Darjeeling, (meaning the land of thunderbolts) is a hill station in the foothills of the lower Himalayas. Darjeeling is immersed in a beauty that has mesmerised visitors for time immemorial. Ruling over India, the British had made Darjeeling the summer capital for its pristine beauty and snow clad mountains.
We decided to visit Darjeeling during February as the winter beauty of Darjeeling leaves one breathless. The best time to visit this hill station in West Bengal, (India) is Feb-Mar and Sep-Nov. It is best to avoid visiting during June-July as the area is prone to landslides during the monsoon.
We took the Darjeeling mail 10:05pm from Howrah station near Kolkata and reached New Jalpaiguri station(NJP) at 8:00 am after an overnight journey of 570kms. From NJP there are two options to reach Darjeeling – 1) The toy train, and 2) By road.
THE TOY TRAIN
The toy train was established in 1881, and is enlisted as one of UNESCO World Heritage sites. A ride in the toy train is one of the unforgettable experiences of one’s life. The panoramic view throughout the ride of the breathtaking hillsides will leave everlasting pictures in the mind. One can visit the Ghoom monastery or enjoy local delicacies in Kurseong while sightseeing. The Batasia loop is a famous railway loop that offers an amazing view of the mountains. It goes around an open air Gorkha memorial, with a beautiful garden.
As we were not able to purchase tickets for the toy train we booked a SUV for reaching Darjeeling. There are also buses, shared jeep or vans available from NJP. It took us 2 h 55 min to reach Darjeeling via Matigara- Kurseong Rd, one can also go through NH10 which takes 3 h 12 )min.
If you wish to travel by toy train (diesel engine), it leaves NJP at 9:00am and takes about 7 hours to reach Darjeeling. From Darjeeling to Kurseong steam Engine toy trains are available.
On reaching Darjeeling we stayed at The Darjeeling Tourist lodge which offers a stunning view of Kanchenjunga. There are heritage hotels like the Windamere, Cedar inn, Ramada, Hermitage which are upscale hotels and offer a good view of the Kanchenjunga. There is also numerous mid range and budget hotels and home stays available. After enjoying a hot lunch and taking some rest, we decided to take a walk around the Mall.
The mall road is a mountain walkway with serene mountain scenery where one may enjoy a leisurely morning or evening walk. The Darjeeling mall is a loop of about a kilometre, starting from Chowrasta going around the Observatory hill and returning to the mall itself. The mall road is shaded with trees with rhododendrons scattered along the slopes adding to its beauty. Walking along we saw a huge white building with a golden dome. It is the Bhanu bhavan or the Ranga Manch. It is an auditorium which is used for public functions. Opposite to the Ranga manch is St. Andrews Church dating back to the British era (1843). The Raj Bhavan which is the summer residence of the governor of West Bengal is also a landmark along the mall road. There are three viewing areas on the mall road for viