“SLOW HORSES AND FAST —– HAVE BEEN THE DOWNFALL OF MANY A PUNTER”, Says the estate trustee of “Mittoo alias mittoo the poppat”.Recovering from a “Bankruptcy ATTACK” in the “I.C.U” of my own house after betting the wrong horse “BE SAFE” and attaining a “Pauper” status from a “Maharajah” status . Henceforth will speculate a “BE SAFE” method and not on a horse named “BE SAFE” ! Crores of rupees must have been lost on a horse named “BE SAFE” on Sunday(5-7-2015).It was the saddest day of my life in horse-racing.The Hot favourite @ 40/100 and considered a “Wonder horse” “BE SAFE” lost miserably in a race that shocked the horse racing punters of India.This handsome colt that won the “Indian Derby-2015” in Mumbai in “RECORD TIME “ on Sunday(1-2-2015) ran like a ordinary riding horse today taking with it “Crores” of punters rupees down the drain.As for me i felt i had attended a “Funeral”. Such was my emotional loss on seeing the dismal performance of this colt that won me my first “Indian Derby” in my silver jubilee year of horse racing.I can recover from the heavy monetary loss but the emotional loss will take me ages.Akin to losing one of my pet cats or the death of my 22 year old parakeet “Mittoo” after whom i have invented the notional speculative gambling game on “Facebook” titled “Mittoo alias mittoo the poppat”..
On Saturday(18-10-2014) had nostalgic motorcycle ride down my old “Adda” Byculla into a defunct engineering monolith for a “Rock Concert”.The abandoned engineering factory of “Richardson & Cruddas(1972) Ltd” reminded me of my Marine engineering apprenticeship years in Mazagon docks, a huge abandoned engineering complex.From the exterior it resembles any common establishment with a huge sign-board that has been in existence since 1972 but on entry it resembled a stadium !It was a identical copy of the “South Bay (offshore shop)” of Mazagon Dock Ltd, a monolith ship-building company that employs thousands of workers and officers.
I wonder what was the manpower in “Richardson & Cruddas(1972) Ltd” when it first began operations as a foundry factory in 1972 ? This was the first time in my life that i got to view a “SICK ENGINEERING FIRM” akin to scuba diving and seeing a sunken ship wreck.The abandoned engineering bays and lathe machines were rusting and definitely a tourist attraction as its rare to see a huge waste of a engineering establishment in prime Mumbai locality.The owners rent the site for “Film Shoots” and “Advertisements”.In April 2014 it was for the first time that a section of one of the engineering bays was converted into a hall for holding a “Rock shows”.
Spent a enthralling evening listening to various genres of music performed on the occasion of the “Red Bull tour bus” concert.The only working engineering machinery item in the entire complex was this giant “Red bull tour bus” which had a performing stage on its roof.The acoustics was excellent akin to being in a enclosed auditorium. Seems akin to the “Textile Mills” of Mumbai the “Richardson & Cruddas(1972) Ltd” engineering monolith might make way for a housing project in the near future.Better if it remained a “Rock Venue” and converted into a “Movie studio”.
Wednesday(15-10-2015) :- Went to the “VOTING BOOTH” in Kalpataru building to vote and was amazed to find my name missing from the “VOTERS LIST” but my deceased parents name included in the list.Have been voting for donkeys years since the age of 18 and this is the first time in my life that i could not vote due to a error in the “VOTING LIST”. Bizarrely just yesterday i got a “Free Vote T-Shirt” at “Operation Ink Dot” , a voting awareness musical concert for the youth held at “High Street Phoenix” in Parel.Wore it to advertize for voting and i myself couldn’t vote.Actor Anupam.Kher would say “Kutchch bhi Ho Saktha hain Election -2014 Mein(Anything can happen in Election-2014)”. Ha Ha Ha Hee Hee hee.Posted a few photo’s taken outside the voting booth in my locality in Prabhadevi with the “VOTING ADVERTISEMENT T-Shirt”.REAL Life can be hilariously bizarre at times.I will treasure this “VOTING T-SHIRT” for the rest of my life.
Humans having telepathic and extra-sensory powers were “Psychic celebrities” since human civilization and in the present commercial age also “Psychic millionaires”. Internationally Yuri Geller is the most famous living “Psychic” and in India Deepak Rao. Animals having a “Sixth telepathic sense” is a “Unproven scientific fact” as acknowledged by a majority of “Pet owners” in their daily interaction with their pets. Human Rationalists would term these occurrences as mere co-incidences,but sometimes, the co-incidences seem too unnatural for human reasoning, hence “Supernatural beliefs” are never out-dated resulting in numerous books, films and debates.
“MITTOO” has been with us for the last 20 years as on Friday(27-1-2012), purchased from Crawford market on 27/1/1992 as a baby nestling before the ban on selling of Indian parakeets by the “Wild life Authorities”, a timely legislation in preventing the extinction of these beautiful, intelligent birds in the natural wild. My “Letter-writing” on dangers of parakeet extinction in India due to the pet trade did prove that at times “Pen is mightier than the sword” in installing legislation’s or at least being noticed . Today, the “Pet trade” in birds in Mumbai is confined to“Aviary bred birds” and not from nestlings removed from trees in the wild forests.
Alexandrine Parakeet “MITTOO”(1996) :-Reply Correspondence proof with “LIMCA BOOK OF RECORDS”
“Mittoo” is almost child-like in his mannerisms and behaviour , a recent proven fact that parrots are as intelligent as chimpanzees and have an “I.Q” of a human child. “Alex” the African Congo parrot has proved the “Parrot I.Q fact” in controlled conditions by its human trainer. “Mittoo’s”amazing sense at “Human recognition” and human attachment towards a particular individual is remarkable as also his talent for “Mimicry”. He also tends to “forget” his “Parrot vocabulary” a strange fact and also a bit “Paranormal”. Prior to albino/Siamese mix cat “Trixie” we had a prized dachshund bitch “Lucky” . “Mittoo” used to always call her name “Lucky Girlie,Lucky Girlie” in his sweet musical tone ,beside’s, he was excellent in whistling. After “Lucky’s” demise “Mittoo” stopped uttering her name and even stopped whistling , it was as if he knew that “Lucky”was no more alive in the house , stranger, being the fact that he knew “Lucky” the name pertained to the bitch and no one else in our house-hold, a case of “RECOGNITION in Mittoo”. “Mittoo” used to also call my mum by her name “Greta” and the word “Mummy,Mummy”whenever he wanted eatables. After my mum’s demise he gradually stopped calling “Greta” but he still calls “Mummy,Mummy” whenever he wants eatables and is friendly with our house-maid Sabina. “Mittoo” has a strange attachment to dad , beside’s he also calls “Daddy,Daddy”whenever he wants his cage cleaned. Dad is the only person in the house to whom “Mittoo” flies to voluntarily when let off from his cage in the house akin to the trained parrots used in “Bird shows”. “Mittoo” has never been trained hence his preference to dad compared to other house members including me who “Hand-fed” him as a tiny nestling seems strange. Proves the fact that parrots and parakeets recognize people and different animals and akin to humans develops a special friendship with certain individuals it finds compatible. Another observation of “Mittoo” has been his “Extra-sensory behaviour” where he can detect the presence of food without visually seeing the food item , a common occurrence in our house where at meal times he also expects some tit-bit to be given to him otherwise he “Screams” non-stop. Dogs have a sense of smell hence they detect food but parrots detecting food without seeing is strange, hence perplexing to me.Another strange and mischievous behaviour is the habit of “Mitttoo” to drop his “feed-Bowl”to the ground from his cage.The normal “cage-house” of “Mittoo” has two feed bowls attached at either ends of his perch, one for water, the other for feed grains, the cage having a slide door at their ends in order to insert the bowls into the cage.”Mittoo” has this bad habit of lifting the slide-door with his beak and dropping the bowl to the ground with his foot, a very intelligent prank, akin to a human child.Hence we have totally avoided giving “Mittoo” food in his “Food-Bowl” or either inserting a locking-wire to shut the slide-door and hence prevent “Mittoo” from opening the same and dropping his “feed-Bowl” after which he has the tendency to screech, reminding us of his intelligent prank.Since 1992 “Mittoo” has had numerous cages and every-time he did the same prank,proving the fact that he never forgets his “Old-Tricks”, latest being on Tuesday(8-3-2011)when allotted his new “cage-house”. In the 1990’s when “Mittoo” was at his best in “Parrot vocabulary” as well as whistling I had written to the “Limca book of records” about his extraordinary skills and to include him in the book as India’s best “Locally bred talking parakeet”.In 1996 I had sent a “Recorded cassette of Mittoo” to “Limca book of records, Delhi” and received a reply stating that they didn’t have a “Pets section for parrots” in their“Animal and Birds records” section and that was the last of “Mittoo’s” efforts for “Animal superstar status”. “Mittoo” also has this strange peculiar habit of nibbling at clothes, especially the buttons, if left unattended in the house gallery for his regular exercises. He has damaged manny good clothes of mine that were kept for drying on the balcony clothes-line. Hence whenever i leave him in the gallery always physically present to prevent him from indulging in his favorite hobby of nibbling clothes.“Mittoo”,the parakeet clown is definitely a freak, a unique wonder bird having “Telepathic powers” which are debatable as manny things in life are unexplainable, even amongst “NON-SUPERSTITIOUS PEOPLE” which includes me.
Dad’s demise on 15/8/2007(Wednesday) brought a sudden change in Mittoo’s behaviour, he turned very noisy always screeching. Dad had the habit of always sitting in the gallery and talking to mittoo and mittoo would respond by keeping a chilli in his mouth while uttering “Daddy,Daddy”until he personally removed the chilli from its mouth. On 17/12/2007(Saturday) there was a discussion on [ARE THERE SPIRITS FROM BEYOND] conducted by Larry.King on C.N.N T.V and what Americans believe or discuss becomes a World-wide topic as it is the World’s only Superpower. My experience with pets and my own personal encounters with “paranormal phenomenons” has convinced me that there is some unexplainable invisible force that can effect or even partially control our lives. “Mittoo” our talking parakeet has totally stopped talking after Dad’s death to whom he was very attached and he said “Daddy ,Daddy” only on “All souls day”after I had visited the cemetery and returned home, never uttering nor talking after that day. Why is “Mata-Hari”, my Persian cat absolutely suicidal in our house although this is not the normal behavior of a cat or any animal who are absolutely petrified of heights? ”Mata-Hari” behaves like a small child and is intelligent but her “suicidal Tendencies” are beyond explanation. I am a educated city dweller having visited every continent on planet Earth but definitely feel that modern science and humanity cannot explain certain “paranormal occurrences”. Finally when citizens of the Worlds only superpower and one of the richest country’s start debates on “Paranormal occurrences” they have the World watching and listening and not ridiculing or laughing if it happened to be me speaking! Mittoo definitely missed the presence of dad as well as Trixie and he was uncontrollable in his screeching making me panic as to his health since it could cause stress, a common cause of heart attacks in birds. Arrival of “Matahari” into our household calmed Mittoo since he must have felt the presence of Trixie but till date he hasn’t uttered the word “Daddy,Daddy”, something he use to utter almost daily proving the fact that parrots do recognize people by names and also miss their presence.I am no “OFFICIAL ANIMAL RESEARCHER” but my years of experience with various household pets, observance of wild zoo animals(Byculla zoo) and personal wild-life tours have convinced me that pets do recognize and associate with their owners. Parrots have proven to have the intelligence level of a 5 to 10 year kid and “mittoo” has proven that fact by means of his “parrot vocabulary” and “Human recognition vocabulary”Paranormal or co-incidental?- 2/11/2007(Friday) is “All souls day” or worldwide known as the“Day of the Dead” a day of reverence to Catholics and had been to parents graveyard at “Haines road(Mahalaxmi)” in the morning. On returning home found “Mittoo” excessively noisy and hence opened his cage and after ages he came out and I took some of his photographs on my digital camera. Later in the afternoon at approx 1600 hrs he suddenly uttered the words“Daddy,Daddy” and as usual he had a “guava piece” in his mouth something he hadn’t done after Dad’s death. Mittoo has totally stopped speaking after Dad’s death, hence his strange utterance of the word “daddy,daddy” on “All souls day” is very bizarre to my reasoning as I keep a very open mind to both the practical and paranormal occurrences. On 28/11/2007(Wednesday) I went to “Worli Fort” (Built 1675) as I was happy to be partly instrumental in getting the “Fort”repaired after centuries of neglect through my constant “Letter-writing” to the media before the invention of the “Internet” and later through “Blogging”. After returning home from the fort at approx 1700 hrs “Mittoo” suddenly uttered the words “Daddy ,Daddy” .Whats the reason for“Mittoo” uttering “Daddy, Daddy” only after I visit burial sites or supposedly haunted places? Worli village has a strong “Catholic-Hindu” cultural influence with Hindu temples and catholic religious statues in close proximity giving a historical perspective of the gradual development of Mumbai from a “Portuguese fishing village” to its present status, a multi-cultural cosmopolitan city. Are Mumbai’s “Paranormal occurrences” also cosmopolitan? Sabina Dias my house-keeper told me that the fort had a “Suicide Well” and hence I had a look at it as also photographed the same, the well at present completely filled with muck. Strangely,”Mittoo” has regained his human vocabulary since approx 9/12/07 and on 12/12/07(Wednesday) he spoke in his fluent “parrot English” approx 4 months after Dad’s death. Grotesque and paranormal. Took a 16 minutes voice recording of “Mittoo” on 12/4/08(Saturday), one of the best recordings in which he mimics in series a lot of words and the “SIGNATURE TUNE BEING ‘ O.K MITTOO”!. Its no joke talking non-stop for a bird as they do tire and this cassette could be a “MITTOO MUSICAL HIT”produced by owner Rudolph.A.Furtado.
|“Mittoo” on the “Keyboards with a little assistance from me.Listen to the “MITTOO TAPES”|
.“Alexandrine parakeets” are not seen in the wild in Mumbai city unlike the common ” Rose- Ringed parakeets”, besides, he was alone and not in a group or pair.The crows were not baying for his blood as is normal with escaped caged birds in the city, most becoming a meal for the predatory crows, a cruel fact of nature.Akin to “Mittoo”, this lonely parakeet must be searching for a mate which would be futile in Mumbai as “Alexandrine parakeets” are not found in the wild in the city.Strangely, a kite has also taken refuge on the coconut tree today(14-2-2011) and refuses to fly from the tree occasionally being joined by its mate, all this happening on “St Valentine’s day(14-2-2011)”,bizarre co – incidence.Since “St valentines Day(14-2-2011)”, one of these pair of kites daily sits on the coconut tree facing our gallery which is mittoo’s residence.Seems, this pair of kites must have made a nest somewhere close and are keeping an eye on the same, bizarre wild-life bird observation in the heart of Mumbai city.Sadly, these kites left the “Coconut tree” on Friday(11-3-2011)after their nest or hide-out was destroyed by “Coconut Pickers” employed by our building society to extract coconuts.Birds are very sensitive to human encroachment and this was the last that i saw of these unique pair of kites trying to build a nest on our building coconut tree.In the month of September 2011, noticed that these pair of kites were building a nest on the “Air-Condition ledge box” of the sixth floor of “Avarsekar’s Pushpanjali” a multi-storeyed skyscraper , just adjacent to our building.The coconut tree faces their nest house and hence this pair were continuously perched on this tree scouting for a suitable nest site.As on October 2011, they have laid eggs and are in the process of hatching the same, the first time i have witnessed huge raptors nestling in the heart of Mumbai City.The topographical changes in Mumbai’s skyline have created new nesting avenues for some of the city’s birds that have adapted to a concrete jungle living, most importantly, the common city kite.Once common birds like the house-sparrow have considerably reduced in numbers in the city, reasons which have puzzled naturalists and bird-watchers.Strangely saw the freak loner “Alexandrine Parakeet” of “St Valentine day” again onWednesday(23-2-2011),hearing its distinctly high pitched screeches and through binoculars recognizing this beautiful plumaged “Loner Parakeet”.As a member of the “B.N.H.S(Bombay natural History society)”, have been on numerous nature treks in the company of some of the best “Bird-Watchers”, always admiring their skills and talent at recognizing a bird species just by its shriek or musical calls, since i am basically a “Trekker” not a knowledgeable “Bird-watcher”.This particular mysterious wild “Alexandrine parakeet” made me realize the difference in sounds of bird calls, thanks to my very own “Mittoo”.Again spotted this elusive beautiful “Alexandrine Parakeet” at approx 0900 hrs on Friday(8-7-2011), sitting on the “Cable Wires” between buildings.Later, at approx 1000 hrs this bird again returned to its perch on the“Cable Wire” approx 75 meters from my gallery, noticed by my house-keeper Sabina.Dias. I don’t own professional “Zoom Photography equipment”, since my handy “Pentax optio 40” digital camera suits my normal purpose of “Close-up photography” and “landscapes” which are later composed into my blog, more a writer and less a photographer.Hence i decided to at least get a remembrance photo of this unique freak parakeet for authenticity of this blog on this unique survivor. Managed to Photograph this unique and lonely bird, the same on view on the main page of this blog, sitting on the cable wire with our building coconut tree in the background.At least this bird will experience the free bird life and hope it survives to a ripe old age having eluded the crows, a rare freak.THE “LONER ALEXANDRINE PARAKEET” WAS AGAIN SIGHTED ONSATURDAY(15-9-2012) AT 0800 HRS IN THE MORNING ON THE SAME CABLE WIRE THAT I SPOTTED HIM OVER A YEAR AGO .Why is this bird all alone although once i did spot a few Alexandrine parakeets on the coconut trees inside the Mahatma Gandhi swimming pool, a distance of approx 1.5 Kms by a parrots flight ? Strangely, akin to humans, seems even amongst birds, some like to live alone from their flock like this “LONER ALEXANDRINE PARAKEET”.The residential area of Prabhadevi near my residence has some of the best greenery and trees in Mumbai city, hence a lot of birds and even a few squirrels are local residents in the vicinity. As for“Mittoo”, he is totally at peace with his house-hold, loves to be left in the closed gallery to stretch his wings, a happy caged pet bird. Mittoo also has some peculiar mannerisms,one of which is the mild lifting of his wings whenever he sees me for the first time in the day, akin to a human greeting like “hello or Good morning”!He does this every day, bizarrely childlike behavior.
|Tuesday(22-10-2013):-“AUDITIONS AT “MITTOO THE POPPAT” STUDIO at my home IN MUMBAI ! :- Any film roles for the pair of us ?|
Rudolph.A.Furtado.”Mittoo” has now completed 20 years of age in January 2012 and another bizarre occurrence stunned me on Valentines day in 2011.Early on Monday morning(14-2-2011) i heard a loud screeching sound outside my house and observed a beautiful male Alexandrine parakeet perched all alone on the coconut tree in our building compound.He must have definitely escaped from a cage as
At 19 years of age “Mittoo” seems to have become a bit organized in his daily routine, always screeching in the evenings to be let out of his cage.On being let out, he just comes out of his cage and sits on top of it, finally going back into his “caged house” after approx an hour and begins his dinner before sunset.He has become bolder and lazier with age and experience , never flying around the enclosed house gallery as he used to when a much younger bird.Normally i would force him to fly by frightening him with a stick from his perch on top of the “cage-house” but it seems he now knows that i just frighten him and refuses to leave the perch when shown the stick, absolutely comical behavior.”Mittoo” is fed his food early in the morning , normally before 0700 hrs, after the feeding of the cats by house-keeper Sabina.Dias.If he is fed a little later than 0700 hrs he emits his shrill parakeet screech, reminding us to clean his cage and replenish his daily food.He is very regular in this particular “food reminder Shriek”, repeating it on various occasions when his early morning cage-cleaning and meal is delayed.Another bizarre behavior of mittoo is that whenever i return home after sunset, late in the night and happen to go into the gallery, he recognizes me and starts talking his “Parakeet Language”.Normally, we always cover his cage with a cloth at night to prevent disturbance as well as a shelter against the bright light emitting from our living room.Despite his cage being covered , mittoo recognizes my home-coming at night, even at times, past midnight, a strange behavior akin to a dog.I normally keep my shoes in the gallery and hence quickly depart to avoid mittoo’s voice awakening people as it sounds loud in the quietness of night.As mentioned previously, with age and time mittoo’s vocabulary has evolved and changed over the years. He has learnt new words and sentences while having a tendency to forget some, which to me could be the “Storage Power” of his tiny “Bird Brain” for retaining “Mimicry vocabulary”.On Saturday(16-7-2011) i distinctly heard him “Meowing” in the afternoon , his usual“Mimicry Time”.
|A “CLOSE-UP” view of the intelligent face of “Mittoo” alias “Mittoo the Poppat”.|
This was the first instance when i heard him mimicking my cats, absolutely identical, baffling me. He did this continuous “Cat Mimicry” for approximately 15 minutes, later totally silent, his typical behavior.He always “TALKS” only when alone and never in our presence, another strange behavior i can’t explain nor understand.Usually, on public T.V shows or demonstrations they show the parrot uttering a few words in answer to the human handlers talk, most famous being “Alex”, the Worlds best African Grey talking parrot.”Mittoo”, would never be able to demonstrate his “Human vocabulary mimicry” in public or my presence, a total flop for a “Public Demonstration”.Hence i got his talks recorded by a “Tape-recorder” hidden in the gallery and switched onn during his usual “Human vocabulary mimicry”. This procedure required a lot of patience and time akin to “Wild-life photography” of a rare endangered species in the forests.Thanks to the invention of the “INTERNET” and “YOUTUBE” that i managed to make his recordings public for viewers.Prior to the “INTERNET”, his voice recordings were stored on “Tape”.As mentioned, with time mittoo’s behavior has evolved and at times he performs his old mischievous and highly dangerous tricks.He surprised me on Sunday(4-9-2011) by suddenly opening his cage and coming out into the open, his trade mark “HARRY HOUDINI ESCAPE ACT”.I had opened his cage in the morning for cleaning, the gallery window being open with cat matahari lazily sitting on it.After cleaning the cage tray in the toilet on returning back to the gallery i found mittoo happily perched on top of the cage with the gallery window wide open and cat matahari watching him from her seat on the window-sill.I quickly closed the window, providence saving the day with neither the cat being aggressive nor mittoo attempting to fly out of the house.This used to be mittoo’s regular morning act years ago which he abruptly stopped, hence we later never closed the gallery windows while changing his food tray or cage cleaning.This sudden abrupt change in mittoo’s behavior after years proves that parakeets do have a memory akin to humans.Mitto repeated his “Harry Houdini escape act” again the next day in the morning during his regular cage cleaning itinerary. This time i had closed the gallery window with the cats kept in the hall, gallery entrance door being shut.As mentioned, mittoo has repeated this strange behaviour after years, resorting to his childish pranks, comic and astounding.Akin to a monkey using its hands, mittoo uses his beak to open the “cage Door”, besides, he was never trained by me for performing this “HOUDINI ACT”.This proves that parakeets are intelligent birds and can think for themselves.
|“MITTOO” alias “Mittoo the Poppat” on the house office computer keyboard.|
“Mittoo” has been the subject of a topic on “B.B.C Radio” in 2004,a debate on “Radio Telephone” regarding having “PENSIONS” for retired circus and animal stars, a true “Bird Celebrity”. It was a 3-Way discussion conducted by a “B.B.C Moderator” in London between Dan.Westfall(U.S.A), owner/handler of retired “Tarzan of the Apes” film chimp “Cheetah”, Mr Martin.Lacey(U.K),animal trainer and owner of “Great British Circus” and myself Rudolph.A.Furtado(Mumbai),pet owner of “Mittoo, India’s best talking parakeet”.
