I’ll take a red panda to go, please

Darjeeling, India (April 14). We ended our day – and our visit here – at the zoo, which seemed rather fitting given the traffic situation in this city.

This zoo is rather special. Once you pass the gauntlet of merchandisers, the place is calm and well-organized.

The zoo is famous for its conservation breeding programs of many endangered Himalayan species. It includes an off-display breeding center for rare snow leopards and red pandas. Captive breeding of snow leopards was started in 1983, with leopards which were brought to the zoo from Germany and the US, Germany and Jammu-Kashmir.

We did see some amazing animals, rather up close. Unfortunately, their habitats seem very sad. Tigers and panthers and leopards just pacing around in circles say unhappy animals to us. But it was wonderful to be so close to them. We just hope they get some nice breaks during the breeding season.

The other major event of our day way riding two hours on the tiny old train that once provided a miraculous way to reach the summer haven of Darljeeling. We opted for the steam version, which stopped for a coal refuel at the terminus in Ghum, and then went back down to Darjeeling. Can’t say that we were exactly comfortable, but for a train-nut – and we know a few – this was a glorious adventure – cinders and all. This train criss-crossed the main street in Darjeeling, on tiny tracks that go within inches of homes and stores. We could have reached in and taken lunch from many tables.

But it is a main tourist attraction, so ignore the incredible pollution the steam generates.

We may not have seen everything in Darjeeling, but we have seen that cities that don’t plan for growth and develop their infrastructure pay the price. We could have done more, but getting from place to place was far too frustrating and difficult.

But we’ve seen enough. We will be leaving this city tomorrow, and hope for smoother traveling when we hit Bhutan.


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