Darjeeling is the Queen of India’s hill stations. Its setting is one of incomparable beauty. A Victorian town of old world charm ‘discovered’ by the British, it is almost completely surrounded by fragrant tea gardens which seem to flow over the layered slopes like emerald swells on a rough sea. These are in turn interspersed by untamed jungle of Fern and Bamboo, groves of sweet smelling Coniferous trees and hamlets lost and which may be the finest this earth has to offer, It hits one like Darjeeling’s true name, “Dorje Ling”, or ‘Place of the Thunderbolt’.
Air: The nearest airport to Darjeeling in Bagdogra, 100-km south. ADGHC bus leaves the tourist lodge and club side around 8 am each day to connect with flights; tickets for the bus can be booked at the tourist bureau.
Rail: New Jalpaiguri (NJP) near Siliguri is the nearest station on the main inter-city line. Direct trains to NJP run from Delhi (approx 27 hours) several times a day. From there, the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, known to all as the ‘Toy Train’ completes the journey to Darjeeling. This route is very popular with tourists as it passes through some very picturesque mountain scenery and has been the subject of many romantic articles. They have tourist quotas for trains to Delhi, Kolkataa, Bangalore, Cochin and Thiruvananthapuram.
Road: Buses and minibuses run every thirty minutes or so to Siliguri from the bus stand at the bazaar. Buses leave for Mirik every thirty minutes. Two minibuses run each day run to Gangtok and one minibus leaves every day for Kalimpong. Although it’s possible to buy bus tickets for Kathmandu, tourists still have to change buses at Siliguri.
Siliguri is the nearest town. Ample transport is available to Darjeeling from here. The most popular modes of transport are taxi (usually shared by three to four passengers), share jeep (ten passengers).
However a Taxi from Siliguri will not take you out for sight seeing once on the hills/or in the Darjeeling town ship. It is advisable to take a one way taxi from Siliguri into Darjeeling, and book a Taxi within Darjeeling for sight seeing and your journey back to Siliguri. Taxi-fares are standard, and are generally affixed on the rear wind shield of the vehicle.
Share jeeps depart regularly, from several locations around town. They leave when full, and are a cheap, fast and reasonably comfortable way to get to Darjeeling.
Entering Darjeeling is like travelling back in time to the days of the British Raj, a vertical Victorian London – like town populated with oriental faces. Church spires and brick chimneys dominate the skyline. Darjeeling is a small town and the salubrious climate means walks around town are an extremely enjoyable means of getting around. For longer trips, taxis are available in stands near the entrance to the Mall.
The Mall is Darjeeling’s popular commercial street. It is lined with Tibetans selling hand-knitted sweaters and souvenir shops chock-full of Himalayan artifacts and both real and imitation antiques. Photo shops carry turn-of-the-century photos as well as specialising in hand-painted black and white prints with glowing oil colours. The Mall leads to Chaurasta, a square, which doubles as a bandstand, a pony riding arena for children and a haven for lovers.
The Chowrasta, meaning crossroad, is a hive of commercial activity. The Mall Road originates and culminates at the Chowrasta. This is the heart of Victorian Darjeeling. Here hotels, restaurants and shops brush against each other. The shops and stalls are a veritable paradise for souvenir collectors. The Bhutanese sellers display their wares. Woollen garments, tribal ornaments, Thankas, rosaries, brass statuettes and Gorkha daggers are kept on display for sale. Foreign goods are also available in some shops. Local handicrafts are much in demand.
The oldest site in Darjeeling is Observatory Hill, known locally as “Makal-Babu-Ko-Thaan”. According to legend, a Red Hat Buddhist Monastery called Dorje Ling, or ‘place of the Thunderbolt’, stood at this very spot. The Nepalis destroyed it in the 19th century. The Shivas and Buddhists share the temple that stands there today.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
A spot not to be missed is the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute created by the late Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who conquered Mt Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary on 29 May 1953. A display of equipment used on the climb is one of the highlights. A zoological garden nearby has an assortment of wildlife such as yaks, Siberian tigers and red pandas who call the region their home.
Darjeeling Rangeet Valley Passenger Ropeway
At North Point about 3-km from the town, this is the first passenger ropeway in India. For reservation of ropeway seats please contact – Officer in-charge, Darjeeling Rangeet Valley Ropeway Station, North Point, Darjeeling. Regular share taxi service is available from Market Motor and Taxi Stand is to the Ropeway Station.
Nearby Attractions from Darjeeling
Tibetan Refuge Camp
The area in and around Darjeeling is a treasure chest of interesting destinations. The Tibetan Refugee self-help scheme produces traditional artifacts, jewellery and carpets for tourist consumption.
Lloyd’s Botanical Garden
Lloyd’s Botanical Garden displays a fine collection of Himalayan fauna for those with an interest, and for punters there is horseracing at Lebong, the smallest and highest racecourse in the world.
Situated at an altitude of 2,590m (8,482 ft.) and 13-km from the town, this spot has earned international fame for the magnificent view of the sunrise over “Kanchenjunga” and the great Eastern Himalayan Mountains. Even Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, is visible from here.
Phalut & Sandakphu
A week’s smallest-trip of Phalut and Sandakphu will get one within reach of the high peaks; for the onlooker it affords a more spectacular panorama than at Tiger Hill. Giant flowering Rhododendron trees, a pointillism of reds pinks and whites Dwarfs comprise of the en route trail. On attaining heights of over 3,048m, one is surrounded by skeletal trees devoid of leaves and branches, which are especially eerie when the clouds roll in and envelop the area.
Further afield, in Pashupati on the Nepal border, one can purchase foreign goods at reasonable prices, view wildlife such as the endangered one-horned Rhino, Deer, Gaur, and wild boar while seated atop an Elephant’s back at Jaldapara Game Park; learn of the Lepcha legend at the confluence of the Teesta and Ranjeet Rivers; relive Kalimpong’s past glory as a trading post by visiting the market filled with traditional Tibetan medicine, spices, musk, wool and silk; or for the truly adventurous-hire some ponies and a crew and take to the hills.
Kurseong is mid-way between Siliguri and Darjeeling. The way from Darjeeling to Kurseong is generally open through out the year. So, the toy train is not coming to Siliguri then one can come up to Kurseong. This place is equally beautiful and is full of natural splendour.
Mirik is 52-km from Siliguri and 55-km from the nearest Airfield of Bagdogra. Mirik is being developed as a new hill station in the mountains. Tea estates, orange orchards and cardamom plantations surround Mirik. It has all the facilities to fulfill the needs of a tourist. The lake of Mirik is a nice stretch of water where you can enjoy horse riding and boating. You will be chased by a number of horse riders who will offer you an affordable ride on the horse, even if you dont want one. The best way to avoid them quickly is to tell them that you will take a ride after boating and lunch. Some riverside restaurants can offer average quality meals.
Siliguri / New Jalpaiguri
The twin Cities of Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri are the departure point to Darjeeling, Sikkim and the North Eastern States. Being the nodal point this place has become very busy and crowded. Siliguri also acts as a transit point for Nepal. Tourists come to Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri mainly to change bus or catch trains.
Kalimpong is within Darjeeling province and is a sub-division of Darjeeling. It is a small but bustling town in the Himalayan foothills of West Bengal – Kalimpong is at an altitude of 1,250m. This bazaar town was originally a part of Bhutan but later it was taken over by the British and finally it settled down with West Bengal. This is a must see for all the nature lovers visiting Darjeeling. The view of tea gardens from a park on the top of this hill will sweep you off your feet. You will find yourself in a garden on the top of the hill. You’ll be surrounded on all sides by tea gardens going thousands of feet deep, and the entire picturesque landscape guarded well on all sides by high rise mountains. Kalimpong is a little warmer than Darjeeling. On your way from Darjeeling to Kalimpong, you will come across many hill points and a picturesque view of river Teesta. You can enjoy rafting on the river, if you have enough number of enthusiasts in the group.
What to do in Darjeeling
Darjeeling is one of the oldest hill stations in India, and has plenty of options, both for those seeking a lazy getaway from the hot plains, as well as nature enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies. Apart from sights within the town, there are plenty of trek options along the Himalayan ridges on the Indo-Nepal border near Darjeeling. The most popular one being the Singhalia Ridge Trail. Bookings for guides, porters and accommodation on the trail can be made in Darjeeling or in the nearby town of Manebhanjang, which serves as the trail-head.
Darjeeling Gymkhana Club Ltd.
One of the most well equipped Clubs of the region with facilities of Indoor and Outdoor games. Visitors may become temporary members over here.
This is popularly known as the Planter’s Club and has the best possible location in town and has a breathtaking view of the mountains and valleys. Approachable directly by car and has parking area. Limited number of rooms and available for temporary members but permanent members have the first claim. Fully equipped kitchen, bar and other indoor game facilities are available here.
Senchal Golf Course
This 9-hole Golf Cource is one of the highest Golf Cource in the world (altitude 8,150 ft). It is near Tiger Hill and has a Club House and a Tourist Lodge.
Lebong Race Course
About 8-km from the town, it is one of the smallest and highest Race Course in the world. Races are held during Spring & Autumn season under the management of local Gymkhana Club
Trekking in the Darjeeling Hills began almost a century ago. Infact, the first organised trekking route in India was established here along the Sangalila range. The trek begins in Darjeeling and proceeds through Maneybhanjyang, Tonglu, Sandakphu and ends in Phalut. The alluring natural beauty is replete with countless varieties of Rhododendrons, Magnolias, Orchids and Wild Flowers. The dense forests, the verdant meadows, the savage mass of Mt. Everest, the everlasting beauty of Kanchenjunga, the rugged Lhotse or the mysterious Makalu – all in one sweeping glance, present an experience that can never be equaled.
There are trekker huts under the management of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council Tourism Department all along the route to Sandakphu. For further information contact Tourist Bureau, Darjeeling.
What and Where to Eat
‘Momos’ – a steamed delicacy are a staple food offered by almost every eating joint. Several eateries which dish out North Indian, Nepali, Tibetan, and continental fare dot the area around the Mall.
• Glenary’s Bakery and Cafe. A good place for pastries, the ubiquitous Darjeeling cuppa, sizzerlers and North Indian fare. Offers nice views of the Kanchendzonga on clear days.
• Hot Stimulating Cafe. On the way to Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, on Hooker Road, is this lovely little cozy place. The Momos here are awesome! They even offer a Momo-cooking course! The guy who owns it can double up as your local guide, trekking along with you to some adventurous outings from Darjeeling.
• Kunga. An excellent Tibetan place, situated just above the clocktower. It serves superb tibetan food, including hearty tibetan soups (the Thentuk is recommended). It is, however, tiny, so is often full.
One major problem is everything closes pretty early in the night (8 PM). So do keep something in stock to eat, if you are planning to stay up late.
Souvenir from Darjeeling
• Tea. Darjeeling is famous the world over for its teas, which are very aromatic and have a delicate taste. Shops selling teas (usually owned by local tea gardens), dot the area in and around the Mall. Nathmulls is especially known for their tea and also ship worldwide. Stop by to smell the numerous varieties they have to offer.
• Curio items pertaining to Tibetan and Himalayan cultures, such as thangkas, miniature monasteries and garments made from yak wool.
• Books, Oxford Bookshop, Chowrashtra. Excellent selection of titles.
• Posters and picture postcards, Das photo, the Mall. Excellent selection of posters and cards depicting scenes of the Himalayas.