BELOW IS AN EXTRACT OF A LETTER WRITTEN BY ME ON 23-4-2004 TO DAN WESTFALL, THE HANDLER OF “CHEETAH”,THE WORLDS OLDEST CHIMPANZEE THAT STARRED IN “TARZAN OF THE APES” MOVIE FRANCHISEE.I WAS INVITED TO THE “B.B.C” STUDIOS at MAKER CHAMBERS IN MUMBAI FOR A DEBATE ON THE TOPIC OF “PENSION FOR ANIMAL STARS AND CIRCUS PERFORMING ANIMALS”.
23 Apr 2004 @ 23:00 by Rudolph.A.Furtado @184.108.40.206 : Interaction with Dan Westfall on B.B.C.
Dan,it was wonderful interacting with you over the radiotelephone on 23/4/2004
Cheeta(Alias jiggs) alive at 71 has proved the fact that “Circus animal and bird performers” can be managed after retirement by ‘private owners’.
Martin Lacey,proprietor of“Great British circus” on his recorded tape disagreed about the upkeep of circus performers by circuses on retirement.
I have had pet dogs,one of which was a “Show quality” dachshund and at present a
“Albino oriental Siamese cat” named Trixie and an “Alexandrine parakeet” mittoo.
Their “gimmicks” and “Innate intelligence” astounded me and as laboratory tests
have proved,parrots are as intelligent as apes or more,the most famous being
“Alex”,the African Grey.
My observation is that “Pet birds or animals” lose their “Natural Instincts and
behavior”thus becoming more “Humanized”,hence cannot be released into the
“Wild” or “Mated”.
Encouraging people to keep “Wild apes or birds” should be discouraged and even banned because this will cause a gradual “EXTINCTION” of the particular species.
Parrots,are gradually being driven towards extinction due to the “PET TRADE”,
and in India,trade in “Parakeets” is banned.
“Pension for pets” is a necessity until the trade in “Wild pets” is totally or gradually phased away.
Better viewing Chimpanzees and parrots in the wild or “Natural environment zoological parks” than in “Cages”.
“Mittoo” my pet parakeet is definitely the last wild bird in my collection,henceforth i would only keep dogs,cats,budgerigars,finches or canaries
as pets,since they can be bred in captivity and not become extinct.
“Mittoo” is 11 years old,a comedian and an excellent mimic,akin to “Cheeta”,hope
“Mittoo” has a long life.
NOTE:- READERS , “MITTOO” HAS BEEN IN MY HOUSEHOLD SINCE 1992 AND THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE TRUE ACCOUNT OF MY OBSERVATIONS OF HIS BEHAVIOR AND MANNERISMS.AS YEARS GO BY I WILL BE DOCUMENTING HIS ENTIRE LIFE IN THIS BLOG,A RARE BENEFIT FOR FUTURE BIRD SCIENTISTS AKIN TO “ALEX” THE AFRICAN PARROT.
I HAVE NOT EXAGGERATED ANY ASPECT OF HIS BEHAVIOR OF “PARAKEET HINGLISH” FOR CHEAP POPULARITY OR SENSATIONALISM.”RECORDINGS” OF HIS VOICE ARE ON “YOUTUBE VIDEOS”.THIS FACTUAL ACCOUNT OF MITTOO’S BIOGRAPHY WOULD BE HELPFUL FOR FUTURE STUDY ON “PARAKEET INTELLIGENCE” AND ALSO THEIR CONSERVATION IN THE NATURAL WILD.
“Status of pet bird trade in Mumbai in 2012”:- After ages visited Mumbai’s famous “Crawford Market” on Wednesday(13-6-2012) to see the “Pet Section”.Was surprised at the transformation of some of the “Pet Shops” and viewed some of the most exotic parrots at a particular pet shop, “Shop Nos 8” owned by Rafat .Khan & Sons. African Grey Congo parrots(Rs 35,000 each)”, “Australian Cockatoo parrots” ,”Macaw Parrots(Rs 1,40,000 each)” , Canaries(Rs 3000)and numerous other exotic parrots which were beyond my knowledge of bird recognition were on sale in this shop.The Currency conversion rate in June 2012 was Rs 55 = 1 U.S $ for the benefit of readers unaccustomed to Indian currency.There was not a single Alexandrine nor a rose-ringed parakeet in the entire market, the sale of indigenous Indian parakeets totally banned for sale or export as pets.Visiting “Rafat Khan & Sons(Shop nos 8)” is better than visiting a “Parrot zoo” although photography is totally banned.In 1992 when i purchased “Mittoo ” as a nestling, the market was filled with rose-ringed and Alexandrine parakeets to be sold as pets, as common as the common rock pigeons, while exotic imported parrots were a rarity. Today in 2012, Alexandrine and rose-ringed parakeets are totally absent in pet shops while exotic imported parrots are not uncommon as pets ..Illegal trade in exotic endangered parrots and parakeets is banned and according to the pet dealer of this shop, all these exotic parrots have been locally bred by “Bird Breeders” in India.It should be true otherwise he wouldn’t be trading these expensive rare birds in full public view in Mumbai’s most visited pet market with the Mumbai Police Commissioners headquarters a walking distance away from his rare exotic pet shop!Ownership of exotic pet parrots has become a common hobby amongst Mumbai’s elite rich as well as a few bird hobbyists.During my occasional visits to the “Phoenix Veterinary Specialty” clinic in Prabhadevi, approx 200 meters from my residence, i have always seen some exotic parrot at the clinic.The clinics owner Dr Shiwani.Tandel is an “Avian and Exotic” animal specialist hence most owners of exotic birds in Mumbai bring their pets to her clinic for treatment and examination. In 1992, ownership of exotic birds in Mumbai was as rare as owning a “Rolls Royce” car while Alexandrine and rose-necked parakeets were a common sight at most homes and slums in Mumbai , a caged bird tethered outside the house balcony , a slum hut or a shop.At times in 2012, flocks of rose-ringed or Alexandrine parakeets can be seen on trees or flying across crowded Mumbai city, a rare sight indicating the aptitude of these birds to inhabit human city’s.These birds must have been escapees or released birds from pet traders that later bred and colonized the city landscape.As a pet caged aviary bird, “Mittoo” is the last of his species to be legally owned before the ban on these species was introduced by the “Wildlife (Protection)Act 1972(Amended in 1991 and 2002)”. Illegal trade in banned birds is still rampant in some parts of India and hope this practice along with rapid deforestation doesn’t result in the ultimate extinction of some of India’s local parakeet species. India does not have any indigenous parrots, something strange for a country with one of the World’s largest species bio-diversity on planet Earth.
On Wednesday(13-6-2012) my housekeeper Sabina.Dias had returned from her short vacation to the exotic sea-coast of Goa and as usual “mittoo” and the cats “Matahari” and “Matata” were happy to greet her.
The very next day on Thursday(14-6-2012) mittoo demonstrated his old “Houdini Escape Act” to Sabina while his cage was being cleaned early in the morning.It seems to have become a habit with him, indicating his level of intelligence as well as memory at remembering his old tricks.
“DADDY ,DADDY, Happy Fathers Day”!?:-Saturday(16-6-2012) happened to be the birthday of my late father Mr.Louis.J.Furtado having expired five years ago on 15/8/2007.”Mittoo” and my father loved each others company as both were confined to the house and dad would spend a few hours talking with mittoo in the gallery.When released from his cage mittoo would fly onto my dads shoulder and walk all over his shoulder and head, never doing this act on anyone else in the house-hold, including myself, the person who hand-fed him as a nestling.Trixie our pet cat during those years was harmless and hence mittoo would fly into the hall from the balcony cage onto my dads shoulder , something i would never dream of with my present Persian cats Matahari and Matata.Strangely on Saturday(16-6-2012) while watching a movie in the hall i heard mittoo talking in perfect parakeet Hinglish in the balcony., something he rarely does, normally uttering the few words, including his own name “Mittoo.Mittoo”.Did he sense my “Dads Birthday”, his favourite person in the house? He spoke for approx ten minutes, akin to the “Mittoo Tapes” that i recorded over a decade ago proving that parakeets have a memory akin to a child.The next day, Sunday(17-6-2012) happened to be “Fathers Day” and i presume it was mittoo’s manner of paying homage to his human father.my father definitely found solace in our pets, “Mittoo” being the most beloved pet as his reponses were similar to a human child.
“MR LONER ALEXANDRINE PARAKEET OF MUMBAI”:- Bizarrely, akin to Alfred.Hitchcock’s, “THE BIRDS” or a Stephen.King supernatural novel ,spotted “MR LONER ALEXANDRINE PARAKEET” on Thursday(27-9-2012) at the Mahatma Gandhi Swimming pool.Read the First part of “Mittoo Diaries” to understand the peculiar and bizarre existence of this bold parakeet in Mumbai city which i have thoroughly documented, akin to professional bird-watchers tagging“MIGRATORY BIRDS”.. On Thursday morning at approx 1040 hrs i had just finished my normal 10 laps of the pool(500 metres), my daily swimming exercise at the M.G.M.O pool..On getting out of the water heard a parakeets screech and on looking up at the coconut trees lining the pool boundary wall sighted “Mr Loner Alexandrine Parakeet” sitting alone on the stump of a dead coconut tree.The “M.G.M.O” pool was rebuilt a year ago and manny coconut trees heads were chopped in the process, just the bare long dead stumps remaining. Manny times i have spotted a flock of parakeets on these trees but today was the first time i spotted “Mr Loner alexandrine Parakeet” at the pool premises, as if this parakeet was tailing me.Having bred and observed“Mittoo” for over 20 years and documenting his life, i have realized that parakeets have their own personality akin to humans.This “Loner alexandrine Parakeet” could be identified by its unique behaviour, most bizarrely, the very fact that whenever i spotted him he was always alone, never in a flock.The predator birds like crows and eagles never bothered him proving that he has lived in the natural wild concrete jungle of Mumbai for years.Nature is strange and stranger is this wonder wild bird of Mumbai city, “Mr Loner alexandrine Parakeet”.
|“Mittoo” aged 20 years 11 months with his owner Rudolph.A.Furtado in his residence in Mumbai. Friday(7-12-2012).|
“Mittoo Flies again(Friday 23-11-2012) and also loses the same !:- After shedding his feathers mittoo had totally lost the power of flight, something that puzzled me. when released from his cage for daily exercises he would just climb to the top and sit on it. occasionally climbing to the clothes wires to nibble at shirt or pant buttons, his favourite destructive prank.About a month ago i observed that mittoo had regained his prowess of flying within the confines of the house gallery. When released he would directly fly onto my clothes and perform a Houdini in nibbling a button, absolutely active. He is now hyperactive , shrieks in the afternoon to be released from his cage and loves spending his time outside the confines of his cage.Strangely ,Mittoo has again lost a few of his primary feathers and hence can’t fly in the New Year(Tuesday 1-1-2013).The photograph below is his normal behaviour of holding a “Chilli(Peppers)” in his beak after exercising in the enclosed gallery.
|FROM THE PARAKEETS CAGE IN MUMBAI WITH A CHILLI IN HIS BEAK :- “Mittoo” at age 21 years on New Years day(Tuesday 1-1-2013)|
http://shiwanibirdvet.blogspot.in/ :- Read this veterinary article on “Alexandrine Parakeets” written by prominent Mumbai avian specialist Dr Shivani.Tandel who has her clinic “Phoenix Veterinary Speciality” near my residence in Prabhadevi.She has clearly stated the dangers of“Alexandrine Parakeets” becoming extinct in the wild due to excessive “Pet Trade”.
MITTOO HAS STOPPED TALKING SINCE NOVEMBER 2013.
|Saturday(11-1-2014):- “Mittoo” at 22 years of age. Note his beak which indicates his age.|
Have observed that “MITTOO” alias “Mittoo the Poppat” has suddenly and abruptly stopped talking or uttering words.Whats the reason for his sudden change in behaviour ? Today he just sreaches loudly in his cage akin to any common parakeet.Do parakeets suffer from Amnesia ? Over the years he always learn’t new words and sentences while forgetting some older human mimicry.I have documented his life since his arrival in my house as a nestling in 1992 akin to a avian psychologist Irene.Pepperberg’s study on “Alex(1976-2007)” the grey African parrot.Read the biography of “ALEX” on this link :- ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_(parrot). Mittoo’s behaviour and characteristics have been minutely documented by me and is a helpful study fort bird psychologists..Thanks to the “INTERNET” he has become a parakeet star and his talking videos are a hit on the internet.He always jabbered a few English words or still better mimicked a few sentences.Initially he would whistle loudly which he abruptly stopped, but he never ever stopped learning new words or totally stopped talking. Today in 2014 any person would mistake“MITTOO” to be a different parakeet, a total wild new Alexandrine parakeet akin to a “TWIN BROTHER” as shown in numerous films and in real life.His favourite words throughout his“Talking Life” were “GOOD MORNING MUMMY” and “MITTOO” as also “DADDY, DADDY“. Hope Avian scientists are able to explain the strange change in the mimicking behaviour of“MITTOO”. WHAT IS THE REASON FOR “MITTOO” alias “MITTOO THE POPPAT” MIMICKING “SILENT MOVIES” RATHER THAN THE “TALKING MOVIES” ?
Thursday(30-1-2014) “MITTOO” regains his voice :- Eureka! I was in my bedroom with English“94.3 Radio One FM ” music playing while reading the classic novel “A Train to Pakistan” by India’s foremost English author Kushwant .Singh.This is my normal afternoon work schedule, relaxing by reading a book or magazine.Later just happened to step out into the toilet.It was then that i heard “Mittoo’s” musical voice.It was approx 1315 hrs in the afternoon, the normal hours that“Mittoo” always spoke to himself prior to his abrupt “PARAKEET VOCABULARY AMNESIA”.Tomcat “Matata” was as usual sleeping on his favourite chair in the hall and hence i taped “Mittoo’s” voice while videotaping “Matata” lazily enjoying his siesta.It was a real relief to hear his magical and musical human mimicry of the word “HELLO”. He just kept on repeating this word along with little “Cat Calls”. After a few minutes he abruptly stopped and became quiet again, his usual self. This is the first time i have taped “Mittoo’s ” voice on a “Video-camera”having made his previous records on “Cassette Tapes” and later dubbing it on video shoots. In the 1990’s when i produced the “MITTOO TAPES” the era of “Digital Photography” was non-existent in India. “Mittoo” has got himself taped on a camera having the modern invention of digital photography and video-tape.Yes, Parakeet “Mittoo” has seen a lot and come a long way as a nestling since 1992 when “Cell-Phones” were a pipe-dream and “YouTube” non-existent to the common photographer.
IS 2014 ELECTION YEAR , THE YEAR OF POLITICAL SATIRE MODEL “MITTOO THE POPPAT” ?
|A “Close-up View” of the Parakeet in the satirical political theatre set.|
Saturday(1-2-2014):- Discovered that “Mittoo The poppat SAYS ” idea is “PLAGIARIZED” at “KALA GHODA FESTIVAL-2014 :- I didn’t realize that “MITTOO THE POPPAT SAYS “ satire on “LEGALIZE CRICKET BETTING IN INDIA” had a huge fan base among political satirists.. Was delighted as well as surprised to find this idea used by a street artist Mr Rajesh.N.Nakar to state and portray a “POLITICAL VOICE” on the forthcoming elections in India .A satirical “Political Set” was erected in a small space on the Rampart Row promenade near Jehangir Art gallery with a parakeet as the spokesman.The title of the visual art was “KYA POPAT BANAYA” !In India, the “Rose-ringed parakeet” was commonly used by street fortune tellers to predict the future by picking a card from a card set when released from its small cage.This profession of “Parakeet Fortune-tellers” has been officially banned although they do practice their trade in villages and at times during local cultural fairs. Readers unfamiliar with Mumbai should know that the “Kala Ghoda Festival” is a annual 9-day festival held in the “Kala Ghoda”locality of South Mumbai(Bombay).It was first started in 1999 and grew in popularity with every successive year.The entire “Rampart Row” area is closed for vehicular traffic during the festival.Rampart Row is the main venue for the “Food Stalls” and street mela(Fair).
|Enlarged view of “KYA POPPAT BANAYA”|
I have portrayed the main skit photo along with enlarged views of the parakeet and his “Political thought” for the benefit of the readers.Every artist is allotted a certain space on the promenade road with boundary markings. I was at the right place at the right time and hence in the main enlarged photo you can see the police advising the artist( white political Cap) to set his “Street Art” within the boundary parameters.
This festival is a mega-carnival of music, pantomime, theatre,cooking, art, literature and street art featuring prominent as well as unknown artists and intellectuals.. Lakhs of people glimpse at these exhibits and visit the stalls on “Rampart Row”, the main venue of the festival.
|Saturday(1-2-2014) :-“KYA POPPAT BANYA” at Rampart Row :- The Artist(Mr Rajesh.N.Nakar) is wearing the “Politician Topi” as also is the “Parakeet”.|
|Tuesday(4-2-2014) :-“Mittoo” alias “Mittoo the Poppat” with “Black Topi” signifying “Black Money” generated by “ILLEGAL CRICKET GAMBLING” in India. “MITTOO” will wear a “WHITE TOPI” when Cricket & Sports betting gets legalized in India.|
“MITTOO THE POPPAT SAYS “ :- I am wearing a “BLACK TOPI” as a protest against the “ILLEGAL PLAGIARISM” of my “INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS “.I HAVE BEEN CANVASSING FOR THE LEGALIZATION OF CRICKET BETTING IN INDIA AND OTHERS ARE COPYING MY IDEAS ! Advertisers and film producers are minting greenbacks on my“INTELLECTUAL PARAKEET PROPERTY RIGHTS”.I AM THE “REAL POPPAT” AND THIS IS MY “POPPAT KURCHI” on which i have modeled for my photo-shoot.Photo permission only to my master Rudolph.A.Furtado. HA HA HA HEE HEE HEE.
|Thursday(3-4-2014):-India’s eminent taxidermist Dr Santosh.Gaikwad giving the final touches to “Mittoo”|
MITTOO EXPIRES ON SATURDAY(10-3-2014) at the age of 22 years :- I was travelling on a train from Mumbai to Aliduarpur in W.Bengal ,a 2 days marathon train journey when i suddenly got a phone call from home.My house-keeper Miss Sabina.Dias informed me that “Mittoo” was lying dead in his cage. I was on a 16 day tour of Bhutan,Darjeeling, Gangtok & Kalimpong, my usual blogging ,touring research holidays every year. Miss Sabina.Dias who cared for “Mittoo” for the last 10 years was at home as usual to look after my two Traditional Persian cats “Matahari” and “Matata” and oldest pet resident parakeet “Mittoo” .As a Gambler/Speculator by profession i am accustomed to “Heart-Attack Shocks” but this was the worst in my life. After my parents demise “Mittoo” was the next living being in my house with whom i had the longest association, although a ordinary Alexandrine parakeet and not some exotic expensive Macaw or African Grey parrot.I made him a internet star as also a model for caring for the“Alexandrine Parakeet”, a research on the breed as a caged pet bird. Sabina was hysteric and she called my next-door neighbour , Mr Hitendra. Soni to whom i spoke over the phone, advising him on preserving the bird in the fridge.I told Sabina to wrap his dead body in a plastic bag and keep it in the “Deep Freezer” of our Godrej Fridge.Bizarrely, this fridge is also one of the oldest fridges in India having been in operation in our house since 1980!I didn’t cancel or postpone my holidays but completed the same in homage to his memory and the years of entertainment he provided to my life at home.Returned back to Mumbai on Sunday(23-3-2014) and deeply felt the absence of “Mittoo” on entering my house, his typical signature “Parrot chirp” missing, the house deathly quiet.Postmortems are useless and i presume he died from a “Heart-Attack” as did“Alex”, the World famous African grey parrot who proved that parrots are intelligent .The next day i contacted my veterinarian Dr Mrs Shivani.Kamath Nee Tandel regarding preserving “Mittoo” through taxidermy.I had seen “National Geographic “ programmes where Americans preserved their pets through “TAXIDERMY” and “Mummification”. I presumed that there would be a few professional taxidermists in Mumbai, most notably at the “B.N.H.S” as they have cupboards of dead preserved birds collected over the decades..She gave me the reference of India’s only recognized taxidermist Dr Santosh.Gaikwad who was also a associate professor of anatomy at the “Bombay Veterinary college” in Parel. The next day i visited the “S.P.C.A” hospital in Parel and met the college doctor. He gave me Dr Santosh.Gaikwad’s phone number but i spent the entire day unable to contact him.I then decided to either go to “B.N.H.S(Bombay Natural History society)” or Crawford Market in order to find someone practicing the art of taxidermy.During the era of Maharajahs, Nawabs, British rule and later Independent India the art of “TAXIDERMY ” was at its zenith in the Country.The total ban on wild-life hunting sounded the death knell of this once flourishing Industry . “Van Ingen & Van Ingen(1900-1999) “ based in Mysore were the biggest and best taxidermists in the World . Their “Tiger and Leopard Trophy’s” are spread in wealthy houses or mansions across the World.At the peak of the “Trophy Hunting” era between 1930’s to 1960’s they processed approximately 400 tigers per year, unbelievable in the 21st century where the animal is on the verge of extinction in forests. They closed down their taxidermy business in Mysore in 1999.Today in the 21st century in India its only Dr Santosh.Gaikwad of the “Bombay Veterinary College” who officially practices and teaches the art of taxidermy.He has worked as a taxidermist on lions, tigers ,elephant, birds ,reptiles and fish, all dead zoo specimens and brought them back to life as natural history exhibits for students and tourists. .On Wednesday(26-3-2014) just as i was about to leave home for “B.N.H.S” situated at Colaba i decided to give a last try on the phone to contact Dr Santosh.Gaikwad. The phone rang and a voice spoke from the other end and i was delighted to be speaking to Dr Santosh.Gaikwad himself, a busy man as a“Celebrity Taxidermist” in India.I explained him my case and he told me to immediately bring the bird to the Parel animal hospital. I quickly picked up “Mittoo” from the deep freezer and put him in my motorcycle dicky. Could have won a prize for the shortest time taken to reach Parel from my residence in Prabhadevi. After “Mahalaxmi race-course”the “Bombay Veterinary Hospital” at Parel was my familiar hobby locality. Both my dogs“Blondie” and “Lucky” got treated in that hospital as also my first cat “Trixie”. I also did some charitable free “Dog-Walking” for the “Stray Dog Ward” in 2004 having met Dr Ashish.Suttar who was then over-all in-charge of the Animal hospital.On reaching the Veterinary “Outdoors Patient Clinic” rang up Dr Santosh.Gaikwad and he came down from the college building guiding me back into the Veterinary college.Unpacked “Mittoo”from the plastic bag and i was surprised at the “FRESHNESS” of his dead body, akin to a bird just dead and not a dead 16 day bird kept in a deep-freezer.He transferred “Mittoo”into the College “Fridge” as dead birds and animals are a part of veterinary study.He told me that he would contact me in a week and on Wednesday(2-4-2014) i received a call from him telling me that the taxidermy on “Mittoo” was complete and i could collect him from his residence in Andheri..Informed him that i would collect “Mittoo” the next day onThursday(3-4-2014). On Thursday(3-4-2014) i set out on a bus to Andheri to Dr Santosh.Gaikwad’s residence. Unfamiliar with Andheri locality traced his residence with some difficulty and reached his home at approx 1900 hrs.I was a bit early and he arrived a few minutes later.He showed me his “Press Write-ups” and “Albums” on his taxidermy specimens, the latest being the last Siberian tiger that died in a zoo.He finally showed me“Mittoo” saying that he had difficulty in getting the bird to its original looks as the head had decomposed a little.16 days in the deep-freezer of a 30 + year old fridge is a unbelievable feat even for professional cadaver preservers.House-keeper Sabina.Dias had done a good job and at least “Mittoo” could be preserved through “TAXIDERMY”akin to a museum specimen. I feel that there is a great future for taxidermists in the “Pet ” business as many owners like me would want to preserve their pets after the death of the pet.The future of “Taxidermy” in India is in the “Pet Industry”, a flourishing business in America.
|Taxidermist Dr Santosh.Gaikwad holding his taxidermy creation “Mittoo” at his home in Andheri.|
He looked“Wet” the way he normally looked after his occasional water dips.Otherwise it was a perfect taxidermy specimen of “Mittoo” the once life of the house with his “Parakeet Hinglish “ and shrill screeches.I paid Dr Santosh the taxidermy expenses of Rs 5000 and the next major hurdle was transporting him from Andheri to Prabhadevi.With great difficulty Dr Santosh.Gaikwad arranged a taxi as rickshaws are the common mode of transport in Andheri locality.It was a long drive through peak hour office traffic from Andheri to Prabhadevi and was glad that “Mittoo” arrived home safely at home, his permanent resting place.
|“Mittoo” in familiar surroundings at home in Mumbai.|
On Friday(4-4-2014) i got a glass enclosure akin to a fish tank fabricated for enclosing and sealing “Mittoo” to prevent atmospheric damage from dust and humidity. In 1992 i had selected “Mittoo” as a nestling from the numerous Alexandrine parakeet nestlings in the cage in a pet dealers shop in Carawford Market.Alexandrine nestlings and grown-up birds were common birds sold as pets in the market before the ban on the trade in Indian parakeet species. I must have paid approximately Rs 200 for him and little did i know then that he would develop into the “Wunder Parakeet” that he became during his life-time, memories preserved in “Youtube Videos” and blogs.He now resembles a“Natural history museum” exhibit in my house although he doesn’t look his original self when alive and the best talking Alexandrine parakeet in India.
After Completing my solo tour of Bhutan returned back to the Bhutanese/India border town of Pheuntsholing on Friday(14-3-2014).on the next leg of my “Solo Backpackers tour”.On entering Jaigaon it was the experience of being in the World’s second largest populated Country, India.Boarded a shared rickshaw that took me to Jaigaon local bus stand charging only Rs 5.On inquiries at the local bus-stand purchased a Rs 100 ticket to Siliguri on a local bus scheduled to depart at 1500 hrs. The bus ultimately left the station at 1645 hrs and it was a rickety ride on absolutely bad roads to Siliguri. At 2115 hrs reached “Tenzing Norgay Bus Station” in Siliguri and on alighting the bus headed towards the closest lodge.Checked into room no 13 on the third floor of “Delhi hotel and restaurant. The rental was Rs 300/day(Off-season rates).Saturday(15-3-2014) :- Woke up at 0300 hrs, 4 hours sleep being my maximum sleep limit on tours as well as at home, a partial insomniac.Watched television and later on daybreak checked out of the hotel.This hotel was in prime Siliguri tourist locality, next to the train, bus and taxi stand. Had a breakfast of omelette/ bread and tea from a food stall near the taxi stand and was allotted a shared jeep taxi . At approx 0630 hrs boarded the taxi consisting of 12 passengers including the driver.There was no traffic jams as the jeep drove along early in the morning towards the hill station of Darjeeling.The incline route up the mountain was alongside the Himalayan mountain toy train route, the tracks running parallel to the highway.Brought back youth memories of one of my favourite Hindi movie “Aradhna” of the 1970’s which was shot in Darjeeling, a memorable song from the movie picturised on the toy train .In my youth i had associated Darjeeling with Hindi movies and Darjeeling tea.
|The “Toy Train Station ” of Kurseong.|
At approx 0715 hrs we reached Kurseong station(4864 feet)and could feel the cool weather change with the increase in altitude.Darjeeling district seemed a congested hill-station and a little dirty in 2014 unlike the 1970’s song picturisation of “Aradhna” which was my image of this World famous hill-station.City’s and Country’s change over the decades and so has Darjeeling, definitely a densely populated hill-station.At 0830 hrs we reached Ghum station (7407 Ft), the highest train station in India.From Ghum Station the highway meanders to a lower altitude and we reached “Chowk Bazaar” of Darjeeling at approx 0900 hrs. Darjeeling is situated at a altitude of 6812 feet and the weather was cool. The filth and congestion of this main Bazaar , bus-stand and taxi locality of Darjeeling surprised me , only consolation, the cold hill station weather.Approached a cab driver for cheap accommodation guidance and he escorted me to “Hotel Morning Glory”situated on Loch Nagar road just a short walk downhill from main Chowk Bazaar.The hotel seemed recently renovated with many rooms, all empty on my arrival indicating the tourist off-season period.The hotel owner Mr Kedar.Mukherjee offered me a tiny room unfit for a “Macaw parrot”,just a bed and a tiny attached toilet/bathe.This room had broken my previous record of smallest room stay on tour which happened to be in 2005 in “Chungking Mansion” in Hongkong, one of the World’s costliest city’s. The room charges were a princely Rs 330(Off-season) and since check-in was 12 -12 hrs i had to deposit my luggage in the hotel store-room and proceed on my city exploration.
Having done my “Internet study” i was aware of the tourist locations and places of interest. My first visit was to the “Darjeeling Zoo”.It was a long straight walk from my hotel, tolerable due to the cold climate.This zoo is at Jawahar Parvat(Birch hill ) and was inaugurated in 1958.It is the highest altitude zoo in India set at an altitude of 7000 ft(2133 meters).It was initially known as the Himalayan zoological park and later renamed “Padmaja Naidu Himalayan zoological park” by former Prime Minister Smt Indira.Gandhi.At approx 0945 hrs i reached the zoo situated on a hill.After purchasing the entry ticket of Rs 40 which included entrance to the “Himalayan Mountaineering Institute” i made my way into the zoo.Bizarrely, the first enclosure was the “Parrot Enclosure” haunting me with memories of my late Alexandrine parakeet “Mittoo”.There were Alexandrine parakeets and Macaws along with other exotic parrots and parakeets in a large enclosed aviary.Another Aviary had various types of Pheasants.Saw a beautiful pair of Golden Macaws, absolutely large birds that would find difficulty fitting into my tiny hotel room in “Hotel Morning Glory” !
|Rare Himalayan Wolf.|
The zoo was well maintained and clean, the birds and animals seemed well fed and cared.For the first time in my life got to view some rare Himalayan animal species like the Goral and the Himalayan Wolf.The Himalayan Wolf if not en-caged resembled a mixed breed German shepherd dog.The zoo viewing area is small built on a hillock with the animal enclosures on the sides of the small hillock.Viewed the elusive snow leopard and Red Panda’s.The zoo had a tiger and a leopard , the prized exhibits being the herbivorous animals of the Himalayas, rarely exhibited in lowland zoo’s.Its a comparatively small zoo with large enclosures for the animals and birds, very well maintained.The “Himalayan Mountaineering Institute(HMI)” entrance is at the extreme end of the zoo entrance.On entering the Institute a visitor is greeted with a inauguration plaque and a mountain model of two mountaineers climbing onto a peak.Photography is not allowed inside the mountaineering museum.
|Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.|
The museum has a display of all the records and expeditions on various peaks in the Himalaya’s.A educational topographical model of the Himalayan mountain range with various peaks was on display, the peaks illuminating on the visitor pressing a button indicating the mountain peak.A natural history museum of Himalayan wild-life and birds was also on display.Next to the museum was the “Everest Museum” which dealt only with Mt Everest expeditions and literature.In the museum courtyard visitors and tourists could pose for photo’s with local models dressed in Nepali Sherpa dress.I had a photograph of mine removed with a young Sherpa model, my claim to mountaineering fame being “Monsoon Trekking” the hill-forts of Maharashtra besides a few pilgrimage peaks like Mt Sinai in Egypt and just a few days ago the Taktsang Monastery in Paro. Enthusiastic students can learn the basics of mountaineering at this Institute whose training complex is next to the museum beyond the reach of tourists.From the mountaineering Museum i revisited the zoo, studying the animal ande bird exhibits more closely having spent a lifetime visiting zoo’s all over the World.At approx 1200 hrs made my way back towards the hotel deciding to hire a taxi as hill station distances seem deceptively close.No taxi’s were available and with great difficulty managed to get a lift and was dropped at the main Chowk Bazaar.Went to my hotel, collected my baggage and entered “Room No 20”, a neat freshly painted room and the tiniest that i have ever lived in during my tours. Thats the adventure and glamour of Solo travel unlike “Package tours” where everything is ready-made by the tour organizers..The room was chill cold which made living comfortable but worried me about sleep at night. After changing my clothes and unpacking my binoculars i headed towards the chowk bazaar.Inquired about non-veg restaurants and was directed into the crowded main market to “New Kalika Restaurant”. Lunch was “Fish Thali”,excellent and filling. After lunch i decided to visit the “Darjeeling Ropeway” and went to the local shared taxi stand.
|St Josephs School ,Darjeeling.|
The Darjeeling rope-way is located at Singamari, 3 Kms away from the Chowk.Did get a shared taxi and it was a short drive to North Point on Lebong road next to the famous “St Josephs School”.Alighted the taxi at North Point and admired “St Joseph’s School”, a fascination of my Hindi movie addiction of Darjeeling.This school was once called the “Harrow of the East” as its alumni included Royal families of Nepal,Bhutan, Coochbehar, and Burdwan as also the Shah of Iran’s nephews.The school was closed for tourists and visitors and observed young boys playing basketball, a educational institution that reflected class and exclusivity .From Northpoint road opposite St Joseph’s school it was a walk up a flight of stairs to the “Ropeway station”.There was a long queue of tourists for the “Cable Car” ride, the charges being Rs 150/person.Finally at approx 1445hrs i did get my turn to enter the cable car and enjoy and view the ride.The view of the sloping tea-estates was beautiful from the cable-car as also the surrounding city.The cable-car takes you to the extreme end of the valley and back to the starting point..Finished the cable car ride at approx 1515 hrs and walked down to North point. Boarded a shared taxi back to the Chowk.
Decided to spend the rest of the evening on the Internet and relax, too much of physical stress was detrimental to enjoying a exploratory holiday.I walked up the road from Chowk as all roads in any hill-station including Darjeeling either go up or down, rarely straight akin to flat land.After numerous twists and turns i finally did find a internet cafe and started browsing at “Sumit Computers” on Lama road.After an hours browsing i made my way back to chowk and to my hotel Requested the hotel owner to reserve a car the next morning for a tour of “Tiger Hill”, a must visit site on any tourists itinerary.He agreed to the same, the charges being Rs 1000 for the entire car.After confirming my booking i ventured into the chowk and realized that night-life is almost non-existent in Darjeeling.All shops close by 2030 hrs.Dinner was egg noodles at a road-side s take-away.Topped it up with a ice-cream and made my way back to the pigeon hole room in “Morning Glory hotel”.I had set my mobile alarm for 0300 hrs as the car would pick me up at 0400 hrs for the long drive to “Tiger Hill”.It was chill cold and somehow managed to get some sleep with a overload of warm clothing..
|SUNRISE OVER THE KANCHENJUNGA MOUNTAIN RANGE AS OBSERVED FROM “TIGER HILL”.|
|Guide Explaining “Sunrise” of Tiger Hill in “Observation Lounge”.|
Sunday(16-3-2014) :- Woke up much before 0300 hrs and got myself ready in the “Pigeon hole” hotel room. Thanks to the chilling cold the accommodation was comfortable as i shudder at the thought of staying in such a room in hot humid city’s for a few hours let alone a few days.Thats the advantage of living in Cold Countries or City’s.After changing my clothing went to the hotels main dining restaurant and watched T.V. The hotel main gate was locked and the owner opened it at 0400 hrs, the car driver being punctual.It was chilling cold outside, the car providing warm comfort. It was a uphill drive of 10 Kms , approx forty five minutes to Tiger hill and i was surprised at the stream of vehicles driving towards destination “Tiger Hill”.“Tiger Hill” got its name during the Colonial era when the place was a popular sighting ground for tigers, the highest peak in Darjeeling District. At approx 0450hrs we reached “Tiger Hill” , the entire parking lot filled with vehicles and a house-full crowd of tourists.”Tiger Hill” is the highest point in Darjeeling with a “Mountain-facing” view of the mighty Himalayas in front of it akin to a skyscraper building facing the sea in a coastal city.
There was a small two storey “Observation Lounge Building” with glass window panes which allowed tourists entry on payment of Rs 40. the advantage being that it was warm inside and there were seats for the early birds.Purchased a ticket and made my way into the lounge, the entire place packed with tourists although off-season. It was a Sunday and hence seems Kolkotians make Darjeeling the best week-end getaway.A guide explained the various peaks that could be seen once daylight broke over the mighty Kanchenjunga.If lucky, even Mt Everest could be visible from “Tiger Point” and if unlucky then the only mountain range visible would be cloudy mist, a total gamble for tourists paying a fortune to reach “TIGER POINT”.
|“TIGER HILL” Packed with tourists and vehicles.|
|At “TIGER HILL” in front of “Observation Lounge Building”.|
Entire cars and wagons were packed with tourists. The Lounge guide told us the it was our good luck that the weather was clear and and expected sunrise at 0600 hrs .He explained the various peaks and manner of Sunrise as seen from “Tiger Hill”. It was a unique phenomenon in the World and a reason for Darjeeling’s importance.The entire small ground in front of the lounge building was packed with tourists and it was suspense at its worst! Finally just before 0600 hrs the Sun could be seen rising below “Tiger Hill”, gradually becoming a bright red orange. This scene has to be witnessed as literature cannot do justice to this beautiful spectacle of nature.As the Sun gained altitude Mt Kanchenjunga and its mountain range gradually became visible, shining snow-white on a clear morning sky-line, luck favouring us.Tourists went camera trigger happy , the lounge providing perfect elevation for photography.The Lounge guide pointed out the peaks and Mt Everest was distinctly visible in the distance to the left of Mt Kanchenjunga, a small insignificant looking triangular peak. My binoculars paid dividends and was a hit with fellow tourists wanting a view of the mountain at a closer range.It surprises me that most tourists never carry a set of binoculars on tours, one of the most important equipment for sightseeing and not just meant for “Spy games”, “Window-peeping”, “Horse-racing” or “Bird-watching”.Having visited Nepal and seen Mt Everest mountain range on the “Mountain Flight Tour” was amazed at seeing this mountain from land for the first time in my life. It looked very ordinary with binoculars, dwarfed by the mighty Kanchenjunga that loomed on the “Tiger Hill” skyline.After a brief view of the beautiful clear Kanchenjunga and the surrounding mountains entered my vehicle when my “Omega Seamaster Watch” a family heirloom suddenly fell from my hand onto the seat.The 35 year old watch’s stainless steel strap had broken and luckily the watch fell into the car and not from the side of a mountain cliff or on the road. A solo tour of bizarre tragedy and narrow escapes., financial as well as physical.At approx 0630 hrs we departed from “Tiger Hill” and en-route the driver/guide showed me Senchal lake that provided water to Darjeeling.A beautiful lake situated on the mountain edge just below the highway.
Our next stop was the Samten Choling Bhuddhist Monastery popularly known as the“Ghoom Monastery(Ghum)” situated at an altitude of 8000 ft..The Monastery follows the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and was built in 1875, the largest of the three Monasteries in Ghoom. Entered the monastery and got a glimpse of Tibetan Buddhism rituals. From Ghoom Monastery we drove to “Batasia Loop”, the spiral railway gradient of the Darjeeling Himalayan railway.The Batasia railway loop was constructed in 1919, a unique feat of railway mountain engineering. A garden has been created in the centre of the loop called the “Batasia Eco Garden” and a war memorial to the Gorkha soldiers of Darjeeling who sacrificed their lives in the Indian armed forces after the Independence of India in 1947.The War memorial was created in 1995.Strolled around the small garden built circumferentially along the circular railway track.There were hawkers selling handicrafts and other local goods on the trains railway tracks, the same possible as the toy trains began their daily route service after 1000 hrs.Telescopes were on hire for tourists to view Mt Kanchenjunga and its neighboring peaks with the guide explaining the various peaks and spots of Darjeeling.
|“War Memorial” in Batasia loop Park.|
|Fueling Coal into the “Toy Train Steam Engine”.|
Viewed the Kanchenjunga mountain range through the telescope and appreciated the lecture by the guide but it was definitely less powerful than my binoculars vision.For tourists visiting “Batasia Loop” by train can also visit the “Himalayan Toy Train Museum” situated at “Ghoom Station” . The main exhibit in the museum is the oldest toy train engine, the “Baby Sivok”.Purchased two packets of “Darjeeling Tea” from a hawker as taste souvenirs since i grew up on the image of Hindi movies and Darjeeling tea during my youth.After a brief stroll around the park made my way to the exit.There were street stalls selling hot Bhajiya’s and tea which became my morning breakfast.Tea is very cheap in Darjeeling costing just Rs 5 or Rs 10 along the common shops and street vendors.Purchased some Bhajiya’s for the driver and made my way to the vehicle, a long line of vehicles parked in a straight line on the narrow road.Began our drive towards Chowk Bazaar of Darjeeling. On the way came across a steam engine being fueled with coal near the Darjeeling train station.Stopped and posed for a few photo’s, decades since i saw a train steam engine practically in employment and not a museum relic.
|Bollywood and Hollywood films shot in Darjeeling.|
Reached my hotel at approx 0830hrs, a wonderful lifetime of memories and worth the luxurious drive, the weather favouring us and lady luck favouring me from losing a expensive wrist watch.Requested the hotel attendant for a hot bucket of water for bathe, the same costing Rs 30/ bucket.After a rationed hot water bathe at approx 0915 hrs i made my way out of the hotel onto Chowk bazaar absolutely congested and filthy.Inquired for directions to the Chowrasta or Darjeeling Mall, the most popular and cetnre of tourist attraction in Darjeeling city.It was a straight walk upwards from congested Chowk locality up a flight of stairs onto a hill road.Honestly, the walks up the road inclinations in all Hill stations are torturous to the legs, especially if a person has trekked a 3000 ft mountain along with hill-station walks as i had done on this tour.Walked up the inclined hill and suddenly realized that i was in a plush locality , my first stop being at the “Raj Bhavan” which was situated at the entrance of Mall Road.Photography was strictly prohibited around Raj Bhavan and after viewing this magnificent residence i walked towards Chowrasia.
|Cyclists at Chowrasia. Mountain biking.|
It was a bright sunny cool day and as i walked further from Raj Bhavan into Mall road i was suddenly aghast on seeing the beautiful Kanchenjunga Mountain range in front of me opposite the road.There were benches and i sat on a bench and just admired the beauty of the mountain and the surroundings.There were very few tourists and the view of Kanchenjunga from Mall Road is better than at “Tiger Point”, only difference is that Mt Everest is not visible from here.Walked along the Mall road and reached Chowrasia, the main town centre of Darjeeling city.It was a plush clean circular paved park that had a huge prominent statue of Nepali poet Bhanubhakta. Acharya. There were benches around the circumference of the road near the statue. A large two storied structure called the “Hawa Ghar” which holds local cultural programs is a prominent edifice on Chowrasia. It was a bit crowded with tourists and youngsters.As a hobby cyclists was quick to spot a group of young men and women resting on the benches with their cycles parked on the road.Cycling in Darjeeling is definitely akin to a stage competition in a mini “Tour De France” race , definitely strenuous.Wonder why India hasn’t yet produced competitive cyclists in International road races when the locales are in existence
|“NATHMULLS” tea shop.|
The view of the entire Himalayan Mountain range from Chowrasia was excellent , the weather being at its best.In most hill-stations the weather is very unpredictable and bright Sunshine can suddenly give way to dull clouds or fog or rain! I was literally viewing the beautiful landscape while the Sun shone as such chances are rare, especially in a off-season weather condition.There are three roads that terminate or begin at Chowrasia depending on the direction of travel. One of them is Zakir Hussein road where a local market exists. and the other is Nehru road which comes from below the hill towards Chowrasia while the third is the Mall road through which i entered Chowrasia.Almost all the shops were closed barring two famous tea shops,”Golden Tips(Est 1933)” and “Nathmulls(Est 1931)” , both shops situated next to each other. Entered “Nathmulls ” and inquired the various categories of tea and its prices. Visiting “Nathmulls” made me realize that the ultra wealthy and money eccentrics splurged not only on gold and jewelry purchases or at times certain vices but also on tea costing Rs 50,000/Kg at “Nathmulls” !”Golden Tips” shop had slightly cheaper quality tea only costing slightly less than Rs 50,000 /Kg! Got to learn the grading and pricing of tea and hope there is a vacancy for a “TEA TASTER”, a job i would envy as it would have no retirement age limit.At approx 1030 hrs made my way down-hill on Nehru road from Chowrasia heading towards the “Bengal Natural History Museum”.
|Bengal Natural History Museum.|
In just two days i understood the road topography of Darjeeling city,a maze of uphill and downhill roads, very tiring.Inquiring with locals finally did find “Bengal Natural History Museum” , a small heritage building.This museum was originally established in 1903 and remodeled in 2003.It was a excellent and small cosy museum with wonderful exhibits of local flora , fauna and insects of the Himalaya’s.Was surprised at seeing the size of the head and horns of a few animals shot at the peak of shikar sports in India during the British Raj.One head of a “Gaur” with distinct bullet holes on the skull was a prized exhibit and had a interesting tragic history to its shooting on 8th May 1922. It was a rogue animal that entered Darjeeling town in today’s Chowrasta and ran wild in the city killing a local while wounding a few others before being killed by a tea plantation owner, its skull later donated to the museum.Saw one of the largest stuffed crocodiles which i thought was artificial ,too big to be true. The museum guide confirmed its genuineness and i feel Crocodile expert Mr Romulus.Whitetaker of Madras Snake & Crocodile park would find it difficult to ever capture a crocodile of this size in the wild in 2014 in India.Its sad but true, besides various wild-life species gradually getting extinct , most animal species are also reducing in size in the wild environment due to various factors.I myself have a “SAW-FISH” thorn that could be the second largest in private collection in Mumbai after the specimen at the “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya(Formerly Prince of Wales Museum)” in Mumbai ! This “Saw- Fish” thorn was purchased in Malindi(Kenya) by dad sometime in the 1960’s.
