Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park was on our Darjeeling sightseeing list. We started on a taxi from Gangtok to Darjeeling covering about 90 odd kilometers distance in about two & a half hours drive. The drive was all about watching beautiful landscapes all along and re-visiting our long list of the places to visit in Darjeeling.
Checking into the hotel by noon near Char Rasta, Mayfair Darjeeling, the closest tourist places to visit in Darjeeling happened to be the Himalayan Zoological Park & the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute both in the same campus. A mere half a kilometer was absolutely walkable in the pleasant weather of Darjeeling. So that is where we headed first in this popular hill town.
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling
This park popularly called Darjeeling Zoo is spread over 60 plus acres. It is the largest and highest zoo situated at an elevation of 7000 ft above sea level. It not only houses diverse wildlife of the Himalayas but also has the captive breeding program for the endangered species like Red Panda, Snow Leopard & Himalayan Wolf. There is a nominal entry fee. It is open to the public from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM and closed on Thursdays. It is on Jawahar Parvat hill. The specialty of the zoo is it houses high altitude Himalayan animals. The Darjeeling Zoo area also has original flora & fauna of the region, that is now difficult to find in the rest of the city. You can spend about an hour watching this wildlife unique to the high altitude region.
Take another hour for the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute visit. Which has a museum about the various accessories the early Himalayan Mountaineers used, Himalayan range etc? That’s a story for another day.
For now, walk with me and say Hello to these inhabitants of Darjeeling Zoo.
The Red Pandas are most popular among the visitors of this zoo. Unfortunately, they are an endangered species. Also called Lesser panda and red bear-cat they are native to the eastern Himalayas. Larger than a domestic cat, Red pandas are reportedly solitary animals. They are mainly active from dusk to dawn. We stood there for some time and watched them play and eat. Red Panda is the state animal of Sikkim. There are many Red Pandas in the zoo. Naturally, the playful Pandas are the main attraction of the zoo.
The Snow Leopards as their name indicates are high altitude Leopards. They are noted for their thick ringed coat & a long tail. They are the state animal of Himachal Pradesh.
The black leopard, obvious in color, stands out in its images that highlight its light green colored eyes distinctly. It inhabits the densely forested areas of north-east India.
The Himalayan Gorals are distinguished by their sharp, short horns that curve posteriorly. Found in the forests of Himalayas, they are agile and are active in early morning and late evening.
A wild goat with finely formed head, narrow erect ears, a heavy body & long robust limbs Himalayan Tahr is a sight to watch. It is a native of rugged wooden hills and mountain slopes of Himalayas.
The Markhor are found in the mountains of central Asia, scattered throughout northern India. Markhor too is an endangered animal.
The Blue Sheep locally called as Bharals feed & rest on the grassy mountain slopes. The coat is slate gray in color, sometimes with a bluish sheen. They are found in the high Himalayas.
The Barking Deer are oldest known deer. It is called so for the short barking call it gives when annoyed or alarmed. Antlers are present only in males.
Wild Yaks are among the largest bovids. Males may weigh up to a ton. Found in the northern Ladakh. Both males & females have horns.
The Himalayan Wolfs are bred at Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling in captivity. They are found in Ladakh & Spiti.
Finally, the zoo also has Bengal Tiger. Known as Royal Bengal Tiger, it is the national animal of India. Interestingly, we saw this tiger eating grass – looked like a case of a vegetarian tiger.
The Zoo also has several birds both inside the cages and on the trees outside. Many of them exotic north-eastern natives.
If you are visiting Darjeeling, recommend you to spend an hour in the zoo. Get a chance to view the rare wildlife of Himalayas. Other zoo’s in India do not have the Himalayan wildlife due to the climatic conditions they require. Hence do not miss an opportunity to visit the zoo while you are visiting Darjeeling. The only other zoo that has similar wildlife that I know of is the one near Gangtok, Sikkim.
Refer to the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling website for updated and further information.
Recommend you to read following blog posts on places to visit in Bengal.