Darjeeling is derived from the Tibetan words ‘Dorje‘ which means thunderbolt and ‘linga’ meaning place or land, hence together ‘the land of the thunderbolt’ Due to political unrest, development in Darjeeling was stagnated back by almost 30 years. Tourism in Darjeeling largely happened due to British settlement in India. On 1st February 1835, the ‘Sikkim-Patti’ ceded their territory through a deed of grant to the British. Initially, the British used the ‘now’ Darjeeling district as a health resort or sanatorium. In time, it became the summer escapade for the officials of British origin “East India Company’.
As more and more people became aware of the intrinsic beauty of the place, Darjeeling became a must-see for everyone. Darjeeling Tourism has been thriving since that time. Modernism has only added fuel to the fire, making Darjeeling a hotspot for travelers arriving from all over the world. What else can you expect in a place offering scenic vistas of snow-capped mountains, an abundance of flora and fauna, sweeping landscapes of green, occasionally blessed with magical snowflakes once in a while every winter?
Darjeeling, in its true sense, is a feast for sore eyes and weary minds. It is the perfect ‘getaway destination’ for the ones who are dying to step out of their mundane lives into the freshness of the crisp Himalayan air. It is the quintessential destination where cherished memories are created for a lifetime.
Out and About Darjeeling
The majestic Kanchenjunga range looming over Darjeeling truly withholds its name as the ‘Queen of Hill station‘. It has been drawing travelers and locals alike, who wake up at the cusp of dawn to catch a glimpse of the sun rising over the snow-capped peaks. Owing to the town’s strategic location, Darjeeling offers an uninterrupted view of the Kanchenjunga from almost everywhere. Kanchenjunga is the world’s third-highest mountain.
Kanchenjunga is derived from four words of Tibetan origin, which is “Kang-chen-dzo-nga” or “Yang-chhen-dzö-nga“. The literal translation is “Five Treasuries of the Great Snow.” Kanchenjunga holds an indispensable place in the mythological and religious rituals of the local residents.
This quaint hill station is distinct compared to its contemporaries owing to the presence of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways. A joy ride on the Toy Train is a ‘must for all’ that needs to be ticked off the bucket list of any traveler visiting Darjeeling. To date, it remains much coveted among all tourists. The Toy Train has been awarded the UNESCO World Heritage status. It is a magnificent way to absorb the ‘pretty as a picture’ allure of the Himalayan wonderland. The train ride is from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling with a couple of stops along the way like Kurseong and Ghoom.
A ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways offers scenic views of sprawling tea estates. This ride gives an uninterrupted view of houses and stalls along the railway track making it seem just a touch away. The cream of the experience is loads and loads of fresh air wafting in, to invigorate your body and mind. The famed toy train of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway had made its first trip in the year 1880. The process of booking seats can be done either via the Indian Railways website or any computerized reservation counters.
Darjeeling Tourism is also synonymous with Darjeeling Tea– a drink famous all over the world. Darjeeling tea is made from a Chinese variety tea plant called Camellia sinensis that is grown and processed in Darjeeling. Brewed in a multitude of ways, the aroma of fresh Darjeeling Tea is all it takes, to transport us magically to the mountains. Even while lounging in your drawing room; it has the ability to stir up vacation memories from long ago. Darjeeling Tea is exported all over the country as well as internationally. Darjeeling tea is known as the ‘fine wine of teas’. It is preferred by connoisseurs from all over the world for its unique aroma. A day trip to a tea garden should be included in your vacation itinerary to witness the ritual first-hand.
Another place that is a must-visit is Tiger Hill. Located at a short distance of 11 km from Darjeeling town, Tiger Hill draws throngs of visitors all year round. It is mainly because of the panoramic view of the surreal sunrises it offers. It is best to wake up really early, at the crack of dawn, and take a car to the viewpoint. It takes about 40 mins to reach from the Mall road in Darjeeling town. It is a remarkable phenomenon to witness the first rays of sunlight illuminating the peaks of Kanchenjunga. However, you need to go during the right season so that all the peaks are visible with no mist or fog. The best season to see the breathtaking snow-covered peaks is between mid-October to December or from March to April. It is not only a place from where you can witness astonishing sun rises, it is a destination in itself. It is a place to soak yourself in iridescent Himalayan beauty anytime during the day.
