I believe that Hill Stations like Darjeeling can be best enjoyed by walking. The roads are clean and lined with Japanese pine trees. You could make the best out of its beauty by walking. Though Darjeeling is not a big town in West Bengal, the elevation and deep slopes make it hard to cover huge grounds. Unfortunately, there are very few taxis or buses. Either you have to hire a cab or just walk. Walking allows you to get a closer look of the town which is good for any avid traveler.
The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park also simply called as the Darjeeling Zoo is the largest high altitude zoo in India at an elevation of 2,134 m. It is at the Northern edge of the town, around 10 minutes walk from Chowrasta. The entry fee is Rs.40 (Rs.10 for still camera) for an individual. The zoo was established in 1958 to preserve Himalayan fauna and it stays true to it. The zoo specializes in breeding animals adapted to Himalayan condition like Snow Leopard, Red Panda and Himalayan Wolf.
The first species of animals you’ll encounter as you enter the zoo is sloth or the lazy Himalayan black bear, leaning on the wooden logs. When I went there most animals were out of their cages and basking in the late evening sunlight. I was lucky to be able to see most of them. The zoo can be covered within half an hour if you follow the direction. It is advisable to take the left road then take a ‘U’ turn and move to the other Hill where Red Panda’s are kept. Himalayan Antelopes like Himalayan Goral, Himalayan Tahr, Blue sheep and barking deer are some of the first animals you’ll see. Higher up, it is home to some ferocious animals like the Snow Leopard, Siberian Tiger and Black Panther. It’s very rare to see big animals so close like you see here. A black panther was peacefully sleeping when I went passed it. When I came back from the bird’s cage it stood up and came charging at me with much abomination in its eyes. I was taken aback. We were separated by the iron cage but I couldn't help think what might have happened if we had met elsewhere in the jungle. I presumed it was alarmed by my gun like tripod, which I carried on shoulder.
The tiger here is the biggest of the large cat I had seen anywhere else. The Snow Leopard is one of the rarest animals found in its habitat. It was rewarding to see it so close. There are good numbers of Himalayan Wolf in the zoo along with the Red panda. Though there other animals like monkeys and Langur, the main attraction in the Zoo is the Red Panda. The zoo is also the center for Central Zoo Authority of India’s red panda program. It is only one of the few places you’ll ever get to see Red Panda in India. They are gentle and beautiful animal. But they are quite active unlike the black and white Giant Panda. The Red Panda breeding program was started in the year 1994 and it has increased the red Panda population here. Though there are more than 150 animals in the Zoo, big cats and Red Panda’s overshadowed the rest. These great collections of Himalayan animals make this place a great attraction and a gem for animal lovers.