And on the eighth day there were mountains. And Tibetan refugees.
Darjeeling Travel Blog› entry 98 of 251 › view all entries
June 9th, 2008 – by: cmgervais
So we left for Tiger Hill at 9am, fully expecting to get a face full of fog once again. After seven days of searching, we thought we would never see the snow-capped peaks surrounding us. As we were driving out of Darjeeling, Steve commented on the slivers of blue sky visible (but we’ve been fooled by that before) and then…. Oooo! Way off it the distance, a huge mountain was visible! It looked like no more than sharp clouds in all its snow-covered, jagged, majestic glory.
We kept craning our necks out the window, and when the mountain popped into view AGAIN, I got some shots from the car. It’s been captured! What excitement. What an amazing view! We talked about how truly spectacular this area would have been if that had been visible during our visit. Oh, if only.
We arrived at Tiger Hill only to find it shrouded in fog.
From Tiger Hill, our nice driver accommodated our request for some hiking. We first made a “mini hike,” over some bright green hills and a grassy, boggy area. Very pretty, but wet. Then he dropped us off on a narrow, quiet road that lead us through some lightly populated areas -- obviously not a common tourist route. There were lots of local people out doing laundry and just hanging out, and I got the sense we were just strolling right through their lives. Many people gave us friendly greetings and smiles. Especially the old guys -- they seemed to really get a kick out of the whole thing.
Occasionally our driver would pull up in the car -- are you ready for a ride? It kind of eliminated any sense of adventure, but it sure was convenient to have him nearby! We ended up walking all the way back to Darjeeling (about one hour and 15 minutes), and then he said we needed to get in the car because the traffic would soon get very heavy.
He dropped us off at the hotel for lunch, then we met back up at 2pm for a trip to the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center. I didn’t really know what to expect here, but it was a really cool visit. The center was established in 1959, two years after the start of China’s occupation of Tibet. It has a number of buildings, a clinic, many workshops and some showroom/shops. The main draw here is the handicrafts : they make wool rugs here, starting with a sheep as their raw ingredient. We watched raw wool being spun into thread (I think the youngest lady doing this must have been about 80!), and then we saw rugs being loomed with hand-dyed thread. One of the ladies sold me a raffle ticket for about 25 cents. There were anti-China posters everywhere.
They had a photo exhibit and a small museum that really outlined everything that’s been going on in Tibet since 1957. The imprisonments, the destruction of over 6,000 monasteries, the rampant deforestation... I left that exhibit with a black cloud over my head.
On the way home, we drove through town where most of the shops were closed due to a strike by the Ghorkas … these are the people who want to form a new state in this area. Near the bus terminal, there were many people milling about, and a lots of men standing around with scowls on their faces. A policeman rapped loudly on my window. When I opened it he said, “You must leave tonight. All tourist must leave Darjeeling!” He was not messing around either, so we skedaddled back to the hotel tout de suite.
When we arrived, a man from the hotel ran up to the car before it had even stopped.
We already are booked on a flight out tomorrow afternoon. We were planning to make the 3.5 hour drive to the airport tomorrow, but looks like we will go tonight instead. Our hotel assured us they would find us a room near the airport. Time to pack and get the hell outta Dodge!
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