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Published: January 30th 2006
I was out of my room by 7AM in order to try to catch some mountains unawares, and I was rewarded with a faint sliver of Kanchenjunga off to the north. Though the majority of the mountain was hidden by cloud/mist, there was enough visible to notice that i) it's damn big, and ii) there's snow clinging to the peaks. On a completely clear day, it must look breathtaking. Darjeeling is quite high up, at 2,100m, but K is 4 times that height.
As the morning went on, the view improved though still not to the point where I could get a decent photo. At around midday, it started getting mistier again so I gave up on K and ventured down to Darjeeling Zoo. The place wasn't as grim as I imagined it would be, and in fact they seem to be attempting to preserve various endangered Himalayan animals rather than just laying on a whole swathe of beasts for the delectation of visitors. My particular favourites were the red pandas, who have a cuddly and slightly dopey look to them, in the same way a chubby cat does, and the snow leopards, who just looked hard.
the price of the ticket was a visit to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, which was founded in 1954 in the aftermath of the successful assault on Everest. It was situated here partly because Tenzing Norgay was a Darjeeling man. Having had something of a fascination with Everest since reading "Into Thin Air", I found the section devoted to that mountain to be the most interesting. There were various pieces of kit that had been used on some of the successful and unsuccessful attempts on the peak, and it was clear just how much climbing technology has changed over the years. I was amused by the extremely fluffy boots that Tenzing apparently used to strut around base camp in, though I'm assuming their construction was for practical rather than sartorial reasons.
In an attempt to shame the weather into clearing up, I bought an extra-long postcard showing the view (on a good day) from a famous observation point nearby called Tiger Hill. From there, you can not only get great views of K, but can also see Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu off in the distance (I think they're about 250km away). It's a popular destination at dawn, as the sunrise
picks out each of the mountains one by one. I'm intending a visit there myself tomorrow - the hotel owner said that if you can see stars in the sky when you get up at 4AM, then it will probably be clear enough to see the mountains.
I'm getting a little fed up with the young guy who looks after the Internet cafe on the ground floor of the hotel. He's constantly strumming ineptly on his guitar and warbling tunelessly in Tibetan (though he did treat me to a rendition of "Country roads take me home" when I first went there). When a foreign chap came in to use the phone booth, Mr Guitar decided to crank up the kerrang factor on his acoustic, as well as take his singing to new levels of both volume and atonality, so that the poor foreign guy must have sounded as though he was phoning from the auditions for "Tibetan Idol". I may have to take my custom elsewhere, as the connection is by no means the fastest I've encountered either.
I dined at New Dish, which is apparently owned by the ex-chef to the Bhutanese royal family. Unfortunately there were
no Bhutanese dishes on the menu, and the Chinese one I had wasn't particularly thrilling - maybe that's the reason he's the ex-chef.
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