Renowned internationally as a charming hill resort, the pristine Himalayan town of Darjeeling attracts tourists from all corners of the globe. Located at an average height of 6,710 ft, Darjeeling is situated in the Lesser Himalayas. Historically, Darjeeling was ruled over intermittently by both the Sikkimese and Nepalese empires. This continued till the arrival of the British in the 19th century, who were able to obtain a lease for Darjeeling from the Chogyal rulers of Sikkim. Owing to it’s extremely favourable and pleasant climate, the British annexed Darjeeling and converted it into their summer capital, at a time when the capital of the British Indian Empire was at Calcutta. It was found to be very conducive to tea cultivation, and the cultivation of Darjeeling tea thus began on a large scale during the British era. It was also during this time, in 1881, that the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (now a UNESCO heritage site) was constructed. Since the demise of the British Empire, Darjeeling has been transformed into a thriving tourist paradise. With its beautiful panoramic views of the Himalayas, it’s lush evergreen and alpine forests and it’s cool climate, Darjeeling has plenty to offer in terms of culture, cuisine, art, sports or just plain sight-seeing. Also, do not forget to bring your umbrella in Darjeeling – it rains here suddenly and stops abruptly. BOOKING DETAILS OF DARJEELING
Places to see in Darjeeling: The pristine hill resort of Darjeeling is admired with diverse spots of tourist interest. Some of the most visited tourist spots in Darjeeling are:
Chowrasta or Mall Road: The locals of Darjeeling consider the Chowrasta, at the centre of the Mall Road, to be the heart of the town. Tourists can walk along this wide promenade, and gaze at the several shops and restaurants that flank it. Alternate views of the mountain ranges can be had from here. This is the ideal place for the tired tourist to hang out and relax, as no vehicles pass this area. The park benches, lamp-posts and post boxes in The Mall of Darjeeling speaks of Darjeeling’s British past.
Darjeeling Himalyan Zoo: The zoo boasts a stunning array of rarely seen Himalayan animal species such as the Snow Leopard and the Red Panda, both critically endangered. Nature lovers will also be rewarded with photo opportunities for these animals.
Himalyan Mountaineering Institute and Everest Museum: The institute exhibits records of all the various expeditions that had been undertaken to the Himalayas. It was founded by Tenzin Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary. This institute also offers courses in mountaineering for tourists with all levels of experience in mountain climbing.
At the Everest Museum, located close to the institute, the history of the various expeditions to Mount Everest is carefully recorded and preserved. Visitors will be fascinated at the collection of writing and other materials of historical interest on display.
Attached to the Chowrasta is the Brabourne Park, which is a lovely picnic spot for tourists. It also features a musical fountain for the tourist’s entertainment.
Step Aside: The house – Step Aside, where the famous Indian Nationalist Freedom fighter C R Das breathed his last is now a museum depicting the various stages of this great nationalist.
St. Andrew’s Church: Completed in 1843, this prime heritage church of Darjeeling could easily accommodate 150 faithfuls. You would find the interior of the church inlaid with mural tablets inscribed in the memory of some of the oldest residents of Darjeeling.
Darjeeling Gymkhana Club: Darjeeling Gymkhana Club was established in 1909 and it is still one of the most well-equipped clubs of Darjeeling with facilities for Indoor and outdoor Games. The building is teak paneled and boasts of a fine banquet hall, rink and a library.
Ava Art Gallery: Established in 1965 by the Late Bhopal Rao Sett and Ava Devi, this gallery features a collection of some sixty works of art, including water-colours, oil and thread paintings. An added advantage for art aficionados is the lack of any entrance fees and it’s ease of accessibility.
Rock Garden: The Rock Garden is the ideal destination for those who enjoy pure, unspoilt greenery. Its primary attractions are a lovely waterfall and a variety of exotic landscaped flowers. You can also pose for pictures in traditional, ethnic wear of the local people.
Lloyd Botanical Garden: A must-visit for fauna enthusiasts, it is one of the oldest botanical gardens, with a fascinating array of rare and exotic flora. Another attraction of the Lloyd Botanical Garden are it’s two living fossil plant species, not found elsewhere. There are no entry fees and the gardens are open to visitors seven days a week. It is situated below the Eden Sanatorium.
