Darjeeling and Sikkim – Hill Stations In The Himalayas
Darjeeling is a hill station located in the State of West Bengal in India and was a summer retreat for the British during their stay in India. Sikkim is located on the borders of west Bengal and is the second smallest state in India after Goa. Sikkim as well as Darjeeling is famous for their treks and mountain getaways since both lie nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan ranges. Sikkim especially is a very popular destination for tourists and trekkers from around the world and the economy of this small state thrives on tourism and agriculture.
Sikkim is renowned for Kanchunjunga which the highest peak between Sikkim and Nepal; the state itself lies 28,000 feet from the sea level. This state has twenty eight mountain peaks and more than two hundred high altitude lakes that dot the scenic forested landscape. Some of the famous lakes include the Tsongmo Lake, Gurudongmar, and Khecheopalri Lake; there are countless hot springs in the region as well. All these attractions make Sikkim a popular tourist destination and a trekking paradise.
Sikkim does not have any airports and is not connected by rail as well; the only way to get in is by road and the nearest airport is Bagdogra Airport, which is near Siliguri, West Bengal. It is approximately 124 km away from Gangtok. A daily helicopter service is provided by the Sikkim Helicopter Service between Gangtok and Bagdogra. The closest railway stations are Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri. Southern and western Sikkim is connected by road to the West Bengal hill station towns of Kalimpong and Darjeeling.
Sikkim is known for its diverse flora and fauna and virgin forests; the state is one of the Ecoregions of India. The place is home to numerous endemic species of flora and some are only found at very high altitudes in the area. The forests are thriving with trees such as oak, maples, chestnuts, firs, magnolias, pine and junipers. It is also abundant with more than four hundred medicinal species of plants and five hundred species of rare orchids. The fauna includes species such as the Red Panda, the Tibet Wolf, snow leopard, musk deer, and jungle cats. There are many other species however they are common throughout India and are not endemic like the ones mentioned previously. Sikkim also has seventy five monasteries which are scattered across the state and are frequented by monks and tourists alike.
The state is also famous for trekking and permits have to be obtained for the same; most of the permits only allow a limited scope of trekking and higher destinations and arduous treks are to be avoided if you are a novice or not experienced enough in the sport. Some of the most popular treks are Dzongri Trek, Goechala Trek, Singalila Trek, Greenlake Trek, Greenlake/ Yumesamdong, and North Sikkim Trek. Scores of local tourist companies offer various trek packages and can be chosen for a comfortable and safe trekking experience.
The local cuisine is heavily influenced by Tibetan culture and the most common culinary delights include Thukpa, Chow mien, and Momos. Momos are dumplings filled with minced meat or vegetables and Thupkas are a noodle based vegetable broth that is also a soup. These are rarely found anywhere else in India and are worth a try if you are not shy about trying various gastronomical delights. The food is usually simple and not as spicy as some of the other Indian food.
Darjeeling is another popular tourist attractions located near Sikkim and is famous for its tea gardens and the scenic landscape. Tourism forms a major part of the local economy and people from all over India as well as the world come here to retreat from city life or to hit one of the trekking trails in the town.
Some of the notable attractions in Darjeeling include the Mahakal temple which is famous for its worship of Hindu and Buddhist deities in one temple. Other attractions include the Tiger Hill and the zoo which is making efforts to save the famous Red Panda and the snow Leopard which are on the endangered list. This place is also the gateway to many Himalayan peaks and was the home of Tenzing Norgay, the famous mountaineer who was one of the first people to climb Mount Everest.
The best way to get to Darjeeling is by the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway which is also named the ‘Toy Train’. The railway line is narrow gauge railway with a distance of 60 centimeters between the rails. The route is also one of the National world heritage sites of UNESCO and is only the second rail in the world to hold this honor. The journey from Siliguri to the town of Darjeeling takes about an hour; Siliguri is located twenty five miles from Darjeeling. The nearest airport is Bagdogra located about sixty miles from Darjeeling and is near to the city of Siliguri. The town is also connected by roads and regular bus services and private vehicles are available from Siliguri. However railway and roadways may be closed during monsoon and winters due to landslides and earthquakes.
The local cuisine is a mix of Indian, Chinese and Tibetan recipes and some of the popular local delights include Thupkas, Momos, Aloo-Dum (potato), and of course the local tea which is famous in many European countries as well as in Britain. There are a wide variety of hotels and eateries that offer these traditional delights and also cater to the need of people searching for continental flavors.
As Darjeeling is a tourist attraction, the place is teeming with hotels from the budget variety to luxurious ones. Some of the better hotels include the Viceroy Hotel, Hotel Sinclairs, Hotel Garuda, and Hotel Sunflower. These are luxurious enough and provide good service as well as in house restaurants that are the best option if you want to avoid a upset stomach. Small lodges are also available for sojourners and people who do not want to spend a fortune on hotels. However these lodges are not recommended for families and foreigners since they may not meet your standards of hygiene and service. Many local tea companies are converting their offices and other places of businesses into hotels because of the competition in the tea market. This may make it easier for a traveler to find accommodations at a lower price in the near future.