Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
Don't discount Darjeeling Zoo as just another typical one that you see in a city. This is where you can actually see some of the high altitude Himalayan animals and some endangered species that are rarely seen anywhere else in the world.
This zoo was set up in the Birch Hill area (now known as Jawahar Parvat) in 1958. It was then known as the Himalayan Zoological Park. In India, this is the largest high altitude zoo. It spans across 67.5 acres of area at an altitude of 7,000ft (2133m).
India's former Prime Minister late Indira Gandhi dedicated this zoo in memory of Padmaja Naidu. She was an ex Governor of West Bengal and the daughter of Sarojini Naidu, a national leader and a poet. Since then the zoo is officially known as the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, but more commonly as Darjeeling Zoo.
Update November 2014: Darjeeling Zoo is now amongst the best zoos in the world. This is the first zoo in India to receive the prestigious international award "The Earth Heroes" 2014 out of over 300 zoos worldwide. This annual award is given away by Royal Bank of Scotland in collaboration with the British Government. Reason for selection for this award? It has done a superb job of conserving Himalayan animals and plantations while specializing in breeding animals that are used to Alpine conditions.
Darjeeling Zoo: Aviary & Shops
Some of the highlights of the zoo includes the conservation programs where you can see vulnerable and endangered high altitude Himalayan animals like the Tibetan Wolf, Red Panda, Snow Leopard etc all in semi natural habitats. And then there are Siberian Tigers, Yaks and lot more. A recent study showed that the zoo has over 200 species of trees & plants, shrubs, climbers, medicinal plants etc out which there are some 60 varieties of Orchids. Some slow growing oak trees are over 100 years old. And then there are trees like Birch, Alder, and others that belong to Castanopsis species etc.
As you enter through the main gate, you will see some curio and souvenir shops on the left. And right in front is the Aviary, a huge circular birds cage. You can see different kinds of birds inside including Rose Ring Parakeets, Hill Mynas, Ring Necked Pheasants, Blue Gold Macaw and many others. The striking ones are the two very large size birds of yellow and blue combination that look like some species of parrots.
Darjeeling Zoo: Uphill road, stairs on right
There are roads spanning out in all directions, one straight up, one on the right and one turning towards backside. Take the road straight uphill. You will see flights of stairs that are coming down along the right side of this road. Don't take the stairs. On your return, you will come down these stairs and that would be much easier.
Himalayan Black Bear in Darjeeling Zoo
As you take a few steps forward, look up on the hill towards right. You will see Himalayan Black Bears roaming about. If you don't see them from here, you can see them while you return down the stairs. They are usually found in the Himalayan mountain areas in Tibet, Nepal, China etc. at an altitude of 10,000 to 12,000 ft. During the winter they come down to lower altitude areas. These black bears can weigh between 90 to 120kgs. While fattening for the hibernation during winter time, they can weigh even up to 180kg.
Yak in Darjeeling Zoo
Walk forward and look on the left below and over the fence. You will see Yaks. Yak is a long hair bovine that can be seen in Himalayan region and also in south central Asia. The males can weigh up to 1,000kgs and females one third of that. The age of maturity is between 3 to 4 years. The maximum life span of a Yak is about 23 years. Their status is currently vulnerable.
Among other animals that you can see on this stretch are Sambar Deer, Blue Sheep, Himalayan Tahr, Barking Deer, Goral and Musk Deer.
As you walk along, high up on your right you can see the cages made out of iron nets. That's the upper section of the zoo. In about 75 meters from the main gate, you will see a road on the right which is going uphill. That's the one to take to see the upper section. Otherwise you can keep going straight to visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and cover this area on your return.
As you climb up towards the upper part of the zoo, across the wired fence on your left in the hills you can see Indian Tigers in open space. This is the area where you can also see Snow Leopards, Black Leopards and Clouded Leopards. This zoo is one of the rare places where you can see even Siberian Tigers. If you look towards right below and over the fence, you will see the Tibetan Wolves in the open. There is also another section next to it where Jackals are kept.
Tibetan Wolf in Darjeeling Zoo
You will soon reach the stairs that go all the way down to the bottom next to the aviary. There are shaded benches here where you can sit and relax. The stairs are not steep and you can comfortably climb down.
Once you reach the bottom, you are back again in front of the round aviary. Go straight ahead keeping the main gate to your right and you will reach the Red Panda conservation section. You will see the Red Pandas on your left over a fence walking around in a natural bushy setting. Their average weight is 3 to 4kgs, average length is 50 to 60cm. They are matured within 18 months from birth. In captivity, they are found to be living for up to 16 years. Red Panda is a highly endangered species. In their natural habitat of forests, they usually spend the day on tree tops and come down after duck looking for food. They love to eat bamboo leaves and fruits. They are herbivorous.
Red Panda in Darjeeling Zoo
Update April 2015: Recently two male red pandas have died at Darjeeling zoo. However there are still 6 male and 6 female red pandas here.
On the same road, there is an aquarium and section for pheasants. Come back and from the aviary turn right, and enjoy a walk along the natural trail. On the way you will see Himalayan Newt, small amphibian which is a type of salamanders. At the end, there is a section for Snow Leopard. From this road also you can see the Himalayan Black Bears.
The zoo offers an animal adoption program. You can pay for the care of an animal of your choice and in the process support the conservation of the animals.
Note: There are toilet facilities and drinking water available near the aviary.
Open daily from 8am to 4pm. There is an admission fee which is usually combined with that of the HMI located in the same complex. The combined ticket is Rs. 40/- (subject to change). There is also additional charge for taking cameras inside (Rs. 10/-).
Location of the Zoo
Darjeeling Zoo is located at the Jawahar Parbat, earlier known as the Birch Hill Park. Cars are usually not allowed up to the gate. There are two ways you can reach. You can take the Jawahar Road from Mall Road and keep walking for a while (about 25 minutes) and reach the institute. Or below the Zoo at the Lebong Cart Road, cars and taxis can park along the roadside. It's 5-6 minutes uphill walk from there up to the gate. You will see big signs on the rock showing directions. Check out North Darjeeling Map to see the location.
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Jawahar Parvat, Darjeeling
Fax: (+91) 0354/ 2252 522
By Raj Bhattacharya
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