|Darjeeling Fish market in “Chowk” locality.|
|Fish Curry rice.|
At approx 1115 hrs finished my tour of the museum and walked down the hill road steps to Chowk area.As usual visited the local fish market and realized that the entire North Indian hill regions specialized in fresh water lake bred fish species, a Bengali delicacy in Darjeeling.Visited a few watch repair shops in order to patch up my expensive “Omega Seamaster” strap and realized that luxury goods are easier to purchase but difficult to maintain.If it was a ordinary watch strap it could be replaced by any local; watch repairer but being a“Omega Brand” it had a unique watch dismantling method which was a manufacturer’s trade secret. Ultimately my wrist watch now became a “Pocket watch” awaiting a strap renewal in Mumbai. This is one reason that has refrained me from purchasing a “Harlery Davidson motorcyle “ or a “Trek Cycle”.Its easier paying a lump-sum and buying these luxury vehicles but a nuisance regarding maintenance and after-sales services unless a “Billionaire” having a fleet of other vehicles.After visiting the watch shops made my way back to the hotel. After a brief rest and wash headed back towards the Chowk in search of a good fish meal restaurant.Locals guided me to“Hotel Mahakal & Restaurant” situated opposite old club-side road, a long inclined walk from Chowk road..Lunch was a lavish fish curry/rice , just excellent, best fish food after my night dinner at “Delhi hotel & Restaurant” in Siliguri .After lunch walked upto Darjeeling station to check out for a short ride on the “Toy Train”.There were two short rides from Darjeeling station to Ghum station and back for tourists.The ticket rates were Rs 340/person and fully booked for the two rides of the day. i just got into the toy train bogie and had a photograph shoot for posterity.
|“Toy Train” at Darjeeling Station for “Tourist Joy Rides”.|
|“CHOWK” Locality of Darjeeling.|
From the train station walked back to Chowk and boarded a shared taxi to “Lebong”, my destination being “Tenzing Rock”. At approx 1400 hrs reached “Tenzing Rock” which is situated on Lebong road, the shared taxi fare amounting to Rs 20.There were two natural rock formations which were used for “Rock Climbing training” by trainees of “Himalayan Mountaineering Institute” as well as tourist rock climbing.One of the rocks is named after Sherpa Tenzing and hence “Tenzing Rock” while the other on the opposite side of the road named after Nawang.Gombu, the first man to climb Mt Everest twice and called “Gombu Rock”.
|Practicing “Rock Climbing” on “Tenzing Rock“.|
A few young men and women were practicing “Rock Climbing” on Tenzing rock with ropes, definitely tough and requiring good physical conditioning.Picked up a conversation with a hawker and he enthralled me with tales of his own mountain climbing experiences, himself having partly climbed Mt Kanchenjunga in his youth.Seems most Gorkhas of Darjeeling have done some sort of mountain-climbing sometime in their life-time.As a horse-racing enthusiast i had intentions of visiting the now defunct “Lebong Race-course” of Darjeeling having wonderful memories of attending the “Derby Race day” at Ooty race-course in Tamil Nadu in the 1990’s.The hawker advised me that it was futile visiting “Lebong Race-course” as it was now converted into a Army parade ground and tourists banned from entry into the complex.,This race-course had the distinction of being the smallest race-course(one lap = 480 yard) in the World as well as the highest in the World( 1809 meters). Finally from “Tenzing Rock” made my way back to Chowk in a shared taxi alighting near the gate of “Bishop House”.Its a residence for the clergy of the Catholic diocese in Darjeeling. Strolled around crowded Chowk locality visiting the market and came across shops selling masks and colours for the Hindu festival of Holi to be celebrated the next day on Monday(17-3-2014).At 1530 hrs decided to revisit the Mall and Chowrasia and hence began my uphill walk from Chowk towards the Mall. The route to the Mall passes through the imposing historical religious edifice of “St Andrews Church” built in 1843 and later badly damaged by a earthquake and rebuilt in 1873.
|St Andrews Church.|
The Church looked imposing perched on the top of a hill from the road. It was a tiring walk to the church from the road and was worth the uphill walk.As i neared the Church i heard the sound of a organ playing and hymns being sung, sounds emitting from a closed door .Opened the door and stared into the the Church chapel surprised to see a small group of young men and women singing hymns while a gentleman played the organ and conducted the “Prayer Hymn” ritual. Two women were standing and singing hymns as if in a trance while the rest were seated on chairs, totally immersed in the lyrics of the hymn. The organist beckoned me to have a seat in the group to which i obliged.St Andrews is a “Anglican Church” and the early worshipers were Scottish soldiers and tea-planter owners.There were a few mural tablets of some of the oldest residents of Darjeeling in this small chapel. Lt General A.Lloyd who is credited for laying the foundation of Darjeeling has a mural tablet inside the main church which was closed to public.The organist was definitely of Anglo-Indian origin or a Scotsman, handsome and young more like a opera rock star than a simple church choir conductor with a wonderful voice.Didn’t Cliff.Richard begin his singing career in Church Choirs as also late Freddie.Mercury who sang in school choirs ?Spent a few minutes with the choir group and later made my exit as this was my last day in Darjeeling and some exploration of surprises was still to be seen.From St Andrews Church i entered “Darjeeling Gymkhana” ground situated on the hill gradient just below St Andrews Church.The Club was established in 1909 , a typical British ear club .It offered numerous sports facilities like tennis, squash, badminton, table tennis and roller skating. Tourists could take temporary membership for a month or two and avail of the sports facilities.
|Holiday crowd on Chowrasia.|
From the Gymkhana walked the now familiar route towards Raj Bhavan and onto the Mall road.I was surprised at the total disappearance of the Kanchenjunga mountain range on entering mall road, the enire mountain view blocked by opaque fog. It was only 17oo hrs and just in the morning i had got a better view of Kanchenjunga from this same location than at Tiger hill ! This shows the effects of change of weather on viewing mountain peaks and scenery. Sat on the same bench for a while staring into opaque mist and had a conversation with two other tourists from Kolkota.After a brief conversation headed towards Chowrasia and was greeted by a holiday crowd enjoying themselves on the circular paved ground.There were pony rides and a host of other activities, all tourists clad in warm clothing.Strolled around Zakir Hussain road and had a look at the local shops and eatable stalls.Visited a curio shop and inquired about “Gorkha Knives” and the various qualities and pricing.There was a imposing and prominent hotel on Chowrasia near the entrance to Zakir Hussain road called “Bellevue Hotel” which had internet facilities.Entered the hotel and was surprised at its plush interiors, a Old World hotel which also had a “Fire-Wood” heating rooms for its clients.Browsed on the internet for an hour feeling at home in this plush hotel.From the hotel i made my way downhill to Nehru street into the mall market.Visited a few curio shops and later a book-stall. I was surprised to find a novel titled ” Byculla to Bangkok” published in 2014 and written by former investigative journalist Mr Hussain.Zaidi. This was the the latest book from the author of “Black Friday” which was made into a film the topic being the “1993 Mumbai bomb blasts”. Browsed through the book which described the “Who’s Who” of the Mumbai Underworld and their Godfathers.I had spent seven years of my youth living in Byculla and Bangkok was as familiar as central Mumbai and hence was fascinated by the title of this true life underworld book. From the bookshop entered Glenary’s Bakery and Cafe”, the iconic restaurant of Darjeeling.It had the typical colonial architecture, a small white coloured two storey cottage building with the restaurant on the ground floor.Entered the restaurant which again brought back vintage nostalgia , a huge red phone booth installed at the entrance aisle, totally defunct in the cell-phone era of the 21st century. Ordered a “Sausage Pattice” and toured this cosy, classy restaurant. It also had a “Internet cafe” in one section of the ground floor restaurant and a mezzanine restaurant.It was bizarre contrast having a vintage showpiece “Telephone booth” as well as internet cybercafe in the same location, the former a museum piece.From Glenary’s i walked down to Hotel Mahakal and restaurant for dinner. Since it was packed with diners decided to eat in the Nepali restaurant next to it and got a taste of “Nepali Pork Thali”.After a sumptuous dinner walked down the inclined road and steps to Chowk locality. It was the eve of Holi festival and a group of people had begun the festivity by parading in colours along Chowk road, also throwing colours in the night.Entire Darjeeling comes to a close by 2100 hrs, absolutely no night-life.Purchased a ice-cream on the way to my hotel and by 2000 hrs i was in my pigeon-hole room.Had a normal four to five hours sleep waking up at approx 0400 hrs.Packed my bags and later watched television in the main restaurant lobby.
|Classic downtown Gangtok. “Mahatma Gandhi Road”.|
Monday(17-3-2014) :-The main hotel residential gate was opened at approx 0600 hrs and i was surprised to see a full fledged bakery and confectionery factory functioning from the ground floor of “Hotel Morning Glory”.Seems the locals of Darjeeling love bread and pastries with cakes being sold in almost all shops on the streets.Bakeries were a cottage Industry in Darjeeling, the cakes tasty and cheap. For the first time in my life got to witness the manufacture of bread and plum cakes reminding me of the boiler room furnaces on ships.At approx 0700 hrs i checked out from the hotel , the room lodging seeming full as the tourist season was beginning with the start of Holi festival with the plains of West Bengal getting warmer and hot.Made my way to the taxi stand and was lucky to get a immediate shared taxi costing Rs 200/person to Gangtok.Gangtok is approx 98 Kms from Darjeeling.Our jeep departed at approx 0730 hrs and the route was initially through Ghoom.
|“Teesta Bridge” across the Teesta river enroute to Gangtok.|
At 0900 hrs we stopped for breakfast at Lopchu and tasted Nepali Sabji(Vegetables)/roti’s .After breakfast it was a downhill drive through Teesta Bazaar and the Teesta river onto highway NH31 A. Its a upward drive from Teesta Bazaar with a bifurcation later near the Gangtok /Kalimpong crossroad.Observed a lot of trucks on the Teesta river bed mining the river sand. On entering Sikkim State border the roads seemed better and at approx 1015 hrs we entered Rangpo City, the border city between West Bengal and Sikkim.The cleanliness and road maintenance of Sikkim reminded me a little of Bhutan. Passed by “Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology” and seems the Manipal Institute of technology(Udupi) is on par with the I.I.T’s in terms of popularity, franchisees and patronage.As a speculator i was anxious to visit a casino in Gangtok, the only State in India that had land based legal casino gambling.In Goa, the other state that has legalized casino gambling its location is “Offshore” on a ship docked in Panjim. On approaching the suburbs of Gangtok witnessed the grand celebration of Holi festival on the streets, mostly young children and the youth. I suddenly saw the long awaited sign “Mayfair Gangtok(Spa resort and Casino)”, a beautiful hotel located on the base of a small hill-top.A genuine legal casino spotting at last. I have been a staunch vocalist on the internet to “LEGALIZE SPORTS BETTING IN INDIA” , having started a group on facebook and also demonstrating the permutations and combinations of “SPECULATIVE SPORTS GAMBLING”.
|Sikkim is the only state in India having legal land Gambling casino’s.|
My late 22 year old Alexandrine parakeet“Mittoo alias Mittoo the poppat” was worth over Rs 5 Crores(5 Khokhas) at the time of his untimely demise on Monday(10-3-2014), his bets purely made by me as a notional money game to prove universally that “SPORTS BETTING” is as risky or as easy as “Stock Market Trading”.At approx 1130 hrs we finally reached the Deorali bus stand in Gangtok . It was almost 2 Kms from downtown M.G road in Gangtok and hence had to hire another private taxi.The taxi driver Mr Santosh.Tamang agreed to take me to the cheapest accommodation in downtown Gangtok and hence drove me to “Hotel Pineridge” on Nam Nang road.Hotel rentals were most expensive in Gangtok, costlier than Bhutan or Darjeeling. After much bargaining the hotel manager agreed to provide me room nos 102 on the first floor at a rental of Rs 700/Day(Off-Season), myself being one of the few guests in the three storey hotel.I informed taxi driver Santosh to make arrangements for the “Nathula Pass Tour” on Wednesday(18-3-2013) for which he took a xerox copy of my passport and 2 nos passport photo’s.All correspondence was through cell-phone and he quickly contacted a travel agent and immediately arranged a seat on a shared taxi at Rs 800/Person.He also agreed to take me on a guided taxi tour of Gangtok, the common mode of sightseeing for tourists in Gangtok as there are no shared tour buses, besides, this was the tourist off-season.I showed him the list of tourist sites i wanted to visit and he agreed to drive me to those places at a cost of Rs 600, a half day taxi tour.He told me to be ready by 0900 hrs the next day for the half day tour of Gangtok city.After thanking Santosh and paying him Rs 150 as his taxi charge i made my way to my room, a large spacious room with T.V and attatched bathe.Gangtok seemed clean and tidy compared to Darjeeling, very much like Bhutan barring the population.
|Sikkim Legislative Assembly.|
It was Sunny and cool, not cold like Darjeeling or Bhutan.Changed my clothes and headed out of the hotel, my destination being the “Gangtok Ropeway” which was a uphill walking distance from my hotel. The “Ropeway building” was not outstanding on the city skyline, a common 4 storey building with a small ticket office.The rope-way timings were from 0930 to 1700 hrs daily and the ticket charges Rs 70/person. I had reached the ticket booking office at approx 1300 hrs which was lunch-time and hence walked towards NamNang point also called “SUICIDE POINT”, just walking distance from the ropeway. On the way passed by the “Sikkim Legislative assembly” building, a palatial estate.Finally walking through narrow mountain track and later rock stairs reached “Nam Nang point (Suicide Point)”.There were a lot of Gangtok’s youth celebrating Holi with beers and colours in this terraced mountain garden park.
|Youth celebrating “Holi Festival” at “Nam Nang Point(Suicide Point)”.|
There is a small garden plot on the edge of the mountain cliff from where a person gets a beautiful view of the valley below. No doubt its called “Suicide Point” as a jump from here means a leap from here to eternity and a few suicides must have occured and hence the name.After a brief rest at this picturesque spot returned back to the Ropeway office and booked my ticket for the ride.
After purchasing the ticket i was directed towards the building lift and taken 4 floors below, a bizarre rope-way ride.Alighted the lift and got into the rope-way with a few other tourists.It was a beautiful birds eye view ride on the rope-way between Nam Nang and Deorali and back to Nam Nang.
|View from the “Gangtok Ropeway”.|
It was approx a 20 minutes ride and the view of Gangtok city was excellent, on a clear sunshine afternoon.At approx 1400 hrs finished my “Ropeway Ride” and made my way down-hill to the hotel.It was a beautiful small 3-storey hotel situated in prime Gangtok locality, walking distance from “M.G.Road” and other shopping centers.After drinking a peg of “Ara” in my hotel walked towards M.G road for lunch.On the way stepped into “Ridge restaurant and bar” just a few meters away from my hotel as i was famished with hunger. Lunch was “Chicken Momo’s”,excellent with still better local hip hop music playing on the restaurant music system..After lunch walked in a straight line towards “M.G. Road(Mahatma Gandhi Road)” and found a large group of youth celebrating the festival of Holi. All the shops were closed barring one or two eateries.The road was clean and buildings uniform and well maintained mostly painted light green in colour. None of the buildings were above 5 storeys tall giving the locality a uniformed disciplined elevation.”M.G Road” began where Nam Nang road ended, all in a straight single road from my hotel.The main “M.G Road” town center was at a curve in the road where it broadened with shopping centers on both sides, all shops closed due to the “Holi Festival”.
|DIFFERENT HAIRSTYLES ! With Mr Rajesh.Basnett.|
The broad plush locality was filled with people celebrating Holi. most of them covered in colours. A young boy approached me and applied a symbolic Holi tikka on my forehead, thankfully not immersing me in colours.As all shops on M.G road were closed barring a liquor shop i just walked aimlessly along the straight road towards a garden. Spotted a man with Rastafarian hairstyle in the garden and picked up a conversation with him. I have rarely come across Rastafarian hairstyle Indian men barring “Sadhu’s” and similarly Mr Basnett must have rarely seen a “Half-Beard Indian” !Mr Rajesh.Basnett with shoulder length Rastafarian hair was as colourful as his hairstyle. A self styled traveler akin to me he was more on religious trips once living as a hermit monk in a cave for over a month !He told me that the parks name was “Titanic Park”, a bizarre name for land-locked Sikkim.Throughout my solo tours i have met interesting and colourful men and women and made new acquaintances , never ever “ALONE”. In the park i suddenly observed a group of young boys and girls speaking in “Sign Language”.Rajesh told me that these youth were deaf and dumb and met occasionally in this small park on M.G road for socializing.Seeing these young handsome and pretty group of youngsters with their inborn handicap made me forget all my worries, just happy that God was kind to bless me as a normal human let alone being rich, poor or famous. Yes, travel educates.After a long conversation with Mr Rajesh.Basnett i walked back towards Nam Nang road. Inquired about the price of liquor in the only shop open on M.G road and was aghast to know that beer cost only Rs 50, on par with duty-free liquor in Goa.State of Goa and Sikkim had two similarities, both had legalized gambling casino’s and both served duty-free liquor.Purchased two bottles of “Kingfisher beer”, my favourite Indian beer brand and walked happily towards “Pineridge Hotel”.Deposited the beer bottles in my hotel and decided to explore the other end of Nam Nang road, the downhill road that led to Deorali .Walking downhill in the opposite direction to “M.G.Road” would lead me to Deorali , the same place where i boarded the taxi on arrival in Gangtok.On the way came across a “Big Bazaar” department store, a few meters from my hotel on the down-hill road.Entered the stores and realized that all “Big Bazaar” stores were the same in India irrespective of city, all commodities under one roof.After the “Big Bazaar” visit walked further downhill realizing that returning back uphill would be a test of my body tolerance.Met a local Sikkimese man with whom i picked up a interesting conversation and got to understand briefly the culture and topography of Gangtok city.I inquired the location of “Hotel Royal Plaza”, the first casino hotel in Gangtok and he told me that it was at Deorali , just a downhill walk. He was going in the same direction and agreed to guide me but i realized that returning back in the dark night would be the problem.
|“Pineridge Hotel(White)” my 3 day residence in Gangtok.|
Thanked him for the helpful guidance and made my way back uphill towards “Pineridge hotel”.On the way visited the plush “Tara Hotel” and inquired the daily room tariff.They charged only Rs 6000/day,very exorbitant for a ordinary plush hotel as there are no 5-star hotels in Gangtok.Another plush hotel,”Doma Palace” was a little further uphill and inquired the tariff which was Rs 3000/day. Both these hotels were just a few meters walking distance from “Pineridge Hotel” on NamNang road and hence i felt i got a bargain stay irrespective of the hotels shortcomings.As a investor in hotel shares and a fascination for hotels i always make it a point to check the costliest and the cheapest hotels in a city for price comparisons.On arriving at my hotel quenched my thirst with a beer and headed towards “M.G. Road” for dinner. All shops were closed barring a McDonalds fast food shop. Dinner was a simple Chicken/cheese roll(Rs 140) topped up with ice-cream. Returned back to my hotel and called it a day.Watched T.V until i fell asleep.
|“ORCHID FLOWER CONTEST & EXHIBITION” in Gangtok.|
Tuesday( 18-3-2014) :- Woke up at 0400 hrs to visit the toilet and realized that there was absolutely no water in the bathroom.Luckily i had filled a bucket of water and that provided emergency toilet services. Watched T.v and at 0500 hrs went to the lobby to inform the manager about water stoppage.Seems the hotel was full of guests as other lodgers also woke up protesting the water stoppage. The manager woke up and informed us that there was a severe water shortage in Gangtok due to some repairs and his hotel was effected, the water supply being rationed.The water supply did resume at 0800 hrs and after a quick wash got ready for the days tour programme.It had rained in the night and hence there was a abrupt drop in ambient temperatures, cool but not chilling cold.For the first time on the hill-stations tour i put on a T-shirt and not double warm clothing.Taxi driver Santhosh couldn’t make it and so he sent his friend to drive me on a half-day city tour.Taxi driver Mr D.N.Rai arrived at my hotel at 0900 hrs and the taxi tour began. Taxi’s are very well maintained in Sikkim, Maruti alto cars which negotiate the hill climbs and troughs elegantly.Our first stop was a short 15 minutes drive from Pineridge hotel.The “Flower Exhibition Center” was a enclosed climate controlled flower garden and this was the first day of the “ORCHID FLOWER SHOW” inside the exhibition center. The entrance fee was Rs 20 and on entering the exhibition centre i was transferred into another World, a World of unbelievable Orchids.I have visited“Kew Gardens” in London and the “Ooty Flower Show” in Tamil Nadu and should say that Gangtok’s “Orchid Flower Show” ranks amongst the World’s best.The orchids looked artificial, akin to the cheap crepe imitations in shops, too beautiful to be true and genuine. This is the secret of these Orchids breeders success.A competition was held the previous day and prizes awarded to various types and categories of orchids, the same tagged on the plants.The Orchid garden was beautifully landscaped and is the main attraction of Sikkim during the month of March, peak orchid flowering season.
|At the “Flower Show(Orchids)” in Gangtok.|
The Orchid show signifies the start of the tourist season in Sikkim, the weather getting warmer on the plains and cool in Gangtok.
