Darjeeling

The name has come from the Tibetan word Dorje meaning ‘thunderbolt sceptre’ and Ling which is a ‘place or land’. At a height of 6,700ft in West Bengal is the popular hill station of India. 

Along the narrow lanes in lush greenery, in the midst of snow covered mountains as a backdrop my body had automatically gone into a relaxation mode. It’s a perfect place to unwind. 

Darjeeling is always tops the list whenever planning for a hill station holiday. Why shouldn’t it be! It has awesome sunrise point; breath taking views of Mt. Kanchenjunga; has received the UNESCO title in 1999 for its Himalayan trains; is known for its tea plantation; seeing the colourful cubicle houses beautifully placed along the hills and last but definitely not the least is known for its friendly locals who love to show their small little town. 

Darjeeling is also popular place for many of the Bollywood movies which were shot here. The locals very proudly show all the famous spots were movie actors shot their movie scenes. 

TIME TO VISIT DARJEELING

The best time to visit would be either in the spring, summer or in autumn. March to May is when the sun is shining brightly, however this is also the time when the school holidays are there. From October to November is the autumn hence the weather is pleasant. 

I would definitely avoid June to September as this is the rainy season, unless you’re not fussed about getting wet. However, the wildlife sanctuary is usually closed during this time.

We always like to avoid the crowd and hence we opted for December as our time of visit. The weather was cooler during the day and even at night. We also didn’t experience any road closures due to the snow. We did experience crowd in the evening but during the day they were well spread out. The hotels are usually not working at full capacity during this time, we however had no issues.

Winter is from December to February so plan accordingly taking road closure and limited hotel options into consideration. 

TRAVELING AROUND DARJEELING

Since we were traveling from Gangtok we had chosen private taxi to get to Darjeeling. We were not entirely happy with the ride as we both fall sick in long car journeys.  It was a three hour drive from Gangtok to Darjeeling. To break our journey we decided to check out some points on the way.

We love to explore a place on foot, hence we decided we will not hire a car throughout our trip. We decided to hire car mainly for the sunrise point in Tiger Hills since it will be dark and unsafe to be on foot. However, car drivers don’t do single point so we decided to hire for half a day (from 4.00 am to 10:00 am) and added couple of points nearby. The rest of the places we saw on foot with the help of google map and asking locals for directions. 

From Darjeeling we had come to Siliguri by private car where we spent a night and next day took a flight from Bagdogra airport. The road journey from Darjeeling to Siliguri was also very hectic and takes roughly two hours. There were no breaks in the journey and we didn’t have a good driver.

There are both luxury and standard buses also which run from Kolkata and Siliguri. Should you want to choose train option then New Jalpaiguri is the nearest station to reach Darjeeling. Along with this there are also various shared jeep options also. We choose private car as we have problem with road journeys and also due to time restrictions. 

WHERE WE STAYED IN DARJEELING

We stayed for two nights in Hotel Sinclair Darjeeling. From the check in to the checkout we had no complaints with the hotel. The staff were courtesy and always helpful. The rooms were clean, spacious with the necessary amenities provided.

The hotel was walking distance to Mall Road which was ideal for us. We had also chosen breakfast option and were very happy with the variety provided. I would definitely recommend staying here.

On our last day for one night we stayed at Siliguri Barsana Hotel and Resort. The hotel was new, recently renovated during our stay. We found it clean and spacious and was very good for a night stay. The only downside for us was the hotel had a vegetarian restaurant. There weren’t many restaurants nearby so we were stuck food wise. We had also chosen the breakfast option, again disappointed with the vegetarian menu. Unfortunately we had not checked this and hence totally our fault. The main reason for choosing it was because it was close to the airport.

THINGS TO DO IN DARJEELING

MAMTA BANERJEE GARDEN

On our way from Gangtok to Darjeeling on road to take a break from the trip we did stop by at Mamta Banerjee Garden. It was a nice garden which had many plants and flowers blooming. It’s a small place and our main reason for stopping cause was for stretching our legs and we weren’t disappointed doing it inside the garden.

MALL ROAD/ CHOWRASTA

Every hill station we have explored so far has a square where there are no vehicles allowed, a place where people can enjoy on foot. Darjeeling also had such a place. We have enjoyed Mall Road in the morning and in the evenings, loved it both times.