A beautiful public park area in Darjeeling is called the Shrubbery Nightingale Park. It was earlier just called the ‘The Shrubbery’ when it was a private courtyard. Along with great scenery, there is a giant statue of Lord Shiva and a musical fountain. Several Nepali cultural functions take place in the huge open circular stage during the tourist season in the evenings. It is open for tourists from 8 am to 8 pm with a nominal admission fee.
Located at a height of 7000 ft above sea level, Singalila National Park is unmissable for all nature enthusiasts. It is located in Darjeeling at a height of 7000 feet above sea level. That makes it the highest altitude reserved forest area in the state of West Bengal. Singalila National Park is a well-known spot for trekking and other adventure sports. The trekking route to Sandakphu runs through it. It is also one of the most popular destinations for bird watching. Blooming season attracts a large variety of birds here. It is home to some of the rarest and exotic animals in wildlife like the Red Panda and Himalayan Newt. Larger rare animals like Himalayan Black Bear, clouded leopards, etc. are also found here.
A glistening white structure called Japanese Temple is a 10 mins drive from the Darjeeling town center. It was built under the guidance of a Buddhist monk from Japan, namely, Nichidatsu Fujii. Close to the Japanese Temple is the Peace Pagoda which showcases four avatars of Lord Buddha. The Peace Pagoda is the tallest free-standing structure in Darjeeling.
A ride on the famous Darjeeling ropeway is one of the best ways to experience the captivating panorama. It is also called the Rangeet Valley Passenger Cable Car because of the spectacular view around the river, Little Rangeet. The cable car can be boarded from Singamari which is 1.8 miles from Darjeeling Chowk Bazar. You can take break journeys as there is no set time limit on the ropeway. You can get off at one of the stations near a tea garden and take a tour. Take the next cable car crossing the station to head back or further ahead. Of course, you would need to return before the ropeway operation closes for the day. Darjeeling ropeway was the first cable car system in India and was inaugurated in the year 1968.
Mountaineering fans should schedule a visit to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute during their vacation in Darjeeling. This world-famous premier mountaineering institute is also known as HMI. It was founded on the 4th of November, 1954 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. This institute was built as a tribute to Tenzing Norgay, who was also the first director of field training here. It offers various short and long-term courses on mountaineering, rock climbing, and trekking, and even water sports. There are a few courses for the visually impaired as well as rock crafts, etc. There is a museum on the campus grounds called HMI Museum.
The museum has one section on the ground floor known as the Main Museum. The other section called the Mount Everest and Mount Makalu Museum is on the upper floor. It is the oldest mountaineering museum in India. The museum exhibits take you on a journey of the rich culture and mountaineering artifacts. A powerful telescope through which the entire Kanchenjunga range can be seen clearly is also an exhibit there. Those who are in town for longer durations can enroll in short term mountaineering or adventure courses.
Other places that are a must in your Darjeeling itinerary are the Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park, and the Batasia Loop. Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park is among the best zoos in the world. It is located in the Birch Hill area and was established in 1958. Here, you can see many endangered high-altitude Himalayan wildlife like Red Panda, Snow Leopards, etc. Spend the day here bird watching, or laze around the park chasing the sunlight. Batasia Loop is located on Hill Road, just below the Ghum station. It is a 20 mins drive from Darjeeling town. This is the best place to get a 360-degree view of Darjeeling’s landscape. The Toy Train takes a double loop here to counter a sharp descent along the road. There is also an Eco Garden in Batasia. And at the center of the Batasia Loop is the War Memorial. It was opened in 1995 to commemorate Gorkha soldiers in various wars after India’s independence.
The famous Chowrasta Mall Road is a good spot to end your day-long touristy haul. Enthusiasts can go for horseback riding, gorge on street food or pick up souvenirs at the curio shops lining the Mall.
There are a lot of places around Darjeeling that are tourist favorites such as Kurseong, Kalimpong, Mirik among others. Kurseong is also known as the “Land of White Orchids”. It is a small hill station that travelers cross on their way to Darjeeling. With a pleasant climate all year-round, Kurseong is perfect for a day trip with a number of places to see locally. You can visit the Castleton or Makaibari Tea Garden. You could go up to Dowhill and explore the forests in the vicinity. Eagle’s Craig perched on a cliff is perfect for panoramic views of the mountains up until Siliguri.