After being floored by the beauty of the orchids we drove towards the “Enchey Monastery”. This monastery was established in 1909 on a hill in Gangtok.It was gutted in a fire in 1947 and rebuilt in 1948.The latest minor damage was in the 2006 Sikkim Earthquake,its stone masonry walls suffering partial cracks.Its a long walk to the monastery from the main gate where vehicles park. “Tibetan Prayer Wheels” are erected on the left side of the path leading to the monastery. The Monastery building is not the original construction as it was rebuilt after a devastating fire.The Monastery has residential monks ranging from young boys to men. Two young boy monks wanted a look from my binoculars and were thrilled, cute in their monk attire.
|Pathway to “Enchey Monastery”.|
From the “Enchey Monastery” it was a short drive to “Ganesh Tok”.It is a small Ganesh temple located on a hillock at a total height of 6500 ft one of the highest points in Gangtok. After purchasing a entrance ticket had to climb up a flight of stairs to reach the temple complex.A amazing “Birds Eye View” of Gangtok is available from the “View Point” next to the main Ganesh temple.Gangtok’s television tower is situated on a hill below Ganesh tok.After a brief view of Gangtok from Ganesh Tok summit i walked down the stairs and came back to the entrance gate. At “Ganesh Tok” tourists can take “Selfie” photographs in Sikkimese costumes, akin to a film shoot and i did take a photo of myself in local Sikkimese dress.Ultimately its memories that is a part and parcel of our experiences, travels and sorrows on Planet Earth.
|View of Gangtok from “GANESH TOK”.|
|“BAKTHANG FALLS” with “Flying -Fox Trapeze” rope-way with “Safety Net”.|
The “Himalayan Zoological Park Bulbulay” is situated adjacent to “Ganesh tok”, a short uphill walk on the next small hillock. As i had already visited zoo’s in Thimphu and Darjeeling the Gangtok zoo didn’t capture my time as it would have a similar animal and bird species as in the Darjeeling zoo.The Gangtok zoo is larger and according to its external sign-board has camouflaged natural zoo enclosures and hence spotting animal species difficult and time consuming.Hence i decided to skip the zoo tour and we drove towards Gonjang Monastery.At approx 1100 hrs reached the gates of Gonjang Monastery which is situated near Tashi viewpoint.This Monastery was established recently in 1981 a modern edifice.After a quick tour of the small Monastery complex it was a short drive along National highway 31 A to “Bakthang Falls” .There was a small trickle of water along the rock face which was the “Bakthang waterfall” , not a gushing waterfall in the month of March. A “Flying Fox” trapeze rope-way installed from one end of the rock face to the other end, a short distance of approx 50 meters was a thrill for tourists..Experienced the short“Flying Fox” trapeze to add to my list of a “Been here, done that” and that photograph is the introductory photo of this tour blog.After “Bakthang Falls” we drove towards the handicrafts centre. On the way came across the armed forces “ Black Cat Institute” constructed in 1972, a social elite club for Army officers and guests . A “Black Cat” was the mascot of the institute reminding me of my own cats back home in Mumbai. The Sikkim Handicrafts complex was a building housing various handicrafts on the ground floor.Met a tourist couple from Chennai in the Handicraft hall. Mr Murali and his wife remembered me as the “Binocular tourist” as they got a glimpse of Kanchenjunga and Mt Everest from my binoculars at “Tiger Point” in Darjeeling. After a brief conversation and self introduction we went our ways, my next stop being the “Namgyal Institute of Tibetology” . It is a Tibetan museum documenting Tibetan history and Monasteries in Sikkim.
|“NAMGYAL INSTITUTE OF TIBETOLOGY”.|
Parked the taxi outside the main gate and walked into the Museum premises. The Institute building was undergoing a face-lift.Photography inside the museum was strictly prohibited. There were a few tourists and got a brief understanding of Tibetan history.Viewed utensils made of human skulls meant for religious rituals .The foundation stone of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology was laid on 10th February 1957 by the 14th Dalai Lama and officially opened on 1 October 1958 by by the First Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal.Nehru. After browsing through the museum exhibits and literature made my way back to the vehicle and visited the Institutes souvenir shop situated outside the main gate.Browsed through the handicrafts , this being my last tourist point stop of the half-day private tour hire.At approx 1240 hrs i got into the taxi and told taxi-driver Mr D.N.Rai to leave me at “Hotel Royal Plaza”, the casino hotel. It was a short drive to Deorali and “Hotel Royal Plaza”, the hotel situated insignificantly among a cluster of houses. Paid driver Mr D.N.Rai the taxi tour fees of Rs 600 as also the next days tour fees of “Nathula Pass” which amounted to Rs 800.Made my way into the hotel lobby which seemed ordinary.This hotels claim to fame is that it was the first land based gambling casino in India.In all casino’s i visited entrance was always “FREE” while in some country’s they asked for nationality proof(Passport) as locals were not allowed to gamble. This was the first casino that i came across where entry was on purchase of gaming chips.
|HOTEL ROYAL PLAZA AND CASINO.|
The casino opened at 1800 hrs in the evening and remained open to 0400 hrs in the morning.Entry to the Casino was on a minimum purchase of Rs 3000 worth gaming chips which were non-exchangeable for money. In simple words entrance to the Casino cost Rs 3000/person if a loser at the tables! After a brief look at the hotels casino notices i made my way out into the narrow street and headed towards a restaurant for lunch.Strolled around Deorali and realized that it was a long straight uphill walk towards Nam Nang and “M.G Road”. Entered a small Sikkimese restaurant in Deorali Bazaar but found the food not to my liking and hence decided to head home back to the hotel for lunch.As there were no shared taxi’s available it was a torturous uphill walk in the cool weather.Nearing halfway near my destination i got a lift and was dropped just outside my hotel.Rushed to my hotel room and after a quick bathe consumed a “Kingfisher beer” i had purchased.At approx 1400 hrs headed towards M.G road for lunch and was surprised to again find almost all shops closed, reason being that Tuesday was a compulsory “Shop Holiday” .A fast food shop “Chicken Roll House” was open and i rushed inside ordering a chicken sausage roll. After the snack headed towards main M.G road deciding to rest in a cybercafe browsing the Internet.A slight drizzle began which gradually increased into continuous rain, something i had experienced for the first time in India in the month of March. Headed into a cyber cafe on the first floor of a building, the gradual drizzle developing into thunder and continuous rain.The cybercafe was “House-full” besides the Internet service was erratic due to the rains, power supply being effected.Managed to browse a few minutes on the erratic internet service and later strolled around the mall in the light drizzle.Decided to explore the downhill road at the turn of M.G road onto Nam Nang road and was surprised at the Bazaar atmosphere on entering “Lallmarket “ road . Hawkers were peddling clothing on the side street and there were numerous provision stores on either side of the market, a very crowded locality compared to plush and clean M.G. road.Purchased a cap and warm gloves from a hawker, clothing for the next day’s day tour to “Nathula Pass”.
|Crowded narrow “Lalmarket” road”.|
Walked downhill and came to the main “Lalbazar” market of Gangtok, a huge market.A very crowded locality compared to the tourist locales of Nam Nang and M.G road. Lalbazar was where the common Sikkimese shopped for their daily needs and living.There were numerous small restaurants in the locality, the rain creating muck in the area. Entered the “Lalbazar market” and as usual toured the vegetable section and got to view organic vegetables , the prices expensive. One kg of organic potatoes cost Rs 40/kg.From the Organic vegetable market walked back uphill to M.G. road and to my hotel.On arrival at my hotel i was surprised to see a load of tourists checking into the hotel, the tourist season having begun with the “Orchid Show” and “Pineridge hotel” packed to capacity. On arrival at my hotel the rains began, a heavy shower, very unseasonal rains in Gangtok. Had a hot water bathe and dinner was beer and snacks.I was hoping that the “Nathula Pass” trip would not be postponed due to rains as the mountain roads become dangerous for driving.
|Tourists at Tsomgo(Changgu) Lake .The lake side covered in thick ice and snow.|
|In the snow at picturesque “TSOMGO LAKE”.|
Wednesday(19-3-2014) :- The dogs woke me up at 0300 hrs and whiled away my time watching T.V and later having a luxurious hot water bathe. Gangtok has lots of street dogs and at times they bark at unearthly hours.I just hoping that the “Nathula Pass” tour would not be cancelled due to overnight rain. It was a pleasant bright morning and breakfast was a snack/tea at a take-away restaurant a few meters opposite my hotel.Rang up taxi-driver Rai as he was to collect me at the hotel and take me to the main shared-tour taxi stand.Later Taxi-driver Santosh.Tamang my main Gangtok tour organizer rang me saying that the shared jeep tourist car would collect me from the hotel on its way to collect other co-tourists.At approx 0800 hrs a jeep came and picked me up and drove to Hotel Fair view on Kazi road to collect some other tourists. After collecting the tourists we headed towards the main taxi stand in Deorali.It was a long wait of almost one hour for the next batch of tourists, a young couple with their two kids.This was my first “Package Tour” and made acquaintances with the Sarkar family from Calcutta, a couple with their young school going son and daughter accompanying them.The family were avid travelers within India, always going on a vacation during the children’s holiday.My binoculars fascinated the kids.We finally began our road voyage to Nathula pass at approx 0930 hrs, a delay of a hour and a distance of approx 56 Kms from Gangtok.”Nathula Pass is situated at a altitude of 14,450 feet , hence a long drive up the mountain highway in a tourist convoy of jeeps.We were a total of 12 tourists in the small jeep including the driver. At approx 1015 hrs we reached the main security check-post where the tourist permits are scrutinized for entry to “Nathula Pass”. The weather was bright and sunny. .
|Serpentine convoy of Tourist jeeps. Notice the snow.|
The winding highway road boundary guard resembled the “Great Wall of China” from a distance, a uniform pattern in the railing guards.It was a beautiful drive in a jeep convoy of numerous tourists up the treacherous mountains.As we gained altitude for the first time this year i came across snow-fall on the sides of the road. We had a short stop at a restaurant for tea where i relished noodles which in hindsight proved a useful energy meal for the entire “Nathula Pass” tour!after the restaurant stop we began our uphill mountain drive a beautiful convoy of tourist jeeps.At approx 1200 hrs we finally arrived at Tsomgo lake situated at a altitude of 12,310 feet, the entire landscape covered in snow. We were told that the road to “Nathula Pass” was closed due to snow and hence“Tsomgo Lake” would be the final destination.Akin to the normal “Package tour” agenda our tour driver told us to report back to the jeep at 1400 hrs for our return journey back to Gangtok.We all headed in different directions, myself the rare lone tourist, the rest all families of couples.
|Yaks walk leisurely on slippery iced rock cut steps.|
The beauty of Tsomgo lake surrounded by a carpet of white snow is indescribable in print where photography or painting can do justice. The entire landscape was crowded with tourists, the weather gradually getting cloudy.Walked up a flight of iced slippery steps which led to the Alpine Cafeteria( 12,900 ft) which was closed, my hunger pangs growing in the chilling freezing ice surroundings. Many tourists were taking Yak rides and akin to mules on dry land the yaks are absolutely sure-footed on dry ice. It amazed me watching the yaks walk leisurely up and down the flight of iced steps with a tourist on their back. A slip on the part of the yak could endanger both, the yak and its rider.For the first time in my life i understood the utility of the Yak to mountain dwellers during freezing winters.Walked around the lake area savoring its beauty and remoteness. Saw a beautiful small hut built by the army called “Changgu hut” and entered the same mistaking it to be a luxury cafeteria for tourists.The presence of a few army-men in uniform didn’t make me realize that this was a private army social club and not a luxury tourist cafeteria .I took a photograph of the “Tsomgo lake map “ framed on the wall and was immediately accosted by a army-man.He asked me for my credentials and told me to delete the photo taken inside “Changgu hut”.I was afraid of erasing the entire photograph collection and hence told him to do the same. He approached a young girl who immediately erased the photo with a few movements of button jabbing and i was thankful that a foolish misunderstanding on my part was solved amicably.This tour was a bizarre tour of “Photography disputes”, first instance being the “Elephant video shoot” in the Doars region of W.Bengal and now a Army club photo-shoot misunderstanding.This area of Sikkim is military sensitive due to the “Indo-China Border” and thankfully i was not arrested as a anti-social element.The sky and valley suddenly got dark and cloudy with thunder in the sky.Strolled around the lake-side area and suddenly saw a familiar face in the tourist crowd,. Mr Murali and his wife were leisurely walking in the ice and this was the third instance that we bumped into each other.Took a photograph of us both, a bizarre co-incidence of totally unknown tourists meeting on three different occasions on tour.
|Our Tourist jeep covered in snow due to hail-storm.|
Suddenly it began to snow heavily which gradually developed into a hailstorm and instead of relishing lunch in a restaurant i rushed towards the jeep as did all other tourists. Everyone was worried of spending the night stuck at Tsomgo lake in freezing cold due to the hailstorm and road blockage.At approx 1330 hrs all the co-tourists arrived in the jeep and we began our slow return journey of approx 40 Kms(25 Miles) down the mountain highway to Gangtok. For the first time in my life i heard the sound of hailstorm hitting the roof of the car and the windshield wipers used to wipe of snow rather than rain water.There were traffic jams and long stoppages en-route but luckily not a permanent halt of the tourist jeep convoy.Observed a chain being tied to the back-wheels of a tourist jeep in order to enable good traction in the slippery iced highway.This was a real experience for all of us and we didn’t regret missing the sightseeing tour of Nathula pass as this was unbelievable real life adventure in Sikkim.A huge army truck was also in the convoy, its large wheels clearing the highway off snow due to its weight akin to a tractor.
|The “Iced Highway” down to Gangtok from Tsomgo Lake.|
Finally at approx 1730 hrs we reached Gangtok. Roads in Gangtok are mostly all One-way roads and hence the driver dropped us away from our hotels. I shared a taxi with the Sarkar family and was dropped off at my hotel, end of a memorable tour of Tsomgo lake with a lucky escape of returning back to Gangtok on the same day. Had a nice hot water bathe, the same neutralizing my feet which had almost become numb due to seepage of ice water into my shoes and the long 4-hour journey back to Gangtok.I was literally starving having not had lunch and spotted a plush confectionery shop “Cookie Man” opposite my hotel open for the first time since my arrival in Gangtok.. Entered “Cookie Man” and purchased a vegetable puff, returning back to my hotel room to relish the same.Later purchased a beer bottle from a shop next to the hotel and drank the same in my comfortable large room.This hotel had a excellent location, situated in prime Gangtok with my large room having a excellent view of the street below, the weather being cool and hence windows open. After the beer headed towards M.G road for dinner, my last day in Gangtok. Dinner was at “Chopsticks”, a plush Tibetan restaurant situated on the first floor of a building on prime M.G road.Dinner was a local Tibetan specialty “Fingreuth blackmushroom with rice”. Consumed my dinner watching T.V. in this plush restaurant.
|Dinner at “Chopsticks”.|
This was the plushest restaurant i had visited during my entire tour, a excellent eventful day being celebrated with a quiet dinner. After dinner walked around M.G road and spotted a man walking a beautiful young bull-mastiff dog.Took a photograph of them and later of a black labrador roaming alone without its owner. Stepped into “Maharajahs” sweets shop and purchased some Bengali sweets. Returned back to the hotel eating cone ice-cream, the ultimate glutton.Watched T.v and finished the sweets, the dinner compensating for the missed lunch.It was a good nights sleep and on waking up in the morning realized that the water supply was shut.I had filled two buckets and realized that at maximum tourist capacity the hotels water system supply couldn’t cope with the demand for hotel water among the lodgers.This was otherwise a excellent hotel located in prime Gangtok.
|“DEOLA HILL PARK” in Kalimpong.|
Thursday(20-3-2013) :- At approx 0545 hrs made my way out of the hotel for a morning walk deciding to explore a short downhill road that would definitely lead to “Lalmarket”. It was a long downhill walk and was surprised to reach right into the centre of the meat market, a congested place with a puddle of water due to rain.. A truck had arrived with a load of slaughtered beef, the carcasses not skinned , the animals freshly slaughtered.It was akin to being in a abbotair and i saw a butcher transferring a head of a bullock from the truck to the shop.A ghastly sight but the hard facts of human non-vegetarian food.From the butchers abbotair returned back to my hotel having tea on the way.Packed up my bags and checked out of the hotel at 0645hrs , an excellent stay barring the water problems .Caught a taxi to Deorali taxi stand, the fare being Rs 100 .On arrival at the taxi stand was accosted by a taxi driver and boarded a shared taxi to Kalimpong. Kalimpong was actually not on my planned tour itinerary, a saved extra tour day being the reason for visiting this hill-station en-route to Siliguri.Thats the greatest advantage of “Solo Travel” compared to “Packaged group tours”, the fact that travel plans can be adjusted or changed according to time availability and tour budget.At approx 0730 hrs the jeep taxi departed for Kalimpong collecting other passengers on the way.At 0900 hrs we arrived on the Sikkim border town of Rangpo and later entered into the State of W.Bengal.A little further ahead into W.Bengal we stopped at a village restaurant for breakfast.A classic Gorkha village restaurant in the midst of dense teak forest.Breakfast was “Sabji(Vegetable)/tea”, cheap and excellent
|Exit “Sikkim Border” and into “State of W.Bengal.|
. After breakfast we headed towards Kalimpong, a uphill mountain drive. Kalimpong is situated 4100 ft above sea level and is a sub-division of Darjeeling district .It was the gateway of trade between India and Tibet before the annexation of Tibet in 1959 and later the Indo-China war in 1962 that resulted in closure of the “Jelep Pass” .Reached Kalimpong bus and taxi stand at approx 1045 hrs , a very congested locality.On alighting the jeep headed straight to the nearest lodge near the taxi/bus stand, “Lodge Himashree”.Had to walk up a flight of three storeys in the desolate building suddenly hearing the loud bark of a German shepherd dog from the fourth floor where the lodge owners resided.A lady’s voice told me to wait in the lodge reception lounge, a eerie quite floor with me being the only lodge guest.After a brief wait the owner Mr K.K. Daga arrived at the reception and explained me the deficiencies of his neat and clean Old World lodge.I would be entitled to only a single bucket of cold water a day for bathing and one bucket for toilet use.In Mumbai i get water on just opening a tap in my flat and here was the owner of a entire 4 storey building suffering from acute water shortage. Thats life and living in some city’s or buildings in India, acute water or electric load shedding.Travel educates .Mr K.K.Daga took my identity voters card for registration in a thick hotel ledger book , the same book to be handed over later to the police station for verification, a first in my life-time of travel. Kalimpong was located in a strategic position on the Bhutan-Tibet/China- Sikkim border and hence the systematic police checks on guests and tourists residing in the city.The room rental was Rs 300/day.Classic black and white framed photo’s of Kalimpong over the decades filled his reception lounge walls.There was a prominent photo of a younger Mr K.K. Daga with the former Chief Minister of Sikkim Mr Bahadur.Bhandari and Kalimpong Gorkha President Mr C.K.Pradhan(G.N.L.F). taken in the early 1990’s.He had formerly been a manager in a tea-estate in Assam.His family had been settled in Kalimpong since generations and he was definitely a prominent original local settler of this small city .
A interesting Old World lodge where after decades i got to view a hotel ledger and stay in a lodge that had the ambiance of the 1950’s as seen in old Hindi movies. Mr K.K.Daga gave me a brief idea of the tourist sites in Kalimpong .Kalimpong town is basically on a mountain ridge having two large hills at its sides. The northern part is called Deolo hills while the southern part is called Durpin Dara hills. Decided to visit the Deolo hills immediately and Durpin Dara hills the next day.Made my way out of the lodge and walked in the northward direction towards “Dr Graham’s Homes” in Deola hill assuming it to be trekking distance from Kalimpong city. Inquired directions with a taxi driver and he agreed to take me right up to Deolo hills park and also explain the various tourist sites en-route to the peak.Ultimately it was “Taxi drivers” who became my local tour guides during this entire tour akin to local hotel tour travel agents that i contacted on most of my solo International and National tours.Taxi driver Mr Uday.Mangrati was informative giving me a brief description of Deolo hill and its surrounding areas.Our first stop was at the city water reservoir, a perennial source of water to Kalimpong city.Three lakes on Deolo hills provided water to the city and this was one of those lakes.The gate at the entry to the small lake was closed and got a brief view from outside, a clean lake.From the lake it was a uphill drive and we passed along the estates of ” Dr Graham’s Homes” a famous school in Kalimpong.Most of the small local cottages with sheet metal roofs had wonderful potted plants on the outside as horticulture is one of Kalimpong’s biggest exports.While driving Mr Uday.Mangrati explained me the method of returning back to town after visiting Deolo hill and “Dr Graham’s Homes”, showing me the shared taxi stand outside “Dr Graham’s Homes” school gate.
|Typical Kalimpong village cottages on Deolo hill.|
We finally reached Deolo hill situated at a height of 5,591 ft, the highest point in Kalimpong.The taxi fare amounted to Rs 600,excellent for the distance and the guided explanations.There was a garden on the hill and there were advertisements and booking stalls for “Tandem Paragliding” which was conducted from a take-off cliff close to the garden on Deolo hill. . First decided to have lunch in a small restaurant near the entrance to the garden.Lunch was Chicken momo with “Hit Beer” , the beer factory being owned by Hindi actor Danny.Denzongpa.After lunch as i was walking towards the garden gate noticed a familiar couple. I had previously met them at the Gangtok flower show and obliged them by taking their photograph with their camera, something i also told other strangers to do for me on my “Solo travels”.They were from Ahmedabad and akin to the Murali couple from Chennai seemed to be on the same travel route as me.Entered the park, well maintained and large with a magnificent view of the valley below.There was a signboard inside the park indicating the construction of as rope-way from Deolo hill(Garden) to Relli valley below.Strolled around the garden which had a large guesthouse for tourists. Spotted a young man with a “Marwari horse breed “ offering horse-rides to tourists. Took a ride on this well built and excellent temperament horse, a simple trot near the guesthouse.A canter was definitely out of question due to space restrictions and tourists.After the ride walked around the park enjoying the views, the weather getting a bit cloudy.A beautiful cross bred terrier dog decided to play with me ,definitely owned by the tourist guesthouse.At approx 1330 hrs made my way out of the park on a solo trek downhill to “Grahams Home” school estate.Asked for directions as the downward spiral road had one or two different bifurcations.It was a steep walk downhill through narrow country paths. At a hill-side i spotted a huge pig in a pen, the largest pig i had seen on a private farm. Took photo’s of this boar and further away noticed a cow shed. The Deolo hills had numerous small farm plots with cultivated land most of it formerly owned by the “Graham Home” school estate.
|Local Kalimpong Gorkha Miss Bina.Rai in her cowshed.|
As i was wandering across this small farm the lady of the farm , a Gorkha approached me and i introduced myself .Miss Binu.Rai gave me a brief tour of her small farm-house speaking in Hindi..The huge boar which was 85 to 90 kilo’s was destined for slaughter for her relatives wedding. Pork is the favourite dish in the North-East region of India and Bhutan.The cows were a source of milk and other milk products. Binu.Rai was extremely helpful in explaining me various aspects of Kalimpong life and agriculture. The weather got cloudy.She told me that this type of non-seasonal rain was good for the local maize crop planted on small plots. She showed me a tree with yellow fruits like small oranges that they locally called “Kashmir Lemon” and plucked one from the tree for me to taste. It was as sour as lime.She also showed me her local liquor brew distillation furnace.Preparing local home-made alcoholic liquor is common in the hill farms.She later invited me to her house and introduced me to her sister,a typical village farm-house with gobbar and wood fuel for cooking.Thanking her for the excellent farm tour i bid farewell and she showed me the pathway to “Dr Graham’s Homes”. As i began my downhill descent the drizzle began and i was just hoping not to get caught in the middle of a rain-storm! Walking downhill i took a wrong path and luckily came across two young children who guided me on the right path.After Taktsang monastery in Bhutan this was my next solo trek in totally unknown territory and terrain.Finally reached a paved road that had some beautiful houses in its vicinity and inquired with the occupants the way to Dr Graham’s home.They set me on the right path and i finally entered the school estate that seemed to occupy the entire hill.A pathway in the estate led to the “Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel”, a old Anglican church.“Dr Graham’s Homes” was founded in 1900 by Scottish missionary Dr John.Anderson.Graham.It was initially started as a home for abandoned Anglo-India children akin to most Anglican educational institutions in India.
