Located in the Indian state of West Bengal and has a massive and notable Tibetan influence, Darjeeling was one of the most famous summer resorts for the British during their rule. The town was developed by the British in the mid-19th century and it derives its beautiful name from the Tibetan word Dorje meaning thunderbolt scepter of the Hindu deity Indra and ling meaning land. This heavenly retreat is bathed in hues of every shade. Flaming red rhododendrons, sparkling white magnolias, miles of undulating hillsides covered with emerald green tea bushes, the exotic forests of silver fir – all under the blanket of a bright sky dappled with specks of clouds, enthrallingly proves Darjeeling as The Queen of Hills. Be it the spectacular view of Kanchenjunga-the world’s third highest peak or the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway- a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Darjeeling attracts all those who wish to experience life as it was before modernization. While the families and couples try to spend some private time together, travelers go soul-searching in the hills.
WHAT TO SEE IN DARJEELING
As the town is famous for the number of hills it accommodates, one of the most famous among them is the Tiger Hill. Even though the mesmerizing Kanchenjunga peak is visible from the town during clear skies, the view which Tiger hill offers is invincible. Besides this, it’s the perfect place to witness the sunrise.
THE PEACE PAGODA
The Japanese Peace Pagoda, located on the Jalaphar hill, was built over 20 years and houses four majestic sculptures of the Maitreya Buddha.
THE GHOOM MONASTERY
The Ghoom Monastery was built in 1875 and holds a 15 feet tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha. Also known as the Yiga Choeling Monastery, Ghoom Monastery preserves some rare, handwritten Buddhist manuscripts. It is the largest monastery in the town of Ghoom (8 kilometers away from Darjeeling).
One’s visit to Darjeeling is incomplete without seeing the tea gardens. There are more than 80 tea gardens all around Darjeeling which produce the world famous black tea. Traditional Tibetan costumes are available wearing which one could click beautiful pictures that would be cherished for a lifetime.
Batasia Loop is a war memorial dedicated to the Gorkha soldiers who sacrificed their life for the Indian Independence in 1947. This war memorial is a place for many locals to set up their little makeshift stalls during peak hours.
HIMALAYAN MOUNTAINEERING INSTITUTE AND ZOO
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and the zoo were established by Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who along with Sir Edmund Hillary completed the summit of Mount Everest for the first time. The campus has a memorial dedicated to Tenzing Norgay and a museum which exhibits various mountaineering equipment some of which were used by Tenzing Norgay himself. There is a zoological park in the campus which houses various Himalayan species including the Red Panda, the Snow Leopard, the Macaw, etc.
Celebrated in the month of February, the Loshar Festival marks as the Tibetan New Year. In this week-long festival, people perform the cham which is a traditional Yak dance in elaborate costumes. After this, a huge procession is carried out where people dance and sing to welcome the new year and bid goodbye to the year gone by.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the Darjeeling toy train is an outstanding engineering marvel noted for being the best example for hill passenger railway. The narrow train takes on an 83 kilometers long journey from Darjeeling to Siliguri. The toy train starts from Jalpaiguri, the busiest toy train station, and goes up to Darjeeling, making one fall in love with the beautiful panoramic view of the Himalayan mountains. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is a major crowd-puller for this enchanting hill station.
HOW TO REACH DARJEELING
BY BUS: The regular bus service from Siliguri (70 kilometers away) to Darjeeling is slow but economical. Bus services are also available from the neighboring town of Kalimpong (50 kilometers away). Even Gangtok city runs daily buses to Darjeeling at regular intervals.
BY TRAIN: The nearest railway station to Darjeeling is New Jalpaiguri (62 kilometers away) which connects major Indian cities like Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, and Bangalore. The Toy Train service starts at New Jalpaiguri and gets to Darjeeling at a speed no faster than 30 miles per hour. It takes 7 hours to reach Darjeeling through this route.
BY AIR: The nearest airport is the Bagdogra Airport which is 100 kilometers away which is well connected by flights from major cities of India and a few International flights as well. From here, one can reach the town by hiring a cab or a bus, which takes around 3 hours
PLACES TO EAT AND STAY
There are innumerable places to stay in Darjeeling spanning from decent affordable hotels to luxurious hotels which offer a picturesque view of the Kanchenjunga. Advance bookings of hotels are recommended as they are in high demand especially during peak seasons. The world famous Darjeeling tea has put the town on the world map of teas. Unless you have a cup of tea, listen to the tranquil traditional Tibetan music and enjoy the enthralling view of the valleys, you will miss out on something that you would regret long. The popular cuisines include Momos, Thukpa, Aloo Dum, Sael Roti, Naga Platter, Nepali Thali, Tongba, Chang, and others.
For Mark Twain rightly once said about Darjeeling, “The one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once by even a glimpse would not give that glimpse for the shows of the rest of the world combined.”