Chowrasta or the mall as is it also known is in the heart of the beautiful hill station of Darjeeling and is its single most recognizable landmark. If you ask anyone who has been to Darjeeling, what is the one activity that you must do while in Darjeeling, then more don’t be surprised if the reply is just lounging about in Chowrasta.
Chowrasta or the Mall is located on top of Nehru Road and is a convergence point for four roads and many smaller paths. It is the heartbeat of Darjeeling and one of the most important meeting points for the locals and tourists alike. It is surrounded by many local curio shops and restaurants. Chowrasta is basically a flat land on top of the NEHRU Road where locals and tourists come to relax and lounge, a favored activity to do here is to sit on one of the many benches, sipping on tea sold by local vendors in plastic cups and watch the world pass by.
The Mall or Chowrasta also boasts like many other sites in Darjeeling of magnificent views of the Kanchenjunga and the beautiful valleys that surround it.
Chowrasta can also be called the social center of Darjeeling, it is surrounded by heritage buildings and shops which have been in prominence since the British Raj in India. It is surrounded by Pine trees and has a statue of the famous Nepali poet Bhanu Bhakta Acharya in the center of it, a new feature added to enhance Chowrasta is the amphitheater. What one needs to understand about Chowrasta is that it is also a place where every prominent activity in Darjeeling is held, so more often than not you might find local music blaring from the speakers or locals in beautiful traditional costumes performing dances, you may also find yourself amidst musical concerts.
Darjeeling is the cultural capital of the hills and Chowrasta is the prime venue to showcase the multitude of talents and culture that the people of the hills possess. If you want to feel the real vibe and pulse of this hill station that Chowrasta is the place to be. You may also spot many local boys with ponies offering horse rides to children and adult alike, it is highly recommended for it is one the activities synonymous only with Chowrasta.
The word Chowrasta literally means a place where four roads meet and it is exactly that. The busy Nehru road which boasts of all the famous tourist shops and fancy restaurants comes up and meets Dr. Zakir Hussain Road which comes in parallel to the Nehru Road through a busy local market area near the Mall and finally the famous Mall road which starts from one side, goes around the Observatory Hill and comes back into the Mall from the other side.
Besides these, there are many broad and narrow paths and lanes which either originate or end at the Mall but aren’t counted amongst the four main roads. When you enter from the Nehru Road side you are welcomed by a small fountain (seldom operational) which has modeled golden fishes and pelicans, this fountain is surrounded by a low iron fence.
To the left of this near the Bellevue Hotel the Zakir Hussein Road enters the mall, this road is stocked with a crowded market place selling items of groceries and eatables. As you enter the mall from here you will find many small curio shops lined up selling traditional jewelry and artifacts. There is also a Police Assistance Booth here in case of any untoward incident and this booth is manned24/7 by personnel of the Darjeeling Police.
Further left to the Police Booth is the Café Coffee Day( a national café chain) which is popular in Darjeeling, for the ones who want some authentic taste of Darjeeling, you can sit on the benches lined here and sip on the famous Darjeeling Tea and gorge on Alu-Bhuja (again synonymous with Darjeeling) sold by local vendors. Further left to the boundary is the Hawa Ghar, a two-storied concrete structure, open on the sides where the above mentioned cultural programs are held.
Don’t be surprised to see a gathering of people here listening to speeches by Politicians as this place is also used for political gatherings, the demands for a separate state of Gorkhaland is as strong as ever and routine political gatherings are a norm of the town. Further left to the Hawa Ghar you will find more chairs lined up, then it branches out to start the mall road which goes around the Observatory hill, this stretch is if you can believe it even more beautiful and on a clear day you can see the stunning snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas and the surrounding valleys from here.
There are benches laid here at intervals for people to lounge and watch the majestic views and you will encounter many couples here on romantic dates. One cannot blame them because of this as romantic a location as it can get. On top of this stretch is the famous “Dara Mandir” and you can spot many devotees of the holy goddess going up and coming down. On this stretch, you may also encounter monkeys as they inhabit the mandir and the surrounding forest area, an experience like no other for sure. As you walk around the circle and turn towards the other half of the Mall Road you will see the Raj Bhawan, its vast lawns and imposing iron gates.
Raj Bhawan is the summer residence for the Governor of West Bengal and commoners aren’t allowed in. You turn right and you can see the premise of the May Fair Hotel in all its glory, this is one of the most famous and luxurious hotels in all of Darjeeling. There are not many benches in this stretch of the road bar a few but the atmosphere is as lively. You will see the St. Andrews Church of Darjeeling above the road here and it’s is a place you must visit, not only for religious and spiritual reasons but for the sheer beauty of the architecture.
The premise is beautiful and peaceful as one would expect in places of worship and you can spend some time here, praying to the lord or just enjoying the experience and looking at the colonial structure. Walk a little further and you will come across a huge white building with a golden dome on top. The top of the dome has a statue of a man with a khukri in his hand. This is the Bhanu Bhavan (also known as Gorkhas Ranga Mancha Bhavan). This building is used for political meetings and cultural programs.
As you walk further you will pass the famous Windermere Hotel, this hotel has been a host to many dignitaries and royals alike and is arguably the most luxurious hotel in Darjeeling. You realize you have made a full circle of the mall road and are back to the Chowrasta and on this side of the road is the famous Oxford Book Store, you can find local as well as international books here. The Chowrasta or the mall symbolizes what Darjeeling stands for, it conveys the beauty of Darjeeling, its history, its glorious beauty and its mix of culture.
Chowrasta is in short an malagamation of everything that makes Darjeeling the “Queen of the Hills”