|A view of a part of “Dr Grahams Homes” campus.|
The present school campus has a area of 400 acres( 1.61 Sq Km) and is considered a “Mini Town”. It is self sufficient producing its own food, clothing and lodging.Met a young student of class nine on the campus. Master Tenzing.Choenden was a boarder, his parents living in Paris.He explained me briefly the various “Homes” that housed different student boarders, the school being affiliated to I.C.S.E and I.S C X11 Indian education system. I was just dazed at the sheer size of this educational institution, the largest i have seen in my life-time.Anglo-Indian children from Kolkota received free education. It now started raining heavily and i took shelter in the schools main office building. The rain gradually decreased and i made my way to the schools exit gate awaiting a shared taxi at the bus-stop. The rain again started pouring down heavily and the sky got dark. Managed to get a shared taxi and on the way got a phone-call from lodge owner Mr K.K.Daga inquiring about my whereabouts since it was raining heavily, literally pouring cats and dogs.On reaching Kalimpong town alighted the taxi and ran towards the nearest rain shelter. It was just 1630 hrs but seemed night, the sky total black.Dinner was at 1645 hrs in “Aaditya Hotel” a local restaurant.The local fish curry rice was cheap and excellent. The rain had stopped by the time i finished dinner and made my way into the narrow street. Kalimpong is a small city where its difficult to get lost.Dessert was Rasgolla’s and i later visited the oldest book-shop in Kalimpong.Had a brief talk with the owner and didn’t spot the book “Byculla to Bangkok” in his shop. He told me that various city’s have different tastes in reading habits, most importantly magazines.From the book shop walked down the street visiting various shops including a pet food shop and a florist shop. There was just a single main road in the town with steps from this road leading downhill to the bus/taxi stand.Went down these steps to the bus stand and to my lodge. Met the owners son Mr Adit.Daga at the building entrance and had a brief talk with him , a young entrepreneur by profession.Thank god i had carried my portable torch along as it was pitch dark inside the lodge building.Electricity failure due to the freak rainfall.Walked up the stairs to the third floor with my torchlight , the loud bark of the dog announcing my arrival.Entered my small room, my sixth and last hotel room during my tour.The lights finally did come onn and as there was nothing to do just switched off the lights and slept.
|“Election Campaigning” in Kalimpong. Footballer Baichung.Bhutia’s entourage campaigning.|
Friday(21-3-2014) :- Woke up early and after using rationed water for toilet purposes dressed and got ready for a early morning sightseeing of the Durpin Dara hills.Photographed the rising sun from my hotel window pane, a beautiful sight of the Sun rising over the hills.At 0630 hrs made my way out of the hotel onto the street.Breakfast was at “Suji food corner”, a small restaurant at the bus-stand that was open serving breakfast to drivers.Breakfast was “egg fried rice” with tea. Went into the “Mela Ground” , a large playing ground near the bus stand and watched the youth playing cricket while some were jogging.Later in the day a “Flower Show” was to be held on the same grounds.Hailed a taxi at the bus-stand and agreed on a sum of Rs 600 for a private tour of Durpin Dara hills, a 3 Km drive to the peak and back.Throughout this solo tour i had outsourced my local tours through taxi’s, the taxi-drivers being excellent guides as well as local organizers.Taxi driver Mr Roshan.Chetri owned a brand new 2013 Maruti wagon -R which had a “Video” fitting on the front driver reflector glass, the ultimate luxury taxi.We began our drive up the hill from the bus stand. At 0715 hrs we partly reached the top of Durpin hill where the driver stopped the car . Durpin means binoculars in Nepali.He led me to the edge of the hill to show me the “Shiv Statue” on top of a distant mountain situated at Siddhesvara Dham in Namchi in Sikkim.With my binoculars the statue was clearly visible, pure white statue that seemed near as Sikkim was close to Kalimpong in a straight line as the crow flies.
|“Zang -Dhok Palri(Durpin Monastery)|
After observing the surrounding mountains which included Mt Kanchenjunga with binoculars we drove further to the top reaching “Zang -Dhok Palri(Durpin Monastery) ” Buddhist monastery built in 1976.This monastery holds 108 volumes of Kangyur and other holy books of Tibetan scriptures that were transferred out of Tibet after the Chinese invasion of the Country.The Indian Army has a major base due to the proximity of Kalimpong to the border. Went to the topmost floor of the Monastery where the view of the lowlands and Kalimpong town is beautiful. Later drove to the “Lions Golf Course” a picturesque golf course built on the ridge of Durpin hill at a location known as “Watershed Viewpoint Point”.. It was a 9 hole golf course constructed in 2005 and situated opposite the historic Singamari tourist lodge of the W.Bengal Government.
|Historic “MORGAN HOUSE”.|
The historic “Morgan House” was really impressive, Kalimpong’s most famous residential landmark.It was built in the early 1930’s by jute Baron. Mr George.Morgan and on the death of Mr Morgan and his wife went into the hand of trustees and today owned by the W.Bengal Government..The list of celebrities who have stayed here include film stars Nargis, Kishore.Kumar,Uttam.Kumar,Om Prakash,Amit.Kumar and Raj.Kumar to name a few besides French and American Ambassadors.The house is claimed to be haunted and really looks unique with a huge courtyard.
|“Pinewood Cactus Nursery”|
The entire top area of Durpin Dara hill was occupied by the Indian Armed forces with photography strictly prohibited in certain areas.Later on the return journey visited the“Pinewood Cactus Nursery”, myself being the first visitor of the day.Entrance ticket was Rs 10 and i couldn’t believe my eyes on seeing the variety and sizes of different cactus’s grown in controlled climatic conditions inside plastic covered tents.The collection consists of Cactus’s from North , South and Central America.It was established in 1971 and has won numerous Indian and International awards.A bust statue of the founder of this exotic cactus nursery stands in the centre of this Nursery farm.The Nursery tour was the last in the taxi tour itinerary and was dropped at the Bus-Stand at approx 0845 hrs.Made my way into the hotel and my tiny room.Had a talk with Mr K.K.Daga a gentleman who had seen Kalimpong develop during his lifetime.In the 1970’s water was freely available in his building but with a gradual increase in Kalimpong’s population and housing boom the water shortages and rationing gradually became a reality of daily living..Requested a bucket of cold water for bathe and arrangement to keep my luggage as the check-out time was 1030 hrs while i intended leaving Kalimpong after 1200 hrs.
|At Pinewood Cactus Nursery.A Unbelievable World of Cactus’s.|
The single bucket bathe was akin to swimming in almost freezing water, a experience of a life-time.My old rags towel proved handy as i was not provided either soap or a towel.Checked out my luggage from the room and kept my bags in a shelf in the lodge reception room.Made my way out of the hotel and later onto the main road where i dumped my rags towel and “Long Johns” near a garbage dump. Decided to visit a small garden situated next to the main road and hence entered “Janmukti Park” situated in the heart of the bustling small town.The entire road was jammed with cars, many having political party flags fluttering.Inquired about the reason for the traffic congestion and was told that India’s ace footballer Mr Baichung.Bhutia was in the “Tirumal Congress Party” office, just a few meters away from where i stood.Waited for a while intending to click a photo of Baichung as i was a footballer myself during my youth and a fan of Calcutta(Kolkota) maidan soccer as also the English Premier league and World Football.The wait for politician/Footballer Mr Baichung.Bhutia was too long and hence drifted to my normal window-shopping walk along the road.Browsed through a newspaper and read about the demise of veteran writer and journalist Mr Kushwant.Singh at the young age of 99 years, a well lived long life. He was one of my favourite Indian authors for his wit and “Malice towards one and all”. I had read his classic “A train to Pakistan” just a few weeks ago in Mumbai. R.I.P.Visited a handicraft shop, my favourite in any city or Country.Later decided to visit the three day “Flower Show(21,22,23 March)” that began today and held on the “Mela Grounds” .
|“KALIMPONG FLOWER SHOW”|
The main-gate entrance to “Mela Ground” was closed and someone guided me to another entrance into the ground. It was a side entrance and the gate-keeper allowed me inside. I wandered into the ground which had a few flower exhibits and landscape plant exhibits with a few visitors inspecting the same.Suddenly a gentleman approached me and inquired if i was a exhibit owner informing me that the “Flower Show” would officially open at 1400 hrs for the general public and at present only officials and exhibitors allowed entry.Made my way out of the flower ground and headed onto the main road searching for a restaurant for my last lunch in Kalimpong. Lunch was at 1145 hrs in a small Gorkha restaurant. After a sumptuous “Pork thali “ lunch with beer went back to my lodge, collected the bags and walked to the bus stand.Booked a bus ticket to Siliguri, the same costing only Rs 80. At 1300 hrs the bus departed from Kalimpong bus-stand reaching Siliguri bus terminus at 1545 hrs.From Siliguri bus terminus boarded a shared Rickshaw for New Jalpaiguri train station.The “12344/Darjeeling Mail” was scheduled to depart at 2000 hrs and hence i was very early having reached New Jalpaiguri Station at 1630 hrs.The locality outside the station had a row of small restaurants.
|Kalimpong Main Bus/Taxi Stand.|
Spent half an hour in a cybercafe and later at approx 1730 hrs had a early dinner at “Hotel Dada Bhai” and whiled away the rest of the time watching T.v in the small restaurant.When i later stepped out of the restaurant at approx 1845 hrs heard the chirping sounds of a swarm of sparrows on a tree just opposite the restaurant.It was dusk and the birds were roosting for the night. It was decades since i saw such a large number of sparrows in one location, the birds almost becoming extinct in most localities in the concrete jungle of my home city Mumbai.
|Entrance to New Jalpaiguri Station.|
New Jalpaiguri Station had a excellent normal model of a train on rails at its entrance facing the main road.A excellent advertisement for Indian railways. Later made my way into the N.J.P station and onto bogey No S4 and seat No 14 of the Darjeeling Mail, a clean well maintained train.The overnight journey was pleasant and the train reached Kolkota at 0645 hrs.
|“HOWRAH BRIDGE” across the “Hooghly River” in Kolkata. Ferry terminal for Boats .|
Saturday(22-3-2014) :- Stepped out of the train into Sealdah train terminus. Had a light breakfast at the railway cafeteria and later out into the streets of Kolkata.Was amazed at seeing the parking lot filled with yellow coloured “AMBASSADOR TAXI’S”, the same extinct in Mumbai.It was akin to visiting a car museum.Thought of boarding a shared taxi to Howrah station but then decided to travel on the common Kolkata bus as i saw fellow travelers with double my luggage walking towards the bus-stand. I have old ties with Calcutta(Kolkata) city having visited the port a few times during my employment in the “Merchant Navy” .I could write a separate thick book on my memoirs of Calcutta(Kolkata), both good and bad ! I was a big fan of “Maidan Soccer” of Calcutta during my youth and also in 2014 but more into International football.
|Howrah Train Station.|
Boarded a rickety bus, a Kolkata trademark that hasn’t changed over the decades. The bus fare was Rs 8 and luckily i got seating accommodation.As it was early morning the roads were clear as Kolkata is notorious for its traffic jams, besides, it was election campaigning season..On reaching Howrah station made inquiries and headed towards the cloak room to deposit my luggage. There was a long queue and finally at 0800 hrs managed to deposit my luggage, a single trolley bag.After depositing my luggage headed towards the congested Howrah bus-stand and boarded a bus to Esplanade the bus ticket being a mere Rs 5.At approx 0830 hrs reached Esplanade and on alighting the bus headed straight towards “K.C.Das”, the trade-mark Bengali sweets shop of Calcutta(Kolkata).On entering “K.C.Das” was surprised to find the small restaurant unchanged barring a recent addition of A.C and interior wall paintings of Hindu religious icons.Tasted the famous “Rosgolla’s & Sandesh” of “K.C.Das” and headed towards Park Street.As i was early almost all the shops were closed.
On the way came across road-side hawkers just opening their street shopson Chowringhee road..The famous “New Market” situated on Lindsay road and actually called the “S.S.Hogg ” market was closed, the shops yet to open.A part of this market was destroyed in fire in 1985 and later in 2011 and rebuilt.Came across “Esplanade Metro station” , the only new edifice in the Esplanade locality. Came across a road-side second-hand book-seller, a tribe almost extinct in the era of Internet and “E-books”. Further up was the famous night-life and entertainment locality of Kolkata, “Park Street” now renamed “Mother Teresa Sarani”. Have fond memories of “Trinca’s” in the 1980’s, a excellent and modestly priced night-club that had live English music performers.“Park Street” is known as the street that never sleeps but i found almost all eateries and shops closed at approx 0930 hrs. Blue Fox, Peter Cat, Moulin Rouge were some of the night-clubs that i passed along , all closed.Calcutta has been the cradle for some of India’s most famous English singers , most famous being Pam.Craine and Usha.Uthup to name a few.Entered the famous confectionery shop “Flurys” and tasted their famous “Chicken Patty”.Entered “Park Hotel” and was enthralled at the beautiful fish tank at the reception having “Discus fish”, the aquarium enlightening the hotel decor.
|Remember the Hindi film “DO BHIGA ZAMIN” ?|
Inquired the room rental, a mind boggling Rs 9500/day. From Park street walked back towards Esplanade and entered the ” Oberoi Grand” where the room rates were equivalent to “Park Hotel“, the Oberoi having a grand swimming pool on the ground floor.Visited a “Royal Enfield” dealers shop and scrutinized the bikes on sale,moderately priced, easy to purchase but difficult to maintain like my “Omega Wrist watch”.”Jai Ho” to my now 10 year old “Bajaj Wind-125cc bike”, a road mule.Walked across the road onto the maidan and watched young collegians playing test cricket.I was thinking of having lunch in a hotel in Esplanade and later go back to Howrah station. I was too early and not a single major eatery open and hence decided to head back to Howrah.Election fever was at its zenith all over W.Bengal and having had the experience of the Baichung,Bhutia entourage in Kalimpong decided to leave Esplanade early rather than later in the afternoon. My train “Geetanjali Express” was scheduled for departure from Howrah at 1350 hrs .
|HOWRAH FERRY TERMINAL.|
At approx 1100 hrs boarded a bus to Howrah reaching early as surprisingly there was very little traffic.Made my way towards the “Howrah Ferry terminal” and was filled with nostalgia of the shipping years spent in this port city. Watched the Ferries come and go at the “Ferry Terminal” and the local “Maji’s(Canoe Boat men)” anchored near the pier. After spending some time at the Howrah Ferry Wharf went back to the station and sat on a chair, very early for the train.Had a conversation with a businessman seated next to me. Mr Souvik.Haldar a management educational lecturer was a local Kolkatian and we discussed Kolkata.Was sad to hear that Kidderpore Docks was redundant, most ships docking at the port of Haldia. Finally the time arrived to depart and i headed to my train on platform No 2. Entered compartment S3 and occupied seat Nos 3, the train being punctual on departure time. Completed reading the biography of boxer Mike.Tyson titled “Undisputed Truth” during the days journey.Next day on Sunday(23-3-2014) finished reading the Indian wild-life books titled “Charger , the long living tiger” by H.S.Panwar and “Know the animal inside you” by Rajesh.Latkar. Did i unconsciously foresee the death of my long living 22 year old Alexandrine parakeet “Mittoo” ? I normally always carry reading material with me on long journeys by train and this time it was these three books, one from the “American library” while the other two were from “B.N.H.S (Bombay Natural History Society)” library. The train arrived at Dadar station on time on Sunday(23-3-2014) and i was at home in Prabhadevi at approx 2130 hrs.
NOTE :- ALL MY RESEARCH WORK ON GEOGRAPHICAL FACTS AND HISTORICAL EVENTS AND PLACES IS FROM THE INTERNET AND STUDY BOOKS AND UPDATED TO THE TIME OF WRITING.OPINIONS ,PHOTOGRAPHS AND EXPERIENCES OF THE MARATHON TOUR ARE MY OWN. A GUIDE FOR OTHER TOURISTS, TRAVELERS AND ADVENTURERS.
During my stay at “Vinaday.com inn” in Ho Chi Minh(Saigon) on my solo tour of Vietnam and Cambodia in December -2013 happened to meet Mr Vincent.Yeoh.Koh of Singapore, an avid World traveler .He made me realize the advantage of being a Indian national for visiting Bhutan as he had personally toured the Country and was charmed by its natural beauty barring the exorbitant cost of touring this tiny Himalayan Kingdom also called the Last Shangrila. All foreigners have to pay a minimum of U.S $250/Day to a local registered travel agent for visiting Bhutan, except Indian Nationals , making it the costliest tourist destination for a majority of economy or backpacker World tourists. I was amazed at my ignorance on Bhutan.As usual on returning to Mumbai from my tour planned my logistics from my home in Mumbai , the “Internet” being my robotic companion. Paro is the only airport in Bhutan while Bagdogra in West Bengal is the nearest airport to Gangtok or Darjeeling.I decided to opt for the cheaper but tedious and time consuming adventurer route of train travel from Mumbai to New Jalpaiguri Station in West Bengal.It would be a lengthy journey of approx 2185 Kms by the “15645/Guwahati Express”.From New Jalpaiguri station it would be another approx 240 Kms by road travel to Thimphu, the Capital of Bhutan. Hence decided that my next solo marathon travel adventure tour would be Bhutan and the North -East Indian hill-stations of Darjeeling in West Bengal and Gangtok in Sikkim by train and road transport .
. On Tuesday(14-1-2014) visited “Samarth Services” in Worli fish market and booked a A/c train ticket (Rs1850 approx) on the “15645/Guwahati Express” from Mumbai to New Jalpaiguri(NJP) station in the State of West Bengal.My scheduled date of travel from “Lokmanyatilak Terminus(LTT) “ in Mumbai was Saturday(8-3-2014).A week later booked my train tickets for the return journey to Mumbai as its easier to get plane tickets than train tickets in India and hence a minimum of 2 months advance booking is the norm.
|Air & Land Route for touring Bhutan and Indian hill-station of Darjeeling and State of Sikkim|
Saturday(8-3-2014) :- Boarded Nos 53 bus near my residence in Prabhadevi and reached “L.T.T” Kurla station at approx 0630 hrs.India’s most luxurious train the “MAHARAJAH EXPRESS” was parked on platform No 1 and posed for a photo in front of this most expensive tourist train.Made my way to platform No 2 and boarded Compartment B3 and onto seat 6 of the “Guwahati Express”, the train leaving the station punctually at 0805 hrs.My co-passengers were a young men , a few from the armed forces and hence the grueling train journey was a mixture of conversation and reading the Mike.Tyson biography “Undisputed Truth” , a real no-holds tell-all tale from one of the World’s greatest and most controversial heavyweight boxer.The train was delayed by 4 hours and thanks to Mike .Tyson biography , a long and tedious train journey was tolerable.
Monday(10-3-2013) NEWS THAT DEVASTED MY LIFE :- Was expected to reach “N.J.P.T” station at the unearthly hour of 0110 hrs , the 4 hour delay adding to the confusion.Couldn’t sleep the entire night as my anxiety of overshooting the station was playing on my mind.Consulted my fellow travellers and one family advised me to get down at “Alipurduar station” and catch a bus to Pheuntsholing.Our train finally reached N.J.P.T station at 0400 hrs and i extended my ticket paying a extra Rs 450.At approx 0630 hrs as we were approaching the Alipurduar station i got the “HEART ATTACK NEWS” from my house-keeper Sabina.Dias that my 22 year old Alexandrine parakeet “Mittoo” was lying dead in his cage.Thanks to my “Speculation profession” i am accustomed to reacting to losses, profits and deaths !“Mittoo” has his own “Fan Following” under the pseudonym “Mittoo alias mittoo the poppat” and his untimely death was a body blow , akin to losing a 22 year old son.I gave instructions to Sabina to store his dead body in the refrigerator in order to get him stuffed by a taxidermist,memories of a once lively non-human companion. I have owned and lost many pets over my life-span but “Mittoo “ was special because of his longevity and unbelievable talent for mimicry. “Its better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.”Mittoo” a big thanks for the 22 long years of companionship.I intended completing my entire tour as planned in memory of “Mittoo”.
|“Gateway to Bhutan” from India. Entry gate into Pheuntsholing in Bhutan from Jaigaon in India.|
On alighting the train at Alipurduar i caught a taxi , paying a mind-boggling Rs 1300 for the journey to Pheuntsholing as i had to hire the entire car. It was a beautiful journey through Doar region of forests, passing through the “Buxar Tiger Reserve” which has the highest tiger density in West Bengal .
First time in my life i had seen tea plantations on level fields akin to rice plantations in South India with tea-puckers at their early morning job of “Tea-plucking”. There were a few sign boards in the jungle pathways along the main road labeled “Elephant corridor” , the normal routes of wild jungle elephants that also occasionally destroy crops or antagonize surrounding villagers.En-route we came across some park-rangers trying to board two domesticated elephants onto a truck.I told the driver to stop the car and was as usual busy producing my “VIDEO-MOVIE DOCUMENTARY”.One of the elephants, a large male tusker was refusing to enter the truck and trumpeted his anger.Unwittingly the game warden thought i was a nuisance and distraction through my video-filming and he showed his authority little realizing that i too could have been a “Game Warden” with my experience of animals and zoo visits.