You can also plan a trip to Mirik- a scenic spot frequented by travelers all year-round. It is a laid back hill station with mesmerizing scenic beauty. Mirik Lake is famous for boating activities. Horseback riding can also be enjoyed here along with shopping activities. It is famous for its year-round lush foliage. Travelers visiting Mirik mostly visit to take a break from their mundane lives and breathe in the crisp, fresh air.
While visiting Darjeeling, you can also go up to Kalimpong for a short detour. It has a pleasant temperature and varied cuisine. It also boasts of a multitude of cultures, and a display of orchids. Kalimpong is the regular traveler’s dream destination due to varied reasons.
- The Deolo View Point
- River rafting on the Teesta
- The Phodong Monastery at dawn
- The sunset against the Durpin Monastery
- The much renowned Hanuman Temple.
Make sure you make a pit stop at one of the orchid cultivation centers in this town.
Religion, Culture, and Art
Darjeeling boasts of a diverse culture. You can find people of different faiths residing here. It is predominantly Hinduism along with Vajrayana Buddhism religion. However, it is appreciable that the residents of Darjeeling engage in almost every festival that comes their way. It says a lot about the general solidarity and cultural unity of the place.
From Dussehra, Diwali, Losar, Buddha Jayanti to Christmas and New Year- all of it is celebrated in equal fervour. Spring fests, winter carnivals, weekend musicals, make their place alongside each other. This enhances the culture of this quaint, colonial-era hill town.
The fact that Darjeeling hosts so many different cultures at once only enhances its rich traditions represented artistically. Travelers can find curio shops with authentic Gorkha artifacts, ornaments from the local lanes of Tibetan lineage. Even traditional Nepali weapons- the Khukhuri, and tribal masks can also be found here.
If you are out shopping in Chowrasta, make sure you spend time exploring paintings and depictions of deities by local artists. You can pick up traditional ornaments like mystic pendants and rings in Chowk Bazaar on Mall Road. Chowk Bazar has a unique yet reasonable collection of woolen clothes. There are two other markets known as Mahakal Market and Dragon Market. You can pick up some awesome memorabilia and souvenirs for your dear ones from here. Pony rides on Mall Road will give you a child-like delight. The road leading uphill to the Mall area is lined with local artisans selling hand-knitted woolens including socks, shawls, caps, and sweaters. Even carpets by local artisans are sold here. You can also find handmade bags and purses here. One of the good places to explore the art and handicraft scene in Darjeeling is the Tibetan Refugee Centre. A good couple of hours need to be set aside for it. Other places include Ava Art Gallery, Manjusha Emporium and Gram Shilpa, Hayden Hall, and more.
No tourist destination is complete without its local delicacies and Darjeeling is certainly not! The best place to begin your food journey is certainly the street joints. Authentic, local, and just perfect to fire your taste buds up. Start with a plate of momos, complete with soup and the spicy red chilli chutney. You can also try a steaming bowl of thukpa, complete with veggies. Especially, if it’s a cold, chilly day and you’re looking for something to both fill you up and warm you. Next on the list is a plate of aloo-dum, with crispy bhujia sprinkled on top. Spicy? Yes! Immemorable? For life!
If you are looking for more of a sit-down and dine kind of place, go for one of the charming cafes. There are wonderful options like Keventer’s, Glenary’s, Frank Ross Cafe, and more. . If you relish a sumptuous breakfast or all-day snacks then Keventers is worth a visit. Its highlight is the open seating area enabling you to get great views. Glenary’s Bakery and Cafe is a prominent landmark since the British colonial days. It has remained the best bakery in Darjeeling since then. Frank Ross Cafe is relatively new compared to the other cafes. It is a vegetarian eatery and one of the few places to get authentic South Indian cuisine in Darjeeling.
All of these places are lined along the Chowrasta area and are very easy to spot. For some good old beer and some great music, head to Joey’s Pub. It is a charming, quaint place with a forgotten, rustic British charm about it. A drink on a winter evening here can be the perfect place to end your vacation.