Led by Don Walter
Tour dates: 03 to 21 October 2007.
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After the craft school we went to lunch in the town, but it was not quite the end of the craft work. Across the road from the restaurant was a building site with an amazing elaborate set of scaffolding made in bamboo lashed together with rope and cord.
After lunch there was a chance to have a quick look at some of the buildings. Note the boulders spread on this roof. Quite a common way of keeping the roof on in mountainous regions world-wide.
Our zoo visit was largely a one-animal affair. We had come to see Takins. These look a bit as though someone had grafted a goat's head on to a large deer. They are important because they are the national animal of Bhutan. They live in a large paddock provided by the king. He did feel sorry for them being in captivity and ordered them to be released. The Takins had other ideas though and eventually they had to be allowed back into their paddock.
We then visited the Tashi Chodzong: the huge building we had been looking down on earlier in the day. It is part government building and part temple and it is best visualised as a set of courtyards surrounded by continuous large buildings.
There is a temple in the main courtyard. There was a prayer session taking place in there when we visited.
Like all the temples we visited here and in India it has a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere.
While we were there the monks spilled out of the temple after the prayer session was finished.
On leaving the Tashi Chodzong we went to a souvenir shop and finally walked back along the main street to our hotel. We were beginning to get used to the surroundings of the hotel, which are a formal square with several sets of prayer wheels sharing the space with an exhibition of heavy trucks for sale!
Today we headed for the Indian border at Phuntsholing. Despite the short distance it took us nearly all day. Mostly just slow speed on the narrow road although the two pictures show a brief blockage caused by a lorry. Apparently the brakes failed and the lorry started to run backwards. The driver opted to steer into the rock wall. The other side of the road offered guaranteed death!
To break up the day we sometimes stopped and walked a short distance along the road. Anywhere apart from along the road would be classed as scrambling, not walking.
I have put two photos alongside this text. One shows a section of this major road through Bhutan, distinguished only by its nondescript nature (in Bhutan that is!). Look and see how steep the ground is either side of it. The second photo shows a fairly ordinary piece of driving (again by Bhutanese standards!).
Today we crossed into India. No photos, but certainly a shock to the system. The Bhutanese town of Phuntsholing lies on flat ground, literally at the edge of mountains rising from the vast flat plain that comprises the local part of India. The buildings are continuous with the Indian town of Jaygaon. The two are separated by a large gate and when you pass though this gate it feels a massive step. The Indian side is scruffy and crowded: full of activity and beggars. It is a shock to arrive there from the comparatively quiet and orderly Bhutanese part.
After driving through the hot and low-lying plains we began to climb again. We crossed the Coronation Bridge (George VI) in West Bengal where it crosses the Teesta River at its confluence with the Rangeet River.
Our route took us up a very narrow road through the Quinine forests and eventually to Mungpoo where we stopped for a brief stroll through the town.
It was dark and raining when we finally got to Darjeeling, but at the Hotel Mayfair the staff rushed out to greet us with umbrellas and served us with fresh tea and pastries. It was a good introduction to the hotel that everyone agreed was the best one on our tour.
The day started with a visit to a Tibetan Refugee Centre. More workshops, but with a more serious aspect than our earlier visit to the craft schools.
Some of this looked like serious hard work. After our visit we went to the associated shop and quite ea few souvenirs were bought.
In the afternoon we walked down through villages and then through tea plantations. The paths were very slippery and all bar four of the party had a tumble at some stage.
At the bottom of the path we had a tour of a tea factory. That is tea in the big pile.
Finally we drove back to our hotel in a small fleet of 4wd taxis.
Today we walked from the hotel to Observatory Hill, where there is now a temple.
There are also a lot of Macaques on the lookout for a free meal. We could see that lurking around a temple was an easy way of getting fed.
We continued down into the town to the railway, where we had tickets booked on the "Toy Train" or narrow-gauge railway, for a ride to Ghoom and back.
The carriages were elegant in their interior furnishings, although it was a somewhat faded elegance.
The journey had an odd feel to it, as the railway passes through the narrow streets of the town. In a few places there wasn't even clearance for passers-by between the train and the serving counters of the shops. (Mostly the clearance was about a metre)
It was raining when we got to Ghoom. No problem, since we spent the time in the Railway Museum which is full of fine photos of the railway in its heyday.
Meanwhile, a couple of locals did a demonstration of how goods are really carried in this region.
The afternoon was spent by a walk down to the Zoo and to the Himalayan Institute (which trains and licences mountain guides)
Up at 3:30 today to drive to the top of Tiger Hill in the dark. There we watched the dawn break and the distant mountains come into sight with the first light on them.
We did neither badly nor very well on our visit. The day was clear of high cloud, so we could see some of the distant mountains. There was a lot of lower cloud though and this was deep enough in most directions to obscure the majority of the distant mountains.
The lighting effect of the dawn did produce some interesting effects.
The sunrise jaunt was very popular with the locals. It was nice to see some local people around. They seemed to be enjoying the outing.
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