The Warden charged at me wanting to seize my camera and i had to beg him with folded hands to let me go, the actor in me vying for a Sharukh.Khan role.My unique facial appearance and style must have antagonized the game warden as elephants can react dangerously to strangers.Luckily the wardens temper cooled down and he let us drive away, myself having been dealt a double blow, first the death of “Mittoo” and later almost getting imprisoned and my camera destroyed by the wild-life authorities. In hindsight the Rs 1300 private taxi fare was worth the money as it introduced me to the Doars region and the “Buxa tiger reserve” besides helping me reach Pheuntsholing early compared to the normal traditional route.At approx 0930 hrs i reached Pheuntsholing and quickly made my way to the‘Bhutan Immigration Office”.I was feeling hot in my sweater with Mumbai seeming colder ! Bhutan time is half an hour ahead of Indian time, hence adjustment of watches.The Immigration office for tourists was on the first floor and after filling a form and attaching a “Passport photo” to the form sat on a chair for a computer photo.After approx a half an hours wait i was issued a “Tourist Permit” allowing me a stay in the country from Monday(10-3-2013) to Friday(14-3-2013) with permission to tour only Thimphu and Paro..The Bhutanese currency is the “Bhutanese Ngultrum” and is on par with the Indian rupee.The “Indian rupee” is also accepted as equivalent currency in Bhutan but mostly only Rs 100 note denominations. Dzongkha is the local Bhutanese language but almost every Bhutanese speaks or understands Hindi language while English is the medium of education in schools. At approx 1030 hrs boarded a mini-bus for Thimphu , a long journey of 6 to 7 hours .Thimphu is situated at an altitude varying from 2,248 meters( 7,375 feet) to 2648 meters(8688 feet) in the constricted Wang Chu river(Thimphu Chu ) valley . “Chu” means river in Bhutanese language.As we gained elevation through the mountainous roads i could literally feel the change in temperature from hot Jaigaon(India)/Pheuntsholing(Bhutan) to the cold clear mountain breeze .My co-passenger was a Indian businessman and he did provide insights into this beautiful isolated Country.On the way i had to show my “Tourist Permit” at two checkpoints.We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where i ordered “Pork/rice curry” with a beer , the pork being as tough as raw hide, dried preserved meat. Came across a “Farmers Market” at a bus-stop type stall where local farmers displayed their wares to locals and tourists.Smoking and Tobacco items are strictly banned in Bhutan but i observed that “Beetle Leaf(Paan)” and “Beetle nuts(Supari)” was very popular amongst locals, the same being sold at the “Farmers market” along with vegetables.We finally reached Thimphu bus station at approx 1630 hrs.I hired a taxi being unashamedly honest of wanting to be guided to the cheapest accommodation in the city.On all my “Solo Tours” my policy is to live in the cheapest possible lodging while sightseeing on a billionaire’s tour budget !
|At the “Clock-Tower” on Norzim Lam road in Thimphu.|
.On a payment of Rs 80 the driver took me to “Hotel Ghasel food & Lodge” situated on 31/A Norzin Lam, the heart of down-town Thimphu.I spoke to the hotel manager and was allotted “Room No 109” on the first floor . A tiny attached/bathe room with T.v at a rental of Rs 400/day(Off-Season rates).It was freezing cold in Thimphu and after a hot geyser shower made my way into the street.Bhutan was the 46th Country on my collection of World tours and hence although alone ,my “Internet Study” and travel experience proved useful and was all at home in a strange and new city.Walked down Norzin Lam street towards the “Clock Tower” , the city centre and couldn’t believe that just six hours ago i was in India.The sparsely populated clean city and the Bhutanese with their unique traditional attire gave the city a unique look .Can you believe being in a Capital city of a country having no traffic signals for road traffic ?The 2012 census of Bhutan accounted for a total population of only 6,50,000 in the entire kingdom stretching over a area of approx 38,394 Sq Km.There was a single traffic signal post on main Norzin Lam road with a traffic policeman directing one-way traffic in the peak evening hours. Most cars and taxi’s on the road were Indian make as also every other consumable commodity.Made my way into “Technet Cyber cafe” and published the news of “Mittoo’s” demise on the Internet.Internet charges were expensive compared to India at Rs 50/hour.Having a sweet tooth tasted a pastry and it was delicious, my dinner for the night.Came back to my tiny accommodation and browsed through the T.v, the “Malaysian Flight 370 Plane Disappearance” being the prime news.Bhutan television entertainment was totally dominated by Indian and Western soaps, sports and news with just two or three channels focusing on local entertainment.Except for the tiny t.v and tiny room, i felt i was watching Mumbai T.v at home !Sleep eluded me the entire night, the biting cold adding to my insomnia, a common ailment during my tours as acclimatization takes a few days or a day.
|“BUDDHA DORDENMA” statue in Thimphu. One of the World’s largest Buddha statues.|
Tuesday(11-3-2014) :- A sleepless night and awaiting daybreak to begin my exploration of Thimphu. After the normal toilet routines and a warm bathe put on my formal attire and made my way to the hotel restaurant.The receptionist Mrs Taqshi.Dheden was helpful and gave me a check-list as well as a bit of guidance of the normal tour sites of Thimphu.”Hotel Ghasel” was a pure vegetarian restaurant which didn’t even serve eggs and hence breakfast was a normal toast/butter with tea.After breakfast began a earnest exploration of the tourist sites beginning with the “Memorial Chorten”.It was walking distance from the hotel, although a long walk in the chill cold morning.At approx 0745 hrs reached the memorial and met a Indian tourist, a travel organizer from Calcutta who gave me some helpful tips on sightseeing in Thimphu.There were early morning devotees at the temple, chanting prayers holding the Buddhist rosary and spinning the “Tibetan Prayer Wheels” of the temple. After a brief glimpse of the“Memorial Chorten” made my way to the main road and engaged a taxi for a tour of the distant tourist sites around Thimphu.After a bit of bargaining the taxi driver agreed to show me a few sites at a rental of Rs 860.The ” Thimphu Chu(Wang Chu) river” meanders its way across Thimphu and it was a long drive across a winding mountain towards “Buddha Dordenma” statue.On the way we passed by “Pelkhil School”, a scenic educational institution on the banks of the Thimphu Chu river.Finally at approx 0815 hrs reached “Buddha Dordenma” situated on a mountain top with a beautiful view of Thimphu city.I was one of the earliest tourists and later came across a lonely Canadian tourist with her local Bhutanese guide , later more tourists filling the place with their local guides.All foreigners barring Indians have to deposit a daily tourist fee of 250 U.S $’s/day with a local Bhutanese tourist company in order to get a “Tourist Visa” to the Country making Bhutan the costliest Country for budget backpacker economy tourists.After a brief tour of the site walked towards Kuenselphodrang nature park just a few meters away from the Buddha statue.Bhutan is a Bird-watcher and Butterfly tourist destination and the location and isolation of this forested park in Thimphu city was evidence of a nature paradise.The opening hours for the park was 0900hrs – 1800 hrs and hence i was too early for a exploration walk inside this beautiful forested location.Our next drive was to the “Changangkha Lhakhang Monastery” , arriving at approx 0930 hrs.
|“Changangkha Lhakhang Monastery“|
Its a fortress temple and monastic school perched on a cliff above Thimphu.There were tourists as well as pilgrims inside the Monastery with a beautiful view of Thimphu from the top of the temple. I removed my shoes and entered the temple where a Tibetan Buddhist ritual was in progress, a few Caucasian tourists seated on the temple floor along with the monks.After visiting the prayer chamber had a talk with the local care-taker of the Monastery.The next agenda was the highest priority on my tourist visit list, “The Takin Preserve Zoo”. It was a long drive to the “Motithang Takin Preserve” located in the Motithang district of Thimphu.Entry to the zoo was free and there were a few American tourists along with their local Bhutanese guide. The Takin is the National animal of Bhutan since the 15th century.A Tibetan saint by the name of Lama Drukpa.Kunley(The divine madman) is credited for having created the Takin with its unique features,the head of a goat and the body of a cow.Got to view and pat this animal as a single specimen was next to the wired enclosure.Its a harmless and docile animal with a lazy and slow gait.
These animals are found in the forests of Bhutan and are unharmed, held sacred in Bhutanese culture due to religious sentiments.This was the last taxi tour of the allotted taxi fare and i was dropped near the main city centre library.The “National library and archives of Bhutan” has the distinction of owning the World’s largest published book certified by the “Guinness book of World Records”. This book has 114 pages weighing over 150 pounds.It opens 5 * 7 feet !The guide of the library Mr Phurva gave me a personal tour as i was the only visitor at approx 1045 hrs in the morning.He was dressed in the traditional men’s “Gho” of Bhutan and very polite and informative. One glaring aspect that i observed was the Americanized English accent spoken by the elite educated Bhutanese as television programmes are a daily dosage of Indian and American soaps, movies and news.Strolled around the small well maintained library, most of the other books being religious scriptures.Made my way out of the library and was surprised to see a man selling “Human penis” shaped carvings along with other handicrafts to tourists outside the library premises.In any other country this would have been a cause for “Pornography ban” but in Bhutan it has a historical religious significance.
|“Penis Shaped Handicrafts” along with Face Masks|
Lama Drukpa.Kunley(The divine madman) is the reason for the human penis being a source of talisman in Bhutan used to to drive away evil spirits.“Penis Paintings” adorn some house walls as a sign of good luck .Lama Drukpa.Kunley is also known by the title “The saint of 5000 women” as women would seek his blessing in the form of sex. This is also one of the reasons for Bhutan’s unique and isolated status on the World Geographical map.In which other country are Penis’s or Vagina’s painted outside houses akin to art ?The Penis holds a very strong religious and cultural significance in Bhutanese society, totally unpolluted by pornographic hallucinations of the “Sex Industry”.Purchased a “Thunder Dragon” curio from this handicraft shop, just photographing the various shaped “Penises” for my photographic bank of a “Been here seen that” World collection.I was thinking of purchasing a “Penis Curio” but realized that in India my house would be “Taboo” if the same was exhibited in my “World art collection”, mistaken for “Dildo’s”.
The streets in Thimphu were clean akin to First World Country’s with no skyscrapers, most buildings being three or four storeys and uniform in architectural design.Visited the Post office, a large one storeyed building in prime Norzin Lam street.The Bhutan Central bank and the Central Post office were situated on the ground floor of this building.All public buildings and places including the Bhutan Central post office have a large portrait of the King of Bhutan. Purchased three Bhutanese stamps, my usual hobby as a tourist besides purchasing cheap art and curio collection which has appreciated over the years and decades.Next visited a chic arts shop “Lungta arts craft and jewelries”.Saw a beautiful collection of crafted enameled small sea-shells costing between Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000 imported from Nepal. Purchased a“Yak bone ring” as a good luck charm and later made my way for lunch at the “Sunlight Restaurant & Bar”, a local restaurant.Tuesday was a “Dry Day” in Bhutan with no liquor served in public places and hence had to be content with a tame pork noodles lunch.Finished my lunch by 1230 hrs and strolled down the “Craft Bazaar” on Norzin Lam road, a row of small shops selling curio’s , handicrafts and clothes.
|Classy and Billionaire rental “TAJ TASHI” hotel in Thimphu.|
Next visited the “Taj Tashi”, the majestic 5-star hotel of Thimphu. Inquired the cheapest room rates and was horrified to note that the cheapest room was available at only 550 U.S $/Day( approx Rs 34,000/day), the hotel being just walking distance from my Rs 400/day hotel ! Well the billionaire class and the economy class tourist can always rub shoulders in any city, least of all in the “Thunder Dragon” isolated unique city of Thimphu.From the “Taj Tashi” walked to the ” Royal Textile Academy Museum” situated within walking distance on Norzim Lam road.
|“Craft Bazaar” shops.|
The “Royal Textile Academy building” was of modern 21st century construction having been inaugurated on 5th June 2013 by the Queen Mother Sangay.Choden.Wangchuk. There was a nominal entrance fee for the museum. I observed that the “Entry Fee” to most museums in Thimphu was cheap compared to International tourist standards and the reasons could be the compulsory 250 U.S $/day tourist fee barring Indian tourists.Photography was prohibited and the museum textile exhibits were unique and beautifully presented.The indigenous Bhutanese textile industry was displayed with captions and mannequin models.The National dress of Bhutan is what makes the Country unique akin to the Scottish Kilts worn in Scotland. A Television displayed the method of wearing the traditional men’s “Gho” a knee length dress akin to the Japanese Kimono which is tied to the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera. The traditional women’s dress is the “Kira”, a long dress upto the ankle with a outer jacket known as a tego and the inner layer known as wonju.The Royal family’s wedding ceremonial dress was also on display.This was the only building in which i used a “LIFT”, the modern 21st century building in Bhutan.Walked towards the “Bhutan Olympic Committee “ stadium complex and was surprised at the sports facilities and popularity of soccer, tennis and basketball as also the total absence of Cricket.In my entire sightseeing of the city i never came across kids playing cricket nor any cricket pitch.The popular sports television programmes in Bhutan screened World cricket matches and Indian culture is all over Bhutanese television. It.It would take a psychologist to answer the reason for Sachin.Tendulkar being a total unknown in Bhutanese public advertisements akin to we Indians being consumers of American culture but still strangers to American Football and Base-ball stars and the game!Archery is the National passion and sport of Bhutan.There were large tennis courts and basketball courts within the main stadium complex.The main ground was a olympic style football pitch with astro-turf.I walked onto the deserted football pitch and for the first time in my life felt the feel and softness of astro-turf. Carrom is a very popular pastime among the locals,played outside shops.At approx 1430 hrs i returned back to my hotel, all within short walking distance on the famous Norzin Lam Street. Hotel Ghasel seemed to be doing good business as the restaurant was crowded with customers. Purchased a local “Druk 1100” beer and celebrated my 54th birthday alone in my tiny room above the restaurant watching television.After the age of 50 i hate celebrating birthdays as they remind me of my mortality on Planet Earth, besides, Mittoo’s sudden untimely demise altered my mind-set on life and living. Today is to be alive and lived as tomorrow you might be dead !After a brief rest in my hotel room at approx 1600 hrs i headed out into the street.
|Thimphu Olympic Football stadium.|
Headed towards Hongkong Market, a parallel street above Norzin Lam street.This is a cheaper locality unlike the plush Norzin Lam locality and sells all types of consumable goods.Visited the vegetable markets and on inquiry realized that all the vegetables were imported from India. All the meat shops were closed for the month of March due to a Buddhist religious belief and hence the locals ate dried meat and fish.Bhutanese consume all types of non-vegetarian food, pork being the favourite. There were a lot of stray dogs on the streets of Thimphu, well fed and tame strays which tend to bark at night.. Seems Bhutanese are fond of these stray dogs and tolerate their non-earthly hours barking.The cold climate gives most of these strays a good thick glossy coat unlike the mangy strays normally seen in hot climate city’s. Walkled towards “Bhutan-Thailand Friendship Park”, a small park built in 2009 in the heart of downtown Thimphu.Later in the evening made my way towards the . the local bus-stand as “Taxi Travel” made me feel elitist,very artificial, not my usual back-packers agenda and method of exploring a new city or country.The buses were crowded with local school children, all dressed in the national dress.Intended seeing the King’s residence and hence inquired with a local bus passenger in the bus queue.He misguided me saying that “Dechencholing Palace”, the Royal residence was just half an hour by bus.Luckily i got down from the bus before it started, having re-confirmed the address with another local traveller, a young lady who told me that it was the last stop, about 7 Kms from the city centre.I am a gambler by profession but definitely weigh my odds.
|The single and only “TRAFFIC POLICEMAN” in Thimphu on Norzin Lam Road.|
Travelling in a unknown city by local bus at dusk was definitely not worth the gamble, although Bhutan is considered one of the safest Country’s on Planet Earth. .From the bus stand made my way to “Mona Internet Cafe” a normal internet parlour close to my hotel.Inside this parlour was a video-game parlour called “Aadda” and was surprised to find young kids busy playing “Video Games”, the most popular game being “English Soccer”.From here walked to the local cyber cafe and whiled away my time, the cost being Rs 50/hour.Dinner was at approx 1830 hrs at a plush restaurant “New Ama’s” on Norzin Lam street.Got to read the English version of “Kuensel”, the National newspaper of Bhutan which is also published in Dzongkha and Nepali.The restaurant food was average, although classy.After dinner came back to my hotel and spent the night watching T.v, a total sleepless night in shivering cold.My sightseeing tour of Thimpu had come to a end and tomorrow would be departure to Paro. Bhutan has a philosophy of “GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS” to promote social and economic development in the Kingdom.Collective happiness of the people is important irrespective of personal economic wealth.This is what makes Bhutan unique and a prosperous country where economic prosperity is also linked to holistic mind thinking.
|“Rinpung Dzhong” in Paro.|
|Thimphu taxi drivers dressed in their traditional Gho.|
Wednesday(12-3-2014) :- Awaiting daylight after a sleepless night i quickly finished my normal toilet routines and packed for departure to Paro.At 0730 hrs made my way to the hotel restaurant and had a breakfast consisting of bread and jam. Hotel Ghasal was pure vegetarian with eggs also being taboo but liquor freely available.After completing the room payments i collected my luggage and headed onto my next adventure, Paro city.It was a lonely walk towards the taxi stand , the street later being crowded with school children.There was a huge hoarding across the main road advertising a seminar on educational universities in India. Language is not a problem in Bhutan as almost everyone understands and speaks Hindi and hence walked towards the taxi/bus terminus by asking for directions.
|Highway to Paro blocked by “LANDSLIDE”.|
|Unique “PARO AIRPORT”,Bhutan’s only airport.|
On reaching the taxi stand was quickly accosted by a taxi driver Mr Pema and allotted his “Maruti R Wagon” , awaiting passengers for a shared taxi drive to Paro.It was a total tourist “Off-Season” month and hence getting passengers was a problem , besides, time was precious to my solo tour itinerary. I agreed for hiring the entire taxi at Rs 400 and so we finally left Thimphu at approx 0900 hrs.On the way he did manage collecting a few passengers and it was a long drive through a clear well paved road.Did stop on the way for a photo shoot of scenic houses and finally reached the bridge over the confluence of the river Wangchu and Paro Chu .It was the main bifurcation highway for Thimphu and Paro,Paro being just 24 Kms away with the straight main highway leading to Pheuntsholing.Our taxi stopped at this scenic spot which also had small shops selling eatables and vegetables, a normal stop for taxi’s.Spotted a group of Macaque monkeys playing on the rock cliffs above the highway road, the monkeys seemed well fed.
After a brief stop we began our onward journey and came across a traffic jam due to a landslide on the highway. After a brief traffic jam we began our onward journey and passed alongside Paro airport, the only airport in Bhutan.We finally reached Paro town at approx 1045 hrs and taxi driver Mr Pema guided me to cheap lodging also explaining me the main tourist locations of this small town of Bhutan.The taxi drivers in Bhutan are excellent guides, very helpful although the charges steep.
|Main road of Paro Town.|
On alighting from the taxi i walked across the road onto a cluster of small buildings and inquired for cheap lodging. Paro town reminded me of a typical Swiss village, small, clean , sparsely populated and excellent cool weather.I was guided to “Brothers Hotel”, a small old building having a electrical/electronics workshop on the ground floor and situated next to the landmark Bhutan telecom transmission tower.A young lady with two young kids greeted me at the reception and allotted me “Room Nos D-104” on the first floor, myself being the only guest in the entire lodge!Checked into my room and found it very spacious having a television along with a large gallery with a grand view of the “Paro Chu “ river.Only drawback was the lack of running “Hot water”, the same provided through a heater element which took a hour for warming and hence decided to postpone bathing for the next day ! But then, at Rs 400/day room charges a miser accommodation tourist can’t expect better amenities.I quickly undressed and changed attire and went to the ground-floor dining room and requested the hotel lady manager for lunch.Lunch was dried beef and rice with vegetables, authentic local Bhutanese cooking.Fresh non-vegetarian food was not available in entire Bhutan due to the closure of butcher shops for a month due to religious reasons and hence usage of dry non-vegetarian food.Bhutanese are total catholic in non-vegetarian eating habits which surprised me as they are basically Buddhists.The beef was as tough as leather and it was a experience of a life-time tasting dried beef meat.After lunch at approx 1230 hrs began my walk to “Rinpung Zhong”, a short walking distance from “Brothers Hotel”.On the way came across a veterinary dispensary, the “Dzongkhag Vety Hospital” where a St Bernard owned by monks was a patient.
It was a ferocious dog unlike normal St Bernards and the monk had to restrict the dog from barking at me, the weirdo lone unaccompanied tourist.Now you know my reasons for comparing Paro to a Swiss village, lots of similarities including the exotic pets.Bhutanese are fond of dogs and akin to Thimphu there were numerous harmless stray dogs on the road.From the veterinary hospital walked across the cantilever wooden bridge built over the Paro Chu river and entered the courtyard of Rinpung Dzong.Spotted strange black birds that resembled crows but had yellow feet and beaks.Next was a climb up a flight of rock stairs to the entrance of Rinpung Dzong guarded by two policemen.They inspected my entry permit and inquired if i had a guide, the normal tourist procedure in Bhutan.After police clearance i entered the majestic Dzong and studied the large Buddhist religious paintings on the interior walls.The Dzong was made of stones and Rinpung means “Heaps of jewels”.Most of the treasures of the Rinpong Dzong was destroyed in a fire in 1907 and the present frescoes are all modern paintings.A tourist couple were being explained the intricacies of the various paintings and i unashamedly eavesdropped on the lecture, happy to understand a few of the frescoes.From the narrow entrance one enters the main courtyard of the Dzong.There are a total of 14 shrines and chapels inside the Rinpung Zong, all banned for tourists.The Dzong also houses the Government administrative offices of Paro Dzongkhag. There were a few monks inside the main courtyard and one of them Mr Tenjo.Dorji spoke to me , explaining the basic importance of Paro.
|Inside the main courtyard of Rinpung Dzong|
The view of Paro from the elevated height of the Dzong was magnificent and got a view of the distant Himalayan snow-capped mountains.Came across a pregnant tabby cat and did a selfie-photo with the cat, very tame and docile.Spotted young child monks, one of them offering me his traditional sword. They were playing marbles and after decades i saw kids playing the simple children street-side pass-time of marbles, almost extinct in my home city of Mumbai .The Internet and computer era has robbed most 21st century children the joys of simple childhood games, the present trend being “Computer illusion games”.Thats life, change is permanent but in some places change is also accommodating tradition.In 1993 the film “LITTLE BUDDHA” was partly filmed at the Rinpung Dzong.This is what makes Bhutan unique and isolated, the land of the “Thunderdragon”.After admiring the scenic beauty of Paro landscape from the Dzong i made my way to the exit, one of the few tourists in the Dzong.
|A common Bhutanese village house on the hill to Ta Dzong.|
My next tour itinerary was the “National Museum of Bhutan “ situated in a former watchtower called Ta Dzong on a hill above Rinpung Dzong.Hill and mountainous regions are very deceptive for judging distances by the human eye.On exiting Rinpung Dzong the museum seemed just a short uphill trek across rugged terrain.I decided to trek to the top of the hill , a almost barren hill with just a few houses on the way.The trek was treacherous, not as simple as i estimated and the narrow pathway seemed un-used for ages, covered with thorns and shrubs. A slip of foot meant serious physical damage.
|Paro city.Typical city buildings of Bhutan.|
A small isolated house was perched midway from the hill and the owner of the house guided me towards a pathway that criss-crossed his house.I followed his directions and got myself into more trekking trouble finally deciding to quit being a penny wise and pound foolish mule.Decided to turn back and go back to the main road and walk down the road or hail a taxi. On returning i was aghast at the sight of a huge human penis painting on the wall of the house of the man who guided me a few minutes ago . I had seen “Penis Curio’s” in Thimphu but never ever a magnified penis on a wall akin to a Pablo. Picasso or M.F Hussein figurine paintings. The fool hardy trek was worth just for this time-less authentic photograph of unique Bhutan where the male penis is a symbol of good luck.We normally see the female sex organs being glorified in literature and art.In fact i saw this house-holds family, a young couple with a young child, a simple Bhutanese family.Dazed and relieved for trekking back to the main road in a single body i next inquired for a taxi.Taxi’s were unavailable as the few tourists always have escorted guided tours.Hence decided to walk all the way to the top again underestimating hill distances.The walk seemed endless, the cold weather saving me from dehydration and fatigue.Luckily a engaged taxi came my way and the occupants agreed to give me a lift back to Rinpung Dzong entrance gate.After the occupants alighted the taxi i requested the driver to take me to the museum to which he agreed.Finally after a abandoned, foolhardy and adventurous trek i did reach Ta Dzong with the help of a taxi.Photography was not allowed inside the “National museum of Bhutan”.The museum is worth the visit as a tourist gets to understand the geography and cultural history of Bhutan. It was at this museum that i was surprised to read that the 2012 population census of Bhutan was only 6,50,000 people ! Compare this population to just a single locality of Mumbai, Kolkotta or Delhi .Bhutan is also one of the rare Asian country’s never ever to have been colonized by a foreign power. Viewed the “Mask Section” where a brief explanation was given as to the meaning and significance of various “Animal & Bird Masks” in Bhutanese culture.There is also a Natural history section that houses stuffed animals and birds of Bhutan.After visiting the museum i made my way back by taxi collecting the previous occupants and hence sharing the taxi fare back to Paro at a cost of Rs 200.Alighted the taxi in the main city and loitered around, the town reminding me of Engelberg in Switzerland, absolutely desolate with a lack of human population and clean and tidy.Besides food i love tasting the local indigenous liquor of the Country or city i visit and hence decided to search for the local Bhutanese brew “ARA”. Ara is made from maize, wheat , millet or rice and fermented, in private houses or farms.Ara is also produced for religious purposes , mostly in eastern Bhutan..Inquired at a local wine shop and was directed towards a small grocery shop where a lady gave me the brew in a bottle, costing only Rs 50.Cheaper than Mumbai hooch! Made my way back to my hotel room and after depositing the bottle had a talk with a local businessman in “Brothers electronics repairing & sale shop”,a flourishing business , the ancillary unit of “Brothers Hotel”.Interesting conversation and he also told me that there was a “Archery Stadium” nearby where the sport was played daily.At approx 1700 hrs i headed towards the archery ground, all within walking distance from “Brothers Hotel”. Paro is a small one-horse town and a person can never get lost within this small city.The “Archery Ground” was on the same route as Rinpung Dzong.On entering the large archery ground thinking that it was empty i walked across the end of the ground.As i was walking i suddenly heard a group of men shouting at me from the opposite end of the ground.Ignoring the shouts i casually walked to the other-side of the ground only to later realize that i had narrowly escaped becoming a arrow target by the group of men playing archery from the other end of the ground.Archery is the national pass-time and sport in Bhutan akin to Cricket in India.
|“Archery Tournament” in Paro.(145 meters target)|
These group of men were shooting with American imported hunting bows costing between Rs 60,000 to Rs 1,00,000 with the target range being 145 meters.Akin to bowling a over in cricket they change sides after shooting a certain specified amount of arrows from one end of the 145 meters archery pitch.The target is similar to a wicket in cricket, a wooden board with a “Bulls Eye” target.Having personally witnessed this sport and having tried air-gun target shooting myself should say that shooting a arrow from 145 meters is superhuman archery.These men gambled on money through “Points system “ akin to points in rifle shooting.Spent the evening conversing and photographing these professional archers who also played in the night under flood-lights akin to night cricket matches.They told me that many people had died accidentally in the sport of 145 meters archery in Bhutan , definitely a modern day gladiator sport.In America these bows are utilized for hunting animals and not for target practice .This type of archery is not in the Olympics format, a pure Bhutanese version of the sport akin to the modern invention of “T-20 Cricket”.I promised them that i would definitely visit them the next day to witness “Floodlights Archery shooting”. As dusk settled i made my way back to the hotel, luck and a divine force saving me from a brutal accidental bow and arrow death.A charmed life ! Dinner was “Bhutanese pork/rice” at “Brothers hotel”, the same dried recipe only a little softer than the leather tough beef at lunch.It was chilling cold in my spacious room and my normal night sleeping clothing since Thimphu consisted of two sweater, a long john and track pant covered with double blankets while in bed.This is one reason that emigrating from “Garm(Warm)” Mumbai to other Country’s or city’s never ever occurred in my mind as i can’t withstand extreme cold for long duration’s irrespective of monetary incentives or personal living conditions.
|Solo trek to Taktsang Monastery(Tigers Nest) at an altitude of 3120 meters(10,240 ft). A trek of 900 meters(3000 feet) above the Paro valley.|
Thursday(13-3-2014) :- Woke up at approx 0330 hrs, the first time that i actually got some sleep after arriving in Bhutan.Inserted the geyser rod, a crude repaired heater spare part by “Brothers Electronics & repair sales shop” into a bucket of water .The mechanic told me that the normal heating time for bubbling hotness was approx a hour, fantastic indigenous modification from electrical trash..Today i would be trekking all the way to Taktsang monastery, the greatest “SOLO TREK” in my entire trekking career post sea-sailing retirement.My inspiration to trek to Taktsang Monastery was acquired by reading the adventurous blogs of London mountaineer Mr Mark.Horrell, a avid mountain climber who has written numerous mountaineering books having also climbed Mt Everest among his numerous mountain peak conquests. His style of writing was simple and lucid without much mountaineering technical jargon and he considered the simple trek to Taktsang Monastery as one of his best mountaineering experiences which included climbing the great Mt Everest and other lesser peaks ! This comment from a Mountaineer veteran carried a lot of authority, akin to a prominent horse trainer tipping a “Derby horse winner”.Taktsang Monastery is the symbol of Bhutan, the picture postcard monastery hanging on a mountain cliff at a altitude of 3120 meters(10,240 ft). After a hot water bath dressed into warm clothing and made my way out of the hotel.Barring a pack of stray dogs there were few humans on the street of Paro at the unearthly hour of 0700 hrs.The dogs did bark at me and must have woken up a few locals.Walked upto the local taxi stand and booked a private taxi costing Rs 250 to drop me at the base of the Taktsang trek route.It was a long drive of approx 10 Kms through the scenic countryside of Paro where “Rice farming” is the main occupation.Most prominent are the “Tibetan prayer flags” hung on hill-sides and small bridges.The taxi driver did get a few passengers en-route which added to his route earnings since this was a total tourist off-season .He was initially reluctant to cart me at only Rs 250 for the 10 Km trip ,definitely not profitable, just a recovery of petrol money.
|“MULES” are used by pilgrims and tourists.|
At approx 0730 hrs the taxi reached the base of the Taktsang trail, myself being the first and only tourist at this unearthly morning hour.Payed the cab driver and made my way towards the pack of mules tethered at a corner of the densely pine forested area.The charges for a mule ride to almost 3/4 of the trek distance was Rs 800. A lady was selling walking sticks and i decided to purchase one costing Rs 50 as i didn’t want to strain my legs in the beginning of my marathon solo backpackers tour .Backpacking solo tour management was my criteria, besides personal physical fitness.On Thursday(13-3-2014) at approx 0745 hrs i was the first person to enter the trail to the mysterious Taktsang Monastery.The initial trail was simple as i had to just follow the very prominent “MULE TRACKS”, the weather excellent, a cool clear bright day.I was more worried of encountering the elusive snow leopard or some other wild animal rather than of losing my way .There were dust-bins allocated at various points along the route with a message from the King to preserve Bhutan’s pristine forests and natural beauty.I walked at a leisure pace, stopping at times to admire the beauty of the forested Himalayas. From being the first person to enter the “Taktsang Monastery Trail” i was now gradually being overtaken by mules and other pilgrims and tourists.
|The initial wide trek path to Taktsang monastery.|
A mule pack carrying heavy luggage overtook me as also a couple of tourists along with their guides.At approx 0830 hrs i reached the first prominent rest-stop, the “Horse-trail point(Mule)” where there was a drinking trough and tap water for the mules.I quenched my thirst from the tap water, least bothered that i was consuming unfiltered “Mule water” !Besides my walking stick and heavy binoculars i was not carrying a haversack as i normally did on my numerous hill-fort monsoon treks in my home state of Maharashtra.The cool climate was conducive to uphill mountain trekking, besides, trekking was a late life hobby that i adjusted very well into my outdoors entertainment.This trek brought back memories of the “Mt Sinai Trek” in Egypt which i had accomplished in 2008 on a packaged Holy Land pilgrimage tour with “Mosiac tours “ of Mumbai. On that trek camels were used to cart pilgrims while here it was mules, besides, Sinai was barren cold desert land while Taktsang was evergreen cold Himalayan pine forests.After a brief rest at the“Horse Trail Point” began my upward climb, the same getting steeper.Came across “Tibetan prayer flags” fluttering in the wind throughout the trek. At approx 0845 hrs came across a rest-stop where there was a huge Tibetan prayer wheel for pilgrims. A few Taiwanese pilgrims dressed in yellow clothing arrived at this point on mules.They performed their religious rites on the prayer wheel and we made our way towards the “Taktsang Cafeteria” a short walking distance from the prayer wheel.This cafeteria is run by the Bhutan tourism corporation Ltd with prices slightly lower than 5-star hotel rates. meant purely for the guided tourists.Strange, i was the first to enter the Taktsang trail but saw numerous tourists with guides sipping tea and biscuits with a indescribable view of the mountains and forest.Got the first glimpse of the precariously perched Taktsang monastery from this cafeteria site, just beautiful.
|Tourists at the “Taktsang Cafeteria”.|
This Cafeteria was at the half-way mark of the trek to the Monastery which seemed deceptively close when viewed as the crow flies direction.Drank the costliest cup of tea along with two biscuits which cost me Rs 110 ! Observed a Yellow billed magpie stealing biscuits from the tourists, least afraid akin to crows on normal land.At high altitudes the cost of commodities increases due to portage charges as the mule wagon is definitely not ordinary transport.After relaxing for a few minutes at this plush cafeteria began my onward journey following the mule trail and the Taiwanese pilgrims.Now i was feeling the rarefied atmosphere but was surprised to find many elder Caucasian tourists trekking at a brisk rate with heavy haversacks, most notably a lonely Australian backpacker tourist.
|Taiwanese Pilgrims on Mules with their guides|
|“Taktsang Monastery” view at start of “STAIRCASE CLIMB”|
I realized that compared to most Caucasian tourists, i was just about average as a mountain trekker.Many elderly women were much faster than me on the trek, my only consolation being that i was the first tourist to enter Taktsang trail on Thursday the 13th of March 2014!Another reason for my slow climb was the fact that i didn’t want to spend all my energy on a single day as i had a long trail of mountainous sightseeing ahead on my tour agenda.I was timing my energy akin to a marathon runner.After an hours trek at approx 1000 hrs i finally reached the last stage of the “Mule Stop”, end of the mule ride for pilgrims and tourists.It was now a common walk for all people wanting to enter “Taktsang Monastery”.It was a torturous downward walk towards a small Buddhist temple from where the beautiful Taktsang Monastery seemed near , just across the mountain over a flight of stone steps cut on the mountain-side.Tibetan prayer flags was fluttering in the breeze and the bright sunshine making the view a copybook for professional photographers. Normally there is mist across the monastery and hence visibility low but Thursday the 13th seemed a lucky day for us, just classic mountain brightness. The staircase trek to the monastery was the toughest of the entire trek, deceptively easy and close akin to a mirage in a desert.From a distance and photographs a person might be perplexed as to the means of reaching this unbelievable monastery perched on a mountain ledge which is also the reason of its natural beauty Worldwide.
|Pilgrims walking up the last flight of stairs to Monastery.|
|A lone temple perched high above Taktsang Monastery|
Its simple, the rock cut staircase built along the two connecting mountain walls is the stairway to Taktsang Monastery.The trekker has to first walk down a flight of stairs and later again walk up a flight of stairs to finally reach the entrance of the Monastery.At approx 1045 hrs i reached the Monastery gates where i had to deposit my camera as photography was prohibited inside the Monastery.The Taiwanese pilgrims were a large group and began chanting hymns on arrival at the Monastery gate.I was the rare tourist without a guide and hence had to eavesdrop on explanations by other guides inside this beautiful temple complex.The “Taktsang Monastery complex ” was first built in 1692.The Monastery building consists of four main temples and residential accommodation for monks.A lone temple perched on the peak of the adjacent mountain is the highest temple in the Taktsang Monastery complex.I won’t go into the history of this monastery as that would be a subject by itself, one of the holiest Taktsang caves in which Guru Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan meditated.There are various small religious chambers inside the temple complex.The main building of the temple complex housing valuable relics was destroyed by a fire on April 19 1998 and later restored in 2005.Hence most of the paintings in the monastery are replica’s and not originals.
The view of Paro valley from the side of the monastery balconies which have glass windows is breathtaking, a once in a life-time experience.In a temple chamber a monk offered tourists and pilgrims holy water. After trekking and visiting this monastery i realize the reason for mountain veteran Mr Mark.Horrell considering this trek as one of the World’s best.Relaxed inside the temple complex admiring the Paro valley and the surrounding mountains.Met a Nepal tour operator and exchanged some conversation with him giving me tips on the best time to visit Kanyakumari , the southernmost tip of India.Tried performing a normal tourist ritual inside the temple where a tourist had to walk blind-eyed towards a rock that supposedly had the fingerprints of Guru Rinpoche and try to be accurate in planting his or her thumb onto the depression.I tried and failed as did other tourists i viewed. Finally at approx 1145 i left the Monastery and began my descent towards Paro base.It was the staircase that was tiring due to its up and down elevations in reverse while descending.This trek could also be dangerous as some of the ledges were very narrow without rail-guards. Stopped at the “Taktsang Cafeteria” intending to have a meal but the atrocious tourist prices and buffet menu restricted my appetite and spending.The buffet food was pure European continental with noodles and cost a whooping Rs 485!Besides, a full stomach would be detrimental to trekking.After a brief rest at the cafeteria complex made my descent and came across latecomers trekking to the monastery.Met a group of “I.I.M (Ahmedabad)” Indian graduates on a holiday trekking up towards Taktsang Monastery.Further down came across a Indian group from Mumbai and had a brief conversation.They were also amazed at the fitness of some of the Caucasian tourists telling me of a a man of 75 years accomplishing the trek while i personally saw a slim fit woman definitely above 60 years trekking faster than me !Met a few tourists from Switzerland descending along with me and exchanged conversation.They also commented that Paro did resemble Switzerland in topography and climate.
|“Paro Base” :- Beginning and End of Taktsang Trek.|
Finally at approx 1400 hrs i reached Paro base where the tourist buses and mules were parked.Local souvenirs were on display for tourists and to my horror i realized that there were no taxi’s on hire, all tourists having their own guided bus Requested a local tour conductor to accommodate me on his bus to which he obliged and this was definitely my luckiest day of the tour.At approx 1445 hrs our tourist bus of Caucasian tourists left for Paro city.I was hungry having only eaten the costliest biscuits and tea for breakfast at “Taktsang Cafe” and hence craving for a good Bhutanese meal.On reaching Paro city it was difficult to find a restaurant and hence i walked into a common take-away restaurant and had noodles and a beer for a late lunch.Strolled around the empty streets and visited a grocery shop purchasing a chocolate and later a vegetable shop for bananas.Saw a few young men playing carrom outside a shop, the popular leisure pass-time in Bhutan.Returned to my hotel and had some rest.Later in the evening observed a group of young boys playing basketball on a court next to “Brothers Hotel”.These young boys imitated the mannerisms and playing methods of N.B.A stars along with sports-wear . Strangely, even in Paro i didn’t come across any cricket ground nor anyone playing the game of “Gully Cricket” on streets , the strangest and most striking observation of my tour of Thimphu and Paro.A Psychologist would be able to answer the reasons for Bhutan being the total opposite of India in sporting interests although totally dependent on India for commodities ,entertainment and educational services.From the basketball court i made my way to the main city and visited a few handicraft and curio shops.Later made my way to “Fusion Karaoke bar and Resto” and was surprised to be the only customer in the night-club. A single girl was in attendance to customers and i tried karaoke on “Hotel California” , the charges being Rs 30 per Karaoke.From the Karaoke bar walked towards the “Archery Ground”.
|Mr Sonam.P.Wangchuk on the “Archery Ground” playing under floodlights.|
The men were busy gambling under floodlights and i was amazed at their accuracy from 145 meters while they themselves were amazed at my narrow escape the previous day, their topic of gossip and discussion. A gentleman named Mr Sonam.P.Wangchuk picked up a conversation with me, fluent in English and Hindi as he had a public school background and worked for “Druk Airlines” , Bhutans National Carrier. He had lived in Mumbai for some time during a airlines posting to the city. He explained me the basic culture of Bhutan and offered me a local whisky drink at the archery club bar.Watched them play till about 2000 hrs and later made my way back to the hotel.This being my last day in Paro and Bhutan requested Mr Wangchuk for guidance to a good restaurant in Paro. He gave me directions to a Indian owned Hotel Sonam Touffel situated in the heart of the town.This distance was too far from the archery ground .Walked back to my hotel and had dinner at a plush hotel next to mine consisting of pork/rice..
|Bhutanese family run hotel.|
Friday(14-3-2014) :- Had a good nights sleep waking up at approx 0400 hrs. Inserted the “Hot water heater element” into a bucket of water and spent my time browsing T.V. After a hot bathe packed my luggage and signed off from the hotel at approx 0730 hrs. Walked across the lonely road to the local taxi stand.Hailed a local taxi and told him to take me to the “Shared Taxi Stand” for Pheuntsholing.He drove me a short distance and to my horror i realized that “Shared Taxi’s” were totally unavailable in Paro due to lack of tourist while locals preferred the common daily bus.The taxi driver took me to the local bus stand situated opposite ” Sonam Tophel” hotel charging me Rs 60.There were only two daily mini-bus services from Paro to Pheuntsholing and both were full for Friday(14-3-2014) , the bus scheduled to leave at 0900 hrs.Bus tickets have to be booked at least one day in advance in Paro. Luckily the bus conductor gave me a cancelled ticket costing Rs 220 which saved me a day of unnecessary stay in Paro, a very small city with not much sightseeing barring its beautiful Swiss weather and the Taktsang Monastery trek.Had tea at “Sonam Tophel” hotel, a cosy hotel with Indian tourists.The mini-bus bus was punctual in its departure at 0900 hrs.The bus was full with locals and on the way we encountered a traffic jam due to a landslide.As the bus made its way towards Pheuntsholing the conductor gradually collected passengers on the way and hence it was packed, akin to traveling on a Mumbai local train.I was thankful for just getting a ticket and accommodation on the bus as the minimum private taxi fare would be approx Rs 3000! We passed the scenic Paro airport, a beautiful view from an elevation as we were driving down the mountain.At 1200 hrs we stopped for lunch at a typical local family run Bhutanese hotel. The hotel owner had three beautiful white dogs that resembled the Corgi breed, playful and acrobatic.Excellent lunch with a little dosage of the local “Ara” brew which was in my carry-bag.Suddenly while munching my lunch realized i was biting into something non-chewable and to my horror realized it was a chip of my broken molar tooth.This tooth had been fixed by my dentist in Mumbai and had again broken at its fixed joint. Wrapped the “Tooth” in a napkin and put it in my bag, same to be fixed again back home in Mumbai. Lucky that i had not swallowed the same along with my food! After lunch our journey began and reached the hydro-electric power supply town of Tala where a few passengers alighted the bus. and at approx 1415 hrs we stopped at “Suntolakha Farm market” stop.
|“Suntolakha Farm Market” stop.|
At the farm market a few passengers purchased beetle nut (supari) and pan, the favourite intoxicant of Bhutanese.It was a drive down the mountain where i had to surrender my permit paper at the local check-post , end of a memorable tour of Thimphu and Paro in Bhutan.At approx 1500 hrs our bus finally arrived at Pheuntsholing , the local weather being warm and hot.Collected my roller bag and walked towards Jaigaon town in India.It was a long walk from the Pheuntsholing bus-stand to Jaigaon city. On entering Jaigaon it was the experience of being in the World’s second largest populated Country, India.Boarded a shared rickshaw that took me to Jaigaon local bus stand charging only Rs 5. Was amazed at seeing a bus arrive with young school children travelling on the roof of the bus, a first time visual experience in my life.Yes, this was my India, very soon to become the World’s most populated Country.On inquiries at the local bus-stand purchased a Rs 100 ticket to Siliguri on a local bus scheduled to depart at 100 hrs. The bus ultimately left the station at 1645 hrs and it was a rickety ride on absolutely bad roads to Siliguri. At 2115 hrs reached “Tenzing Norgay Bus Station” in Siliguri and on alighting the bus headed towards the closest lodge.Checked into room no 13 on the third floor of “Delhi hotel and restaurant. The rental was Rs 300/day(Off-season rates).
|Siliguri in West Bengal. Junction for trains and buses.|
It was hot and in just 12 hours i had experienced temp range of +5 to 10 * c in Paro to + 30 * c in Siliguri akin to “Jet Lag”.This is the adventure of backpacking, discovering the unknown in a mechanically controlled World.It was a spacious room with television and a fan.For the first time in my tour i used a fan and had a normal water bathe from the tap .Bizarre and adventurous.Dinner was the costliest Bengali fish thali with my personal “Bhutanese Ara” drink, the fish thali costing a princely Rs 250.After a sumptuous dinner did get some good sleep at normal warm temps without sweaters or blankets
A TOUR OF DHOBHI GHAT IN MUMBAI (Saturday 21-6-2014) :- Sometimes it takes a foreigner or a outsider tourist to make us realize the tourist attractions in our own backyard in Mumbai(Bombay). Saw the film “Dhobhi Ghat” but even then didn’t bother to visit the actual location.The Mahalaxmi Racecourse was and is my regular “Playground ” since 1990 and yet i never ever visited the World famous “DHOBHI GHAT” situated just across the race-course.Reading the article “Costliest Tourist Package” was shocked to realize that tourists paying approx 119,000 U.S $’s(Rs 71.5 lakhs) for a 24 days tour of 8 country’s would be visiting only the “DHOBHI GHAT” on their stop-over in Mumbai. Better late than too late” and hence decided to take my camera and step into “Dhobhi Ghat” on my way to Mahalaxmi racecourse.A local guided me initially mistaking me to be a foreigner journalist until i spoke to him in chaste Hindi !?Here are a few photo’s of my discovery of the World’s largest open-air laundry that has been in existence for 150 years.Dobhi Ghat is approximately 38 acres in area in prime Mumbai real estate locality employing 5000 people directly and indirectly.There are 826 washing cubicles .
Sunday(27-4-2014) :- Last day of the Mumbai races at Mahalaxmi race-course as the “2013-2014 Mumbai Racing” season comes to a end.Will the horse i bet have a better rider than me ! HA HA HA HEE HEE HEE ! If you lose money in “Horse-Racing” learn to laugh it off and also quit before you start crying about “BANKRUPTCY” ! Don’t become a real life character from the film “OWNING MAHOWNEY”. Enjoy your day at the races, the best relaxation for mind and entertainment.
If you have the time and opportunity then please learn “HORSE-RIDING”.
BYE,C U AT MAHALAXMI RACE-COURSE.
FOR PATHOLOGICAL GAMBLERS.PLEASE READ MY SELF HELP BLOG.http://gamblarsnotsoannonymous.blogspot.in/
Thursday(24-4-2014) ELECTIONS 2014 :- For the first time in my life my name is missing from the “VOTERS LIST”. Clicked photo’s of my locality trying to find my name in the “VOTERS LIST”. WOULD HAVE TO WAIT FOR ANOTHER 5 YEARS TO VOTE IN 2019 IF STILL ALIVE.Later in the afternoon after lunch a sudden brain wave hit me and i took the receipt of my “CORRECTION FORM” that i had submitted to the Election office at Mahim to the Voters guidance workers.Was directed to “Adarsh English High School” just a few meters from my house and got my name checked in the “Voters Register sheet”.With great difficulty spotted my name and finally went to the first floor of the school and voted. VOTING MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. HA HA HA HEE HEE HEE ! NOW WAIT FOR MY “SATTA BAZAAR TIPS” ON WHO WILL WIN THE ELECTIONS ON Friday (16-5-2014) UNDER THE PSEUDONYM Mittoo Alias “Mittoo the poppat”. “NET CAGE VALUE” is now Rs 6,33,25,101 after the Manny .Pacquiao V/s Tim.Bradley fight. LEARN THE ART OF “SPECULATIVE SPORTS INCOME AND FUTURES BETTING ” BY FOLLOWING “Mittoo alias mittoo the poppat”.