I woke up early and toyed with the idea of going to see if DAS photography was open to get our memory card back before breakfastbut in the end decided that dozing was a much better plan! I finally got up at 8am when Kate knocked on our door to say that breakfast was ready.
After some slightly less mouldy tasting porridge than yesterday we got into the car with all of our bags and drove through the centre of Darjeeling (which is still bunkered down) to the zoo. We learnt today that the reason for everything still being closed today was that during the strike yesterday, the leader of one of the main Gorkhaland political parties was stabbed to death right in te centre of Darjeeling!
We paid and insted of getting the little tickets that the locals get, we got A4 sheets detailing the current animal breeding programmes and a list of animals in the zoo (I guess we paid enough more for it!) The first mammal that we saw was a cloudy leopard, pacing backwards and forwards at the back of it's cage. It had a beautiful pattern, the same as a normal leopard but instead of black spots it had random shaped patches. We found a snow leopard peacefuly sleeping in his enclosure, he didn't seem too bothered by the screaming children and the adults busy trying to wake it up to see it move. There were lots of pretty multi-coloured birds and 2 tigers, both sleeping just in view if you stood on your tip-toes on the wall.
On the path through the zoo was the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute museum which housed crampons, rucsacks and ropes amongst other artifacts from Everest expeditions. There were numerous letters, photos and information boards describing the Himalayas and various expeditions which I read a few of before we went back to the zoo to see the final animals.
We located some Himalayan wolves and I atched them for a little while, one was peacfully asleep and the the other obviously bothered by the noisy Indians shouting at them. I looked down the path and saw Kate waving furiously so Sam and I ran (quietly) down and saw the Himalayan black bear, right there at the front of his enclosure! He slowly retreated up the hillside and we thought that that was it for the day but then, as we walked around the corner, we found two bears sat down, licking their lips and posing! Gee came rushing across to us and said that there is another Dharba (strike) starting at 2pm and it was quite obvious from the emptying of the zoo that something big was going to happen so we snached a quick look at the red pandas before trundling doen the hill to the car and driving towards Kurseong which is only 26km away. We stopped at a monastery in Sonada which is Gee's local monastery and is the yellow hat sect. We drove to Cochrane Place, our hotel for tonight which is awesome! We had a late lunch and then investigated our rooms- two single four-poster beds and a brown bear on Sam's pillow saying have a nice stay.
In the afternoon Gee drove us down to the Maraibari Tea Estate where we had a little tour of the factory (after putting on silly little hats that didn't fit onto any of our heads) We looked at the processes that the tea goes through; withering, rolling, fermenting, drying and sorting. The sorting was the part that I found most interesting, there were large machines with several sieves of different sizez one above another, with the largest at the top. Tea leaves were poured onto the top and the whole thing vibrated so that the leaves fell through and out into separate containers! We had seen a poster advertising homestays in the factory so on the way out we asked the guide about it. He phoned a man who came down to show us around the different houses offering homestays. We felt bad looking around them all to ony choose one, so we chose the first place out of the two which was nice enough and the lady seemed friendly. We agreed to come at 9.30am tomorrow as Sam's parents go to Bagdogra to fly to Delhi tomorrow
Gee drove us to the train station and the Billmore family went to work identifying whether the steam engines were in good nick, how long they'd ben sat there for and the quality of the coal used. I took some photos of them analysing the trains and when the light started to fade we stocked up on water and biscuits for our homestay and wandered back past the tea plantations to our hotel. The four poster beds were as comfy as they looked!