the Van Allen Hospital Road and joins the main road beside St.Peter's Church, providing a stunning panoramic view of the plains.
Bear Shola Falls: 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from the bus-stand, is a tall waterfall in a Reserve forest. The final approach to this quiet area is a gently climbing foot-path.
Green Valley View: (formerly called Suicide Point) 5.5 kilometres (3.4 mi) from the bus-stand and near the golf course, has an excellent panoramic view of the plains and a sheer drop of 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) overlooking the Vaigai Dam to the south. The stairway leading up to it is highly commercialized and lined with rows of shops to tempt tourists.

Pine forests: In 1906, with a view to growing valuable timber, Mr. Bryant started the Kodaikanal pine plantations in the south-west of Kodaikanal.

Shembaganur Museum of Natural History: 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) from the bus-stand, founded in 1895, is open to the public (except Tuesdays) for viewing their outstanding taxidermy collection of more than 500 species of animals, birds and insects and a living collection of over 300 exotic orchid species.

Pillar Rocks: 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) from the bus-stand, is a set of three giant rock pillars which stand 122 metres (400 ft) high. Managed by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, The viewpoint can be crowded but is not commercialized. There is an excellent public garden adjacent to the viewpoint.
Guna caves: made popular by the Tamil movie Guna, previously called Devil’s Kitchen, are deep bat-infested chambers between the three gigantic boulders that are the Pillar Rocks. The deep narrow ravines of the caves are now closed to public due to the tragic deaths of twelve youths there. These dangerous caves are highly protected now, and tourists can see sections of the cave system from afar.
Silver Cascade: 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) from Kodaikanal at a wide bend in the long and winding Laws Ghat Road, at altitude 1,800 metres (5,900 ft), is a 55-metre (180 ft) waterfall formed from the outflow of Kodaikanal Lake.
Dolphin's Nose: 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) from the bus stand, is flat rock projecting over a breathtaking chasm 6,600 metres (21,700 ft) deep. It is an undisturbed area 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) down a very steep rocky trail beginning soon after Pambar Bridge.
Kurinji Andavar Murugan temple: 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) from the bus-stand, is famous for its Kurinji flower which blossoms in the area only once every 12 years. The deity here is called Sri Kurinji Easwaran, who is in fact Lord Murugan.


Tirth Raj Pushkar, Rajasthan

Pushkar is a town in the Ajmer district in the state of Rajasthan, India. It is situated at 14 km North West from Ajmer at an average elevation of 510 metres (1673 feet), and is one of the five sacred dhams (pilgrimage sites for devout Hindus). It is often called "Tirth Raj" - the king of pilgrimage sites - and has in recent years become a popular destination for foreign tourists.

Pushkar is one of the oldest cities of India. It lies on the shore of Pushkar Lake. The date of its actual origin is not known, but legend associates Lord Brahma with its creation. It is mentioned that Brahma performed penance here for 60,000 years to have a glimpse of Vishnu.

Pushkar has many temples. Most of the temples are not very old, since many were destroyed during Muslim conquests in the area. Subsequently, the destroyed temples were re-built. The most famous among all is the Brahma Temple built during the 14th century AD. Very few temples to Lord Brahma exist anywhere in the world.

Other temples of Brahma include Bithoor in Uttar Pradesh, India; village Asotra near Balotra city of Barmer district in Rajasthan; Mother Temple of Besakih in Bali, Indonesia; and Prambanan inYogyakarta, Indonesia. The Pushkar lake has 52 ghats where pilgrims descend to the lake to bathe in the sacred waters. Pushkar is also famous for its annual Pushkar Camel Fair.

The natural environment of Pushkar and the sacred lake has become increasingly degraded in the last few decades. The problems stem mainly from over-development of tourist facilities and the deforestation of the surrounding area.

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