Nightingale Park or Shrubbery Park: This park is open to visitors between 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm. A variety of cultural programs are performed on a daily basis for the entertainment of the tourists. It also houses a giant statue of Lord Shiva and several facilities for live entertainment. Tourists will also be able to capture on camera beautiful views of the Kanchenjunga mountains as well as Tiger Hill from this park. Entry fees are reasonable and a small fee is charged for photography.
Nearby attractions of Darjeeling: Not a single day of your trip will go uneventful in this charming hill station. Some of the most popular tourist attractions around Darjeeling are:
Tiger Hill: Tiger Hill is world-famous because it offers a breath-taking view of the sunrise over both the Mt. Kanchenjunga range as well as the Eastern Himalayas. The early morning rays of the sun seem to paint the peaks of the mountains in pale gold which makes for a truly awesome memory. It is located at an altitude of 2,590 metres and is 13 kilometres away from the town. Visitors expecting to catch a glimpse of the sunrise are advised to leave at least by 3 am in the morning in order to gain a place in front of the crowds that throng the place. Taxis are easily available to Tiger Hill from the town.
Batasia Loop: Batasia Loop is another very famous tourist spot. It is basically a huge railway loop where the famous Toy Train makes a complete 360 degree turn. It is situated 5 kms away from the town, and also offers stunning views of Mt. Kanchenjunga. Local markets located nearby sell purses, handbags and other handicrafts.
Peace Pagoda: Located at Clarimont, on the outskirts of Darjeeling, this pagoda was established by a Japanese monastic order. It is reputedly a free structure located at the highest point in town. It showcases the four avatars of Lord Buddha, among various other religious artefacts. There is also a temple located just outside it.
Observatory Hill: It is known in the local parlance as “Makal Babu Ko Than”. Once reputed to be the site of a Buddhist monastery, the structure was said to be destroyed by invading Nepali armies in the 19th century. This makes it the oldest site in Darjeeling. It is reputed for it’s excellent views of the entire Himalayan range.
Happy Valley Tea Garden: The tea garden is located a little over a kilometre from the town. It may be reached either on foot or by a pony hired from the Chowrasta. It offers tourists a refreshing change from the usual hustle and bustle of the town. The peace and quiet can be best experienced by taking a leisurely stroll through the tea gardens and breathing in the aroma of fresh, tender tea leaves. Visitors can also be treated to a variety of brews to soothe their palates.
Monasteries around Darjeeling: These monasteries include the Dali Monastery (4 kms from town), the Ghoom Monastery (containing the statue of the future coming of Buddha) and the Aloobari Monastery (it contains a beautiful painting of the Buddha done entirely with herbal paints, along with several ancient manuscripts and scriptures).
Things to do in Darjeeling: Darjeeling is an ideal site to eat, drink, shop, hike and trek. Here some options:
Tenzing Norgay Rock (Mountain Climbing): Visitors to the Tenzin Norgay Rock, located on the northern fringes of Darjeeling, are able to avail rock-climbing sessions for various durations of time. As mentioned previously, this facility is also available at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
Toy Train Ride: Riding on the Darjeeling Himalyan Railway (also known as the “Toy Train”), is a wonderful experience for tourists interested in Darjeeling’s colonial history. Powered by a steam engine, it retains the old-world charm and a certain old-fashioned appeal. Being situated at an altitude of almost 2,200 feet, visitors also witness the rare opportunity to go on a train ride at such a high elevation.
Mountain Biking: Nature lovers and adventurers will certainly enjoy the various mountain biking tracks available. Mountain biking offers visitors an excellent opportunity to interact and be one with nature, as well as get that much-needed adrenaline rush. It also gives visitors the chance to explore Darjeeling’s natural beauty at their own pace and leisure.
Hiking: Another way to explore Darjeeling’s natural beauty and serenity is by hiking around and outside town.Visitors may choose to hike along paths located north-east of the town centre, which will offer them a view of local houses and the everyday lives of the local people. Visitors may choose to go further downhill to visit the Bhutia Busty or even further than that to get to the Tibetian Refugees Self-Help Centre or even Lebong. Here tourists may feast on delectable momos and thukpa at cheap prices. Once done, visitors may avail shared jeeps to return to Darjeeling.
Shopping: Whether it is handicrafts, artifacts, Tibetian paintings or even Darjeeling tea, tourists will not be disappointed with the variety of places and products available. Those interested in purchasing authentic Darjeeling Tea may choose to visit Golden Tips, Nathmulls or even Darjeeling Tea House. Those looking for lower prices are advised to purchase tea from various shops located around the Rink Mall, as the above-mentioned shops charge rather high prices.
Those interested in purchasing Tibetan thangkas (paintings), minature monasteries, garments made from yak’s wool or various other types of handicrafts may choose to shop in the Rink Mall, Chowrasta, the Darjeeling Local Haat, Dorjee (located opposite the General Post Office) and Hand Pick.
For those interested in purchasing high-quality photographs or picture postcards of the Himalayan region, Das Studio, located within the Mall, is one of the best places. An excellent collection of travel guides and books may be purchased at the Oxford Bookstore.
Handbags, purses, clutch or tote-bags and various other accessories for both men and women are abundantly and cheaply available in Darjeeling, particularly in areas such as the Rink Mall.
How to reach Darjeeling: You can avail a number of options to reach Darjeeling. The Bagdogra Airport, located at a distance of around 96 km from Darjeeling, is the nearest airport of the destination. The airport is well connected with direct flights to Kolkata. Direct taxis to Darjeeling are available from the Bagdogra Airport. You can also access Darjeeling by roadway via Siliguri from Kolkata in buses. Buses and Taxis are available in Siliguri to reach Darjeeling. The nearest rail head of the destination is the New Jalpaiguri rail station, which is directly connected to Kolkata with a number of trains. You can hire the direct taxis to Darjeeling available from the New Jalpaiguri Station. Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan is also connected with Darjeeling by roadway.
Best time to visit Darjeeling: The most preferred time to visit Darjeeling is between mid-March to the end of May as well as during October and November. The temperatures are the most pleasant during this period of time, and the skies the clearest. This period of time is therefore considered to be the high season. Those visiting between December and February are advised to bring extra warm clothes as the winter temperatures in Darjeeling can be severely low with occasional snowfall.
Lodging and dining facilities in Darjeeling: You will find an array of accommodation options in Darjeeling in different price range and locations. Here are a few of our favourite accommodation options in Darjeeling:
Luxury Heritage Bungalow: Built in 1841 by a tea-estate owner, this guesthouse is straight from the pages of history. Staying here would give you a glimpse of how life may have been during the British Raaj. Great personalities like Sir George Everest (after whom the mountain was named), Col. Sir Francis Younghusband (the leader of the British Expeditionary force of 1904 into Tibet), legendary British mountaineers- George Mallory and Andrew Irvine and actress Vivien Leigh stayed here. Everything you would find in this hotel is of heritage value, starting from its wooden staircases wrapped in red carpets, Tibetan showpieces, paintings and furniture. Most of the rooms have fireplaces and extra-large beds with deep cushions. There are Double Bedrooms and Double Bed Suites to accommodate guests.
Deluxe category Guesthouse: Just a minute’s walk from the famous Mall Road also known as Chowrasta, this guesthouse has some of the best views of Darjeeling with Tiger Hill, Happy Valley Tea Estate, lush valleys and part of Mt. Kanchenjungha visible from its rooms. Another attraction is its lawn decked with garden umbrellas. There are Double Bedrooms and Double Bed Suites with view-facing balconies and facilities like internet access, hot water and transport arrangements. It is truly a hidden gem in Darjeeling.
Comfort category hotel: A five-minute stroll from the famous Mall Road of Darjeeling, this guesthouse is a comfort category hotel in Darjeeling with all modern facilities like T.V with Cable connection, EPABX Facility, transport arrangements, attached western bathrooms with running hot and cold water, 24-hour electricity and all other standard facilities. You would find standard Double Bedrooms, Double Bed View Rooms, Triple Bed View Rooms and Four Bedded Deluxe rooms here. With great views of the valleys and Mt. Kanchenjungha from the hotel, it is a great find in budget category. The guests are accommodated in Double Bedrooms and Triple Bedrooms.
Budget category Guesthouse: A five-minute stroll from the famous Mall Road of Darjeeling, this guesthouse is a comfort category hotel in Darjeeling with all modern facilities like T.V with Cable connection, EPABX Facility, transport arrangements, attached western bathrooms with running hot and cold water, 24-hour electricity and all other standard facilities. You would find standard Double Bedrooms, Double Bed View Rooms, Triple Bed View Rooms and Four Bedded Deluxe rooms here. With great views of the valleys and Mt. Kanchenjungha from the hotel, it is a great find in budget category.
Photographs by Anindya, Ambar Ghosal, Dipanjan Mitra.