Darjeeling is without a question one of the most famous hill stations in India if not the most famous. It is a quintessential hill station in every which way. The sprawling promenades, the breathtaking views, the pine trees, the chilly weather, the heritage sites and the boutique hotels it has it all. But the crowning jewel if ever there was one has to be Tiger Hill when it comes to Darjeeling. Tiger Hill (2509m above sea level) is located about 11 Km from the main town and is the summit of Ghoom (often cited as the second highest railway station in Asia).
Tiger Hill is one of the most famous tourist destinations in and around Darjeeling and is, therefore, a must visit. It is now a nature reserve which is maintained by the GTA (Gorkha Territorial Administration). The view from Tiger Hill around the day is one to behold but the main attraction of Tiger Hill is without a doubt is the sunrise. People who have witnessed this have likened it to an almost religious experience; they say the mind and the soul get replenished once you have been a witness to this awe-inspiring sight.
As Tiger Hill is located some distance away from the main town, you have to wake up early in the morning and drive up the hill. The other option and the one which is preferred more by the locals is an early morning hike up the hill, so for the adventurous soul in you, this might be the better option but if this is your first time don’t forget to hire a guide for you may lose your way or miss out on the best bits of the hike. You may have to start the hike as early as 2 A.M. in the morning if you want to catch the entire sunrise, you can take a jeep or a cab till Ghoom and then climb uphill. Remember to wear warm clothes as it is extremely cold in Tiger Hill, especially early mornings.
All this detail might seem tedious but once you get there, the view will be worth it. The early morning ride/hike will be tiring but the sunrise will make everything worth it. As you reach the summit you will find a toll booth here, there is a nominal fee of Rd 10 per vehicle for entry to the summit. You will also need to buy tickets if you want to watch the sunrise from the viewing tower.
There are different tickets at this tower depending on the tower level. The ground level will cost you Rs 20/- per person, the first-floor will is Rs. 30/- and the top floor is Rs. 40/- per person.
At the break of dawn, the sky will be a shade of soft yellow and hardly anything will be visible, within minutes if the sky is clear you will see it turn from pink to orange to Vermillion in a space of minutes. Golden streaks of sunrays will be peaking out from the mountains and in turn, the snow-capped peaks will, in turn, reflect the golden rays making it seem as if they are sparkling. The sun rises in all its glory, this is a photographers delight and will definitely be a defining moment of your trip.
The fresh cold wind blowing from the snow-capped mountains striking your face accompanied by the magnificence of the view is an experience which cannot be put into words. A lot depends on the seasons and the weather conditions too; Tiger Hill during the winter months is blanketed in snow. Visibility becomes an issue and you may not get to see the mountains. There is a legend of the hill people which says that the mountains reveal themselves only to the ones it wants to. So consider yourself fortunate if you get to see these hallmarks of nature.
Here it is important to mention that you can see three different mountain peaks from Tiger Hill, the Makalu, the Kanchenjunga (third highest mountain peak in the world) and if you are lucky also Mount Everest. Kanchenjunga looms large here, its five treasure snow peaks are clearly visible from Tiger Hill, highest of which is 28,169 ft above sea level, as it is the nearest peak and you will be in awe just because of its sheer magnitude, you can’t escape the feeling of being too minute for the vista that is nature . On a clear day, you may also see a glimpse of Tibet’s Chomol Hari Mountain which is regarded as one of the most beautiful peaks in the world.
The morning hike is also a good time to socialize as you will meet people from all walks of life. Be it tourists from all over the world, professional photographers, adventure enthusiasts or locals. You can get warm cups of tea and coffee from the local vendors and savor the experience even further. For nature enthusiasts, the surrounding flora and fauna may also be of interest to you as you will encounter some rather rare species of plants and animals here.
If you are one for history and religion there is the famous Durga Mandir just below Tiger Hill, the official name for which is Sincheal Singh Devi Sthyan. There is a Siva Mandir adjoining it. You can spend some time here while coming downhill after the sunrise. You can spend some peaceful time listening to the chiming of the bells and if you are lucky you may get to attend the routine arati done in the mornings and evenings. This temple is considered very scared and many say that the gods grant you your wish if you visit here, so that is an added impetus to visit it.
The Senchal Lake is located a little below the summit and it is visible from the top too, you can also visit this lake and like many others can enjoy a picnic with your family here. The best time to do this is during March-April and September- October because otherwise, it will be too cold to spend the entire day here. Tiger Hill opens from the mornings to late evenings so timings are not an issue, you can visit it anytime you want to. It is one of the many reasons why Darjeeling is referred to as the “Queen of the Hills”, and it is as remarkable as people make it be. Watching the sunrise from Tiger Hill is a once in a lifetime experience and you should definitely not miss it. It is as much a spiritual experience as it is a physical experience.