Darjeeling – one of the oldest Indian hill resorts is popular across the globe not only for its scenic beauty but also for the world famous “Darjeeling Tea” that grows here. The hill town of Darjeeling resembles an old Victorian town, complete with cobbled roads, old-world bungalows and endless greenery of the tea estates. An introduction of Darjeeling can’t get complete without the mention of “toy train,” which runs on the world’s smallest gauge between Darjeeling and Siliguri and which has been in operation since the mid 1800’s.
Where is Darjeeling?
The hill town of Darjeeling, often referred to as the “Queen of hill stations” is situated in the Indian state of West Bengal at an average altitude of 2042 m above sea level. The hill resort of Darjeeling, located in the lesser Himalayan ranges is the headquarters of Darjeeling district which has a partially autonomous status within the state of West Bengal.
Reckoned as one of the most magnificent hill resorts in the world, Darjeeling invokes visions of snow peaks, serenity of vibrant green hills, a land of breathtaking beauty crowned by the majestic Himalayan ranges. At a height of 2050 meters above sea level, Darjeeling is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Indian state of West Bengal.
The town of Darjeeling was once the home base to the British tea planters and eventually became the summer residence of the British Raj. Even to date, Darjeeling retains the flavour of the colonial past giving the town a historically rich texture.
Darjeeling is an all-weather hill station bathed in hues of every shade. Not only for the weary souls looking to rejuvenate the mind and body, Darjeeling has something to offer for everyone, may it be a tourist or a trekker, an ornithologist or a photographer, a botanist or an artist.
There are a number of extraordinarily beautiful sightseeing spots in Darjeeling that makes this Bengal hill station all the more popular. Here is a brief account of some of them:
Situated at a distance of about 13 Km from the Darjeeling town, Tiger Hill is perhaps the most popular sightseeing spot of Darjeeling. Known as a sunrise view point, the spot has earned international fame for the magnificent view of the sunrise over the “Kanchanjunga” and the great eastern Himalayan Mountains. Even the tip of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, is visible from here on a clear day.
Situated on the slopes of the Jalapahar Hill, this Buddhist Peace Pagoda is part of a grid of around 30 pagodas built across the whole globe. Designed to provide a focus for people of all races and creeds to help unite them in their search for world peace, the pagoda showcases the four avatars of Lord Buddha.
This is a unique sightseeing spot of Darjeeling where tourists from around the globe flocks in large number to watch the legendary “Toy Train” of Darjeeling making a full circular (360 degree) loop. The place is also popular as there is no better place to get a 360 degree view of Darjeeling’s landscape including the hill town and the snow covered peaks of the Eastern Himalayas with the majestic Kanchenjunga on one side.
This railway loop is an remarkable example of engineering feat, which was constructed with the purpose of allowing the toy train to take the sharp drop in altitude between Ghoom and Darjeeling, with ease. From Darjeeling station joy rides in the toy train can be availed of to Batasia Loop and back.
A War Memorial situated in the centre of a well-maintained eco-garden in the Batasia Loop is an added attraction of the place. The War Memorial was inaugurated in 1995 to commemorate the brave deeds of the Gorkha soldiers of the Darjeeling Hills who sacrificed their lives in various wars after India’s independence.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI)
For a normal tourist this may be another popular sightseeing attraction of Darjeeling hard to miss out, but for all climbing enthusiasts of the world this is no less than a pilgrimage destination.
Founded by late Tenzing Norgay who conquered Mt Everest for the first time with Sir Edmund Hillary on 28 May 1953, the museum within the institute complex traces the history of different attempts on the world’s highest peak. One may also contact the institute for mountaineering courses for all levels.
Himalayan Zoo (Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park) is located in the same premises where HMI is. The zoo houses animals of high altitude and mostly from upper Himalayas. You can see some rare animals here like Red Pandas, Snow Leopards, Tibetan Wolf and lot more.
Shrubbery Nightingale Park
This beautifully decorated park within walking distance from the Darjeeling market provides one of the best views of the Kanchenjunga range. After remaining closed for nearly four years due to renovation work, the park was reopened on 8 May 2011.
The park has a big statue of Lord Shiva and a Hindu Temple as well. Best time to visit the park is from 4 pm to 8 pm as varieties of traditional dances are performed daily during the tourist seasons. Tourists visiting Darjeeling may think alternative of Tiger hill to see the sunlight magic on Kanchenjunga from this Park. This is an extremely ideal spot for photographers.
Darjeeling-Rangit Valley Passenger Cable Car, popularly known as the Ropeway connects Darjeeling with Singla Bazaar at the bottom of the valley and is India’s oldest passenger ropeway. The ropeway was started in 1968 and over the years it has become one of the key tourist attractions in Darjeeling.
However since an unfortunate accident in October 2003 causing death of four passengers and injuries to several others, the ropeway remained closed for some time due to major up gradation process. Now it is fully operational after extensive modernization.
A ride of the Darjeeling ropeway over the clouds, offers mind blowing view of the valley below. The spread of lush tea gardens, dense forests, mountain streams in their full flow, waterfalls, and the awesome snow peaks at the background will make you feel wonder struck. One can also get off at a lower station and enjoy the tea estates, walk through the tea gardens, or just relax and enjoy the view around.
The ropeway timings are: 10 am to 4 pm during winter (off peak) and 10 am to 2 pm during summer (peak). Capacity of each cabin is 6 persons. The service shuts down on the 19th day of each month for maintenance.
Situated 10 Km from the Darjeeling town, Rock Garden has now developed into a very attractive destination for tourists visiting Darjeeling. Rock garden is basically a terraced garden that has been cut through the rocks. Waterfall of the Rock Garden adds to the charming beauty of the place.
3 Km from the Rock Garden is the Ganga Maya Park which is another prominent sightseeing spot of Darjeeling. Ganga Maya is more spread out and has a beautiful stream flowing through it on a valley, has flower gardens, fountains and more. The park offers boating facilities and is endowed with great scenic beauty. Ample eateries are available where visitors can get a taste of the local delicacies.
Other prominent sightseeing spots in Darjeeling includes: Observatory Hill, Mahakaal Temple, Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre, Ghoom Monastery, Lloyd Botanical Garden, Bengal Natural History Museum and quite a few others.
How to Reach Darjeeling?
One can reach Darjeeling by flying to the closest airport Bagdogra. It is 94 Km from the Darjeeling town. From the airport one can either hire a private vehicle of his choice to reach Darjeeling town. Else he can opt for shared vehicle also.
You can get a train to reach the nearest railway station New Jalpaiguri from most of the major Indian cities. From there one can choose from plenty of shared jeeps, buses or private taxis available to travel the 3.5 hours journey to reach Darjeeling. Else you can take the World Heritage Toy Train of Darjeeling and chug along the mountainous terrain to reach the hill station in nearly 7.5 hours.
Reach Siliguri bus station located on the Hill Cart Road from anywhere in the country. From the Bengal capital, Kolkata and other major Bengal towns like Durgapur, Asansol one can opt for Volvo bus or plethora of other services to reach Siliguri. From there you can hire a private taxi or take a shared jeep to cover the 80 Km stretch to reach Darjeeling.
Where to Stay in Darjeeling?
Being a popular tourist destination of Bengal for not only travel freak Bengalis but for tourists from around the globe, Darjeeling has numerous hotels to suit the need of every tourist. Here is a list of excellent Darjeeling hotels that are based on my personal experience and findings by considering the location, comfort, service, friendliness, ambience and amenities.