Although the place is always buzzing with people there is a sense of relaxation. There are lots of shops along the way ranging from clothing, teas, Indian artefacts, cafes and the oldest book stores in the city. 

There are various roads which makes you come into Mall Road. The centre point is where the four roads meet hence the name Chowrasta (four roads). 

There is a huge gold statue in the entrance of two mall roads which is of Poet Bhanubhakta Acharya. He is the one who wrote the Nepali version of Ramayana. 

The Poet’s statue has a stage whereby locals perform during the day and sometimes in the evenings. We were lucky to see the locals performing their traditional dance and song during our visit. 

Throughout Mall Road there are benches to sit and enjoy or rest during your visits. It is also said to be a free WiFi area now. There are also various pony rides for kids to enjoy in the place. 

OBSERVATORY HILL

This is near Chowrastra/Mall Road. You can enjoy various viewpoints of Darjeeling from this place. A beautiful place to spot the snow covered peaks of Mt. Kanchenjunga, temples, Monastery and various houses built along the hills. We walked across to Glenary’s cafe and enjoyed the same view while sipping the famous Darjeeling tea and absolutely loved it. As the sun sets the lights in the houses lit up making the place even prettier at night. 

TIGER HILLS

Asking me to get up in the morning for sunrise is something I am never up for. On our arrival the place was packed with people, dark and cold. We had to wait for at least one and half hour for the sunrise. When the sun did rose the changing of the clouds were so worth it. All my complains disappeared as the sun rose and brightened the whole place.

Tiger Hills is at a height of 2,543 meter and is the ideal place for panoramic view of Mt. Kanchenjunga and Mt. Everest. It was a sunrise well worth visiting, no words can describe the beauty of the place. 

GHUM MONASTERY

A beautiful 15 ft. statue of Maitreya Buddha is seen inside the Ghum Monastery. There is continuous chanting of the mantras inside giving it a peaceful and spiritual aura. I have visited many monastery in my travels, this may have been a simple one but all the same I did find it pretty. 

JAPANESE PEACE PAGODA

A place which was built in the hope all people from all races and creed coming together in search of world peace. This was built according to Nichidatsu Fujii, who was a Buddhist monk from Japan. Situated at the top of the hills hence making it an ideal location to feel peaceful. The mountain backdrop added to the beauty of the place.

Throughout the place there are various Buddha’s displayed. There are also stone carvings around the pagoda which were beautifully placed. 

PADMAJA NAIDU HIMALAYAN ZOOLOGICAL PARK

This is said to be the largest high altitude zoo in the world. It’s at an average elevation of 7,000 ft.  The zoo is known for its successful breeding programs of snow leopards, Himalayan wolf and red panda. The zoo was established in 1958 and since then been through many development. 

Personally I  have seen so many zoos during my travel but since I was raised in Kenya I always loved animals in the open. I did however visit this zoo in particular because it is known to be at a high altitude. 

HIMALAYAN MOUNTAINEERING MUSEUM

Inside the zoo there is also the Himalayan Mountaineering Museum.  There were a number of exhibitions to Mount Everest which was interesting. The equipment’s being used is all displayed inside the museum. There is also a statue of the Tenzing Norge along with many interesting information regarding hiking/trekking/walking. There are also games inside to try out especially those with kids would love it. 

DARJEELING ROPEWAY

I was pleasantly happy doing this ropeway ride. At an elevation of 7,001 ft passing through dense forests, mountain ridges, flowing rivers, lush green valleys and tea gardens. I absolutely loved the nature in this ride. 

I had read about stories of this ropeway and we were in two minds of doing it. But we still did it as we wanted to see the tea plantation and this felt like a nice place to see it from. 

The place usually gets crowded, so we choose to do it early morning hence didn’t experience any crowd. We did see the crowds increasing as our ride ended. 

TENZING ROCK

We sure did have fun trying to find this rock. We had decided to check out the rock on foot, lost our way but got help from the locals and found it.

Tenzing was the first man ever to climb Mt. Everest, they say he did his training on this rock. The place is very small and can get crowded easily. Personally would have loved to try it out but was put off by the crowd. 

TIBETAN REFUGEE SELF HELP CENTRE

This is a rehabilitation centre for the Tibetan refugee. The main activity inside here is the Tibetan handicraft. People are seen doing spinning, weaving and carpentry but most of the people were older. 

