At the foothills of the Himalayas, Darjeeling stands proudly. A backpacker’s delight and a honeymooner’s dream, Darjeeling is an unembellished canvas of natural beauty. Alluring visitors with its sprawling expanse of green set against the white of majestic snow-capped peaks, Darjeeling’s panoramas are captivating in every way. It only takes one visit to the ‘queen of the hills’ to fall in love!
Don’t leave Darjeeling before you:
Ghoom Monastery: With prayer flags fluttering around its premises, the Ghoom Monastery houses a towering 15-feet high statue of the Maitreya Buddha. Amongst the oldest monasteries in Darjeeling, Ghoom also houses old Buddhist manuscripts.
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park: Most noted for being the only zoo in India to foster a conservation programme for endangered species of animals including red pandas, snow leopards and the Tibetan wolf, Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park spans over 67 acres. The largest high altitude zoo in India, the zoo is home to fauna and flora unique to the Himalayan region.
Japanese Peace Pagoda: Situated on Jalapahar Hill at a height of over 28 metres, the Peace Pagoda in Darjeeling is also known as the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple. The premises of the Japanese Peace Pagoda are equally serene as is the interior of the temple, which showcases the four forms of Lord Buddha.
Mahakal Temple: At the summit of Observatory Hill, the Mahakal Temple is where Buddhism and Hinduism come together. This is where the original Bhutia Busty monastery was located and where the Mahakal Temple stands now. The sound of monks and priests chanting fills the air as you climb about a 100 steps to get to the temple. While admiring the colourful prayer flags that guide the way, beware of greedy monkeys around you!
Darjeeling Mall, Chowrasta: The heart and soul of Darjeeling town, the Darjeeling Mall, Chowrasta is a meeting and recreational point for locals and tourists alike. The hustle and bustle is undeniable with shops and restaurants lining the street. Benches along the periphery offer great vantage points to admire the surrounding scenery.
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See the sun rise from Tiger Hill: Well before the crack of dawn, make your way to Tiger Hill to see one of the most spectacular sun rises possible. Atop the Tiger Hill summit at 2,600 metres, find a spot and wait for the spectacle of when the horizon turns shades of crimson as the sun’s rays fall on the mighty Mount Kangchenjunga peak. A sight to behold!
Take a joy ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway: Take a fairy-tale ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, aptly nicknamed the ‘toy train’, which covers a 78-kilometre stretch with 13 stations between Darjeeling and Siliguri. Dating back to 1881, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. The beauty of the mountainous terrain that the journey covers is breath-taking!
Feast of views from the Darjeeling Ropeway: For unmatched views of Darjeeling and its alpine surroundings, the Darjeeling Ropeway offers vistas and views that are befitting of postcards. The first cable car system in India, the 45-minute ropeway ride runs from Singamari to Singla Bazar.
Tour a Tea Factory: When in tea country, make the most of it by visiting a tea factory. Not just any ordinary tea, Darjeeling tea is often termed the ‘champagne of teas’! Visit Darjeeling’s many tea estates including Glenburn, Makabari and Happy Valley to see the process of tea growing and plucking and while there, sample some of the region’s finest brews.
Climb away at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI): Founded by mountaineer Tenzing Norgay who climbed Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, at HMI you will find mountaineering records of major expeditions undertaken. There is also an Everest Museum with historical facts and equipment on display. Be adventurous and take a rock-climbing session!
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Momos: Steamed or fried and stuffed with meat or vegetables, momos are the most popular snack to be had in Darjeeling. Essentially dumplings made of flour, get your plate at most small and big eateries in town.
Thukpa: A popular Tibetan dish, Thukpa is a wholesome hot noodle soup served with eggs, meat and vegetables. Served piping hot, it is a delicious meal in itself.
Dalle: If your taste buds fancy something spicy, then treat them to Dalle. A pickle made with red chillies tempered in mustard oil, salt and spices, this spicy accompaniment is usually served with momos.
When to Go:
October to March: The monsoon season ends in October and makes way for the onset of winter from mid-November to February. The average high temperature is 10C and it is common for it to go below 0C at night.
April to June: These are the relatively warmer months in Darjeeling with temperatures going up to 25C in May and June. The days are filled with sunshine and the nights are cool.
July to September: Monsoons in Darjeeling are usually during July and August when rain falls incessantly. Fog and mist engulf most of Darjeeling, making it grey and gloomy.
By Air: The closest airport to Darjeeling is at Bagdogra, which is about 95 kilometres away. It’s about a three-hour drive to get from the Bagdogra Airport to Darjeeling town.
By Road: Luxury and standard buses between Darjeeling run to and from Kolkata and Siliguri. Private taxis are also easily available.
By Train: New Jalpaiguri is the closest railhead to Darjeeling. At a distance of 88 kilometres, you can travel by road or take the toy train to get to Darjeeling. Driving in to Darjeeling takes three hours whereas the toy train takes a little more than seven hours.
Both public and private transportation is available in Darjeeling. The most economical mode of travel is a shared jeep or taxi.
What to Pack:
Darjeeling always has a nip in the air so be well clothed for all seasons!
- An umbrella and raincoat for the monsoons
- Full sleeved cotton tops and a lightweight jacket for the summer
- Woollens, thermals and a heavyweight jacket for the winter
- Motion sickness medicine if you tend to get car sick on winding roads
The magnificence of the Himalayas is unparalleled and Darjeeling offers glimpses that are simply spectacular! A holiday in Darjeeling is exactly what your mind, body and soul need to reset and restart.