Witness the sublime rays of the sun cast a golden hue on the majestic Kachenjungha at the crack of dawn, slowly bathing the emerald green landscapes of Darjeeling as the day progresses. Darjeeling is your very own British era hill station that has somehow managed to retain its colonial charm perfectly set off by a heady mix of modernization. From age-old Buddhist monasteries quietly tucked away into quaint corners of the town, a one-of-its-kind Himlayan zoo housing several species of endangered flora and fauna to lip-smacking Nepali cuisine – Darjeeling has a varied platter to offer to any wide-eyed explorer.
The name Darjeeling originates from ‘Dorje Ling’; Dorje means thunderbolt and Ling means place, which comes together to form the word- The Land of Thunderbolt. History also says that Dorje Ling has been named after a monastery which was a part of the Kingdom of Sikkim back in 1765. Around the 1790s, the region was invaded by Gorkhas of Nepal who then in the year 1815 gave up a major portion of their lands to the East India Company.
Eventually, tea plantation was started in the 1840s, which was then followed by a lot of migration of labour from the surrounding country of Nepal. More tea estates started springing up, so did major establishments under the British rule- namely the Loreto Convent, the Town Hall, Lloyd’s Botanical Garden, the Railway Station among many others. The British successfully established Darjeeling as a sanctorium which later came to be known as a highly popular hill station. Post-independence, Darjeeling came to be a part of West Bengal and has been so to date.
Darjeeling is well connected by air, rail, and road. The nearest airport is Bagdogra which is located about 96 kilometres from Darjeeling town. Flights connect Bagdogra to major cities across the country. Most tourists travelling internationally, the best option is to take a flight to Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata and then board a connecting flight to Bagdogra from where shared and private cabs are available to take any traveller up to Darjeeling.
If you’re looking to travel by train, your best bet is travelling to the New Jalpaiguri Railway station from any part of the country. At NJP you can find numerous taxis, private and shared, waiting to take passengers to Darjeeling.
The road uphill to Darjeeling takes about 2-3 hours to reach depending on your mode of transport. Make sure you make a pit stop on the way for a plate of steaming momos to keep the hilly chill at bay.
Where to stay
Darjeeling is known as the Queen of Hills and rightfully so. This hill station sees throngs of visitors all round the year, so if you’re planning a trip, try and get your accommodation sorted in advance. Unless you’re a whimsical traveller who can make do with impromptu arrangements at modest homestays.
If you’re all in for the hip and happening ambiance of the bustling central area of the town, book your stay at one of the hotels near the Mall Road, closer to the Chowrasta. If you’re more of the quiet loving, tea-sipping by the mountainside kind of traveller, go for more upscale options like Windamere or Ramada. Many travellers also choose to stay in homestays offered by locals for that slice of authenticity coupled with heartwarming hospitality and delectable local dishes.
What to do in Darjeeling
Darjeeling has something to cater to every kind of traveller, the reason being that it is one of the most frequented hill stations in the country. While certain travellers plan their stay and sightseeing only in Darjeeling, others chose to explore tourist hotspots in and around this hilly town. Here are a couple of activities to tick off your list.
1. Ride the Toy Train
You cannot miss a ride on this UNESCO world heritage site. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, more fondly known as the Toy Train takes you on a tour along the criss-cross lines strategically placed along the hills. Witness breathtaking vistas of the blue-green mountains, get down at Kurseong, spend a couple of hours exploring this place and tale a trip back.
Located within the same premises, these two places are a must-see for any traveller. Spend a day among Himalayan mountain bears, snow leopards, or the exotic red panda. When you’re done, make a visit to the museum at the HMI to see exhibits used by Tenzing Norgay himself.
3. Catch a sunrise at Tiger Hill
Tiger Hill is the best place to witness the maiden sun rising from behind the snow-capped Kanchenjunga, bathing the mountains in a warm glow that resembles molten gold.
Your visit is incomplete without making a stop at one of the oldest monasteries in the area- the Ghoom Monastery. Watch scholarly monks participating in friendly banter amongst themselves or spend a few hours soaking in the solitude of the place.
5. Batasia Loop
The toy train goes through a loop around the Gorkha War Memorial before making a steep descent is a sight to witness indeed.
6. Go river rafting in Teesta
This is mostly for the adrenaline enthusiasts out there. You can sign up for white water river rafting in the river Teesta; while amateurs are not allowed beyond a certain level, professionals can go up to level 4 of intensity.
7. Trek to Sandakphu and Singalila National Park
Sandakphu is known for sweeping vistas of the snow-clad mountains, a variety of flora sprouting cheerfully on the rugged terrain, and the ideal trekking activity. Make a pit stop at the Singalila National Park for a glimpse of the wilderness of this Himalayan region.
8. Travel to nearby hill stations
You can take day trips to nearby hill stations like Kurseong, Mirik, or Kalimpong while staying in Darjeeling. All of these places have a charm of their own with a bunch of things for travellers to see.
9. Shop to your heart’s content in Darjeeling
Darjeeling has a bunch of places to shop from- shopping enthusiasts, be ready to loosen your purse strings! Start with Mall Road or the Bhutia market in Chowrasta. From Tibetan curios, Nepali artifacts, woolens handmade by local artisans, colourful shawls, authentic Darjeeling tea from Nathmulls, the list is endless. If you’ve visited Batasia Loop or the Padmaja Naidu Zoo, you’ll find plenty of roadside stalls selling their wares, all set to engage in a friendly conversation with the wide-eyed tourists.
What to eat in Darjeeling
You didn’t think we’d end this guide without telling you what and where to eat, did you? Momos, of course, to begin with. It is best to hit the small joints lining the Mall Road for a taste of authenticity. Options are available in both veg and non-veg, you can take your pick. Don’t miss the very spicy, yet something to fire up your taste buds- red chilli chutney and a bowl of piping hot soup to go with it.
Tibetan Thukpa is the next thing to try. This is authentic noodle soup prepared with a mix of veggies, eggs, and meat of choice and probably the best dish to enjoy on a cold, wintry day.
Next up is the Aloo-Dum; a spicy potato curry made in authentic Nepali spices, you’ll not forget the taste even after you’ve left the town and will probably hit people up to find the secret recipe. When you eat it in Darjeeling, make sure you go a-la-Darjeeling style, that is bhujia sprinkled on top!
Other authentic local food items to try include Sel Roti, Pork Curry, Gundrunk, Phambi, Shyaphaley, and of course sausages. Most local dishes are prepared in joints located in the nooks and corners of the town. Tourists also like to frequent well-known places like Glenarys, Keventers, Sonam’s Kitchen, Frank Ross Cafe, Joey’s Pub, and other restaurants along the Chowrasta area.
Now that you know, book those tickets and set out. Make sure you come back with the best experiences and tons of Instagrammable photos!