Since we had decided to walk to the place we asked the locals how to get back to Chowrastra/Mall Road. He did show us a short cut up the hills. We ventured on his direction only to find the place deserted with no locals to ask for further direction. The walk up was steep, that wasn’t hard but when we looked down at how far we had come that scared us.  The local guy was right we did reach Chowrastra/ Mall Road and it sure was a short cut. This truly was the highlight of the trip, one which we would forever remember. 

DARJEELING HIMALAYAN RAILWAY

This is also known as the Toy Train. It is 88 km long, uses six zig zag and five loops to gain altitude. It climbs from 100 m above sea level at New Jalpaiguri to 200 m at Darjeeling.  There are daily six diesel locomotives which run trains for tourist from Darjeeling to Ghum. In 1999 it received the UNESCO as the World Heritage Site. 

You have to enjoy the toy train ride when in Darjeeling. It’s truly a unique experience, one which will leave you smiling. The highlight for me was the passing of the train through the town. 

The train ride makes various stops and also passed through a museum where history of the place is provided. It’s a small museum and the stop time is also short but we enjoyed it. 

BATASIA LOOP 

In 1919 it was commissioned to be the track which spirals around after passing through the tunnel and over a hilltop. We did this during our toy train, where the train stops for a while at this spot. 

The garden and surroundings are very well maintained. You get to see a very nice view of Darjeeling as a Hill station. There is also a memorial to the Gorkha soldiers who sacrificed their lives in 1947 for India’s independence. 

MAHAKAL TEMPLE

This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The name translates to ‘time’ in Nepali. The temple follows a combination of Buddhism and Hindu religion, existing in harmony beautifully. 

Upon entering you are welcomed with bells and colourful prayer flags throughout its vicinity. Again showing Buddhism and Hindu culture jellying so well with one another. The idols inside the temples were Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswar and Lord Buddha.

We went early morning hence didn’t experience any crowd and totally loved the peaceful atmosphere. 

OUR ITINERARY IN DARJEELING

Day 1

Took a taxi from Gangtok and saw Mamta Banerjee Garden on the way to Darjeeling. In the afternoon rested in the hotel and evening went to explore Mall Road/ Chowrastra and Observatory Hill. We also booked a taxi for early morning to cover certain points the next day.

Traveling tip: In the evening in Darjeeling most of the points we saw on foot. It’s in a circle and easy to follow. 

Day 2

In the morning at 4.00 am our driver drove us to sunrise point in Tiger Hills. After sunrise he took us to Ghum Monastery and Japanese Peace Pagoda. He dropped us back to our hotel.

After breakfast we decided to see Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park and Himalayan Mountaineer Museum, Darjeeling Ropeway, Tenzing Rock, Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre and evening came back to Chowrastra to spend the evening. We did all of this on foot with the help of google maps on our phone.

Traveling tip: The places we saw in car we decided to do early morning as there was no crowd and we had the whole place to yourself.

Day 3

We walked to Darjeeling train station to do the Toy train ride. The train ride included Batasia Loop and the museum. In the afternoon we checked out from the hotel and took a taxi to Siliguri. We had a night stay here and next day took a flight back home.

THINGS TO NOTE IN DARJEELING

  • The places we covered on foot has some serious walking to do. There were times we had to climb steep hills. I would recommend only follow it if your health permits.
  • Most roads are narrow in Darjeeling hence always has traffic. We were never stuck in one but heard others complaining about the same.
  • The locals in the place are used to walking so they would say it’s nearby. Ask them how many km before you venture on your own to get a rough idea of the same.
  • To do the sunrise in Tiger Hill I would recommend hiring a car. You have to be at the place very early and since its dark and steep climb it’s safer in car. 
  • While hiring car we spoke to couple of drivers to find the fares. We noticed the prices didn’t vary much. We had covered only three points hence negotiated accordingly.
  • When you’re traveling from Darjeeling to Siliguri you are really limited with taxi options. There are very few who actually take you there so you might not get a good taxi driver.
  • For toy train we did our booking by going to the counter personally. We did one day to be on the safe side. IRTC website I am told also does booking. I would recommend pre-booking your tickets to avoid getting disappointed. 
  • Darjeeling is known for its teas, I would say it’s a good souvenir to take back home.