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Darjeeling Queen of Hill Stations

Darjeeling Queen of Hill Stations

Darjeeling Queen of Hill Stations - Photo courtesy Prabita Khambu Rai

Darjeeling is one of its unique hill stations of the Post-Colonial Era. But this hill station 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, to one-of-its-kind Himalayas Zoo housing several species of endangered flora fauna, there is something for everyone. Darjeeling has a varied platter to offer to any wide-eyed explorer. 

Witness the sublime rays of the sun cast a golden hue on the majestic Kanchenjunga at the crack of dawn and slowly bathing the emerald green landscapes as the day progresses while feeding your taste buds some lip-smacking Nepali cuisine. Darjeeling never disappoints. 

Darjeeling History

The name Darjeeling originates from ‘Dorje Ling.’ The word Dorje means thunderbolt and Ling means place, which comes together to form the word- The Land of Thunderbolt. History also says that Dorje Ling got the name 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 plantations got started in the 1840s, which was then followed by a lot of migration of labor from the surrounding country of Nepal. More tea estates began springing up, so did significant 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 sanatorium 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. 

How to Reach Darjeeling

If you’re traveling from West Bengal then it is the shortest distance to reach Darjeeling and takes a minimum time to enjoy the beauty of heaven. Till now, Darjeeling doesn’t have its airport or any railway stations. Still, Darjeeling town gets pretty much well connected by air, rail, and road transportation modes. 

The nearest airport Bagdogra is about 96 kilometers from Darjeeling town. Flights connect Bagdogra to major cities across the country. For most tourists traveling 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 traveler up to Darjeeling. Take a look at the flight schedules booking a flight to Bagdogra. From different parts of India, many flights operate throughout the week to Bagdogra.

It is quite evident that traveling by train will take you a few more days to Darjeeling than air depending upon the distance. If you’re looking to travel by train, your best bet is traveling to the New Jalpaiguri Railway station from any part of the country. 

As mentioned, there is no railway station in Darjeeling town. Travelers have to cover an approx. distance of 70 to 76 kilometers to reach Darjeeling town from NJP or New Jalpaiguri Station. From NJP you can find numerous taxis, private and shared, waiting to take passengers to Darjeeling. Hiring these wheeled transportations would take you nearly three hours to reach Darjeeling from the railway station. 

Quite a few long-distance trains don’t have a stop at New Jalpaiguri station and they stop at Siliguri station. Talking about the distance, Siliguri station is much nearer than New Jalpaiguri station as it takes a maximum of two and a half hours to Darjeeling. From Siliguri also you will get ample cabs or jeeps which you can hire to book a hectic-free journey. 

The main attraction of Darjeeling is “The toy train.” If you’re a nature lover, then this is the best pick for you; travel towards Darjeeling by enjoying the beauty of the path carved beautifully beside mountains. Yes, it would take you a much longer time to reach Darjeeling from NJP or Siliguri by toy train but the scenic beauty is worth the hours. You can check the toy train services beforehand and the exact fares. 

The road uphill to Darjeeling takes about 2-3 hours to reach depending on your mode of transport. Alternatively, you can take a bus directly from Siliguri or New Jalpaiguri station and reach Darjeeling by the curved roads enjoying the breeze. One must check the bus routes and schedules of Siliguri and NJP before availing it. 

There should not be any problems to get a bus as Volvo Bus services are readily available from Siliguri Main Bus Terminal. This bus terminal is at Hill cart road which is a quite famous and known place; anyone can guide you to reach the bus terminal. 

From Siliguri to Darjeeling it is 63 kilometres which you have to cover by road. If you’re from nearby states or cities then you can easily travel by your car or you can book one from Railway stations. There are many roads to reach Darjeeling but NH-55 gets taken up by one which is also known as Hill Cart Road. Make sure you make a pit stop on the way for a plate of steaming momos to keep the hilly chill at bay and take some photos of the valley.

Where to Stay?

Darjeeling is known as the Queen of Hills and rightfully so. There is no best time to visit Darjeeling as this hill station sees throngs of visitors all-round the year. If you’re planning a trip, try and get your accommodation sorted in advance. Unless you’re a whimsical traveler who can make do with impromptu arrangements at modest homestays. Although the ideal time to visit Darjeeling is from April to June. At this time, you can enjoy the pleasant and placid weather of Darjeeling. If you love to enjoy the winter chills on your bones then the best time to give a visit to Darjeeling is from October to March. The temperature is quite different and you may feel terrible cold and shivers if you haven’t got any warm clothes to wear.  

Chowrasta, Darjeeling
Chowrasta, Darjeeling

If you’re all in for the hip and happening ambience of the bustling central area of the town, book your stay at one of the hotels near 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. In Darjeeling, you can have an ambience of British-style livings with wooden interior decors. 

The English cottage provides you with a great view of Kanchenjunga from your room and the pure essence of the countryside living amidst a garden. If you desire to wake up to the view of green nature and mountains then Singalila Jungle Lodge is the best option for you. Staying at a distance from the city in a quiet place can be your choice then choose the Darjeeling Blossoms Eco-Tourism. 

If you prefer to live in-between nature surrounded by pine trees than a lavish stay then cottages are the best option for you; Khambuhang Nature Holiday Camp provides you all sorts of facilities like Wi-Fi, free parking, and the natural beauty if you book their cottages. Red Panda Eco Huts is in a prime location of the city and offers you homely hospitality and the view of the Great Himalayas right from the windows. 

Many of us want to escape from the busy life chaos to a cottage surrounded by forests; Tieedi Earthy Dwelling & Herb Garden Dwelling can provide you with this dream of living in the middle of a forest. They also have a free pick up and drop facility from the airport and is one of the popular places to stay among nature lovers. 

Many travelers also choose to stay in homestays offered by locals for that slice of authenticity coupled with heart-warming hospitality and delectable local dishes. Home-stays are relatively cheap to live in than the hotels in Darjeeling. Though there are a lot of hotels at affordable prices that provide excellent scenic views, the homestay services gift you some homely bonds which you will never find in a polished hotel room service. 

What to Do in Darjeeling

Darjeeling has something to cater to every kind of traveler, the reason being that it is one of the most frequented hill stations in the country. While individual travelers 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

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

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 tour along the criss-cross lines strategically placed along the hills. Witness breath-taking vistas of the blue-green mountains, get down at Kurseong, spend a couple of hours exploring this place and take a trip back. 

2. Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park and Himalayan Mountaineering Institute

The Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park is quite famous as Darjeeling zoo too. The zoo got the name from the respected Governor of West Bengal Padmaja Naidu. Spend a day among Himalayan mountain bears, snow leopards, or the exotic red panda, macaws, barking deer. These two places located within the same premises are a must-see for any traveler. When it gets done, visit the museum at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute to see exhibits used by Tenzing Norgay himself. 

3. Catch a sunrise at Tiger Hill

Tiger Hill, Darjeeling
Tiger Hill, Darjeeling

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.  

4. Ghoom Monastery 

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

Batasia Loop, Darjeeling
Batasia Loop, Darjeeling

The toy train goes through a loop around the Gorkha War Memorial before making a steep descent is a sight to witness indeed. The Batasia Loop is around four kilometers away from the city. By enjoying the heritage ride of the toy train you can enjoy the charm of the lovely environment and the wildflowers around. The loop which the toy trains cover is almost fifty thousand square feet. In this toy train ride around Batasia Loop, you’ll get to see the mighty Kanchenjunga. Avoid the weekend crowd to have a hassle-free experience on Batasia Loop.  

6. Visit the peaceful Japanese Temple 

If you are an early riser and you are in Darjeeling then you shouldn’t miss the peaceful morning meditations at the Japanese temple and Peace Pagoda. Jalpahar area is the most nearby location where you have to reach by 4:30 am to attend the meditation and elevate your soul through the chants and prayers. 

Peace Pagoda and Japanese Temple, Darjeeling
Peace Pagoda and Japanese Temple

This beautiful Japanese temple doesn’t have any restrictions for any people of other castes and religions as it promotes peace among all human beings. If you’re not an early riser then you can visit the temple at 6 pm in the evening to attend the meditations. The peaceful Japanese temple is a prime attraction for tourists and those who want to find inner peace. 

7. Go river rafting in Teesta

Rafting 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. Life is dull without the adventure of rafting on the waters of the river Teesta. For an adventure lover, River Rafting tops the list and you’ll feel disheartening if you miss this one. 

8. Experience the Darjeeling Ropeway

Every traveler of Darjeeling would feel the thrill knowing that this Darjeeling Ropeway is the oldest in India and also the highest! In the late 1970s, the Darjeeling Ropeways started the journey and it gets considered the highest one for the height of seven thousand feet above the ground. This ropeway service is available throughout the year for the tourists. The tourists can have a close look at the overall Darjeeling city once they get into this ropeway ride. From the tea gardens, small & medium-sized hills to snowy mountains, tourists can experience all of these at one go. 

9. Trek to Sandakphu and Singalila National Park

Kala Pokhri, it lies on the trekking route from Mane Bhanjang to Sandakphu (Darjeeling)
Kala Pokhri, it lies on the trekking route from Mane Bhanjang to Sandakphu

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. 

10. 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 travelers to see. 

11. 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, colorful shawls, authentic Darjeeling tea from Nathmull’s, 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 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 chili chutney and a bowl of piping hot soup to go with it. 

Tibetan Thukpa is the next thing to try. Tibetan Thukpa is an 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 which you must try include Sel Roti, Pork Curry, Gundrunk, Phambi, Shia Phalay, and of course sausages. Most local dishes get prepared in joints located in the nooks and corners of the town. Tourists also like to frequent well-known places like Glenary’s, Keventer’s, 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 Instagram-worthy photos!

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