Adventure

Magnolias

'I believe any trip in search of wildlife can be coupled with physical activity and elements of cultural diversity to form a thrilling opportunity '
John H.Eickert

Bright almost shiny leaves, and waxy cream colored flowers whose blooms can spread wider than the width of a human hand, magnolia trees are common in upland riparian areas of the Greater Himal. Magnolias can grow to ten meters and bloom at about the same time as rhododendrons. This is also a great time to trek. One of the best places to trek in the spring is Darjeeling . The long trek out of Darjeeling to Singalila ridge was discussed briefly in a previous article. When going to Darjeeling it is possible to add two mini adventures to any visit. One of these is the “toy train” from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling . The other is the short trek to Tiger Hill.

Darjeeling is famous for it's tea. Legend suggests tea growing originated in India more than five thousand years ago. Indeed, tea is consumed around the world and India the largest producer. About one quarter of that production is from the Darjeeling area. Though Assam produces more tea, production in India is associated with Darjeeling . And, this has everything to do with the railroad. In the early days of the East India Company the rail terminus was at Darjeeling connecting with Calcutta and the international tea brokerages there. The train trip takes about twelve hours as the train moves slowly, climbing up through the hillside. The views from the train, out across the plain toward Batasia can be spectacular. The train stops briefly at Ghoom, a small town that claims to be one of the highest rail stations in the world. Overall, this is a novel way to approach Darjeeling and is well worth the small additional effort. It is fun to ride along and dream of what the countryside must have been like in the late nineteenth century. The hope. The energy. There must have been elephants everywhere. Of course, the elephants are only a rare visitor and many of the tea plantations are in decline making it all the more important to touch the past while it is still possible.

Despite the tea plantations, the magnolia have done better than the elephants. Tiger Hill, there hasn't been a resident tiger here for a long time, is a short trek with interesting views, and, in the spring, a chance to walk among the flowering magnolias. The magnolias, which have become famous in such American cities as Atlanta and Charleston , are derived from the very same magnolias along the track to the summit of Tiger Hill.

In the modern world, there is such little time or focus to consider the past or the things around us. In Darjeeling , elephant sheltering magnolia trees gave way with the help of a dramatic railway to tea plantations and became the world renown home of “ Darjeeling black.” Next month we will take a closer look at the long trek to Singalila ridge, perhaps some will undertake that trek this fall. Until then, take the time and when you do take your time. Cheers.

( Photograph of lady admiring Magnolia flower at Naggar, Himachal Pradesh: Susan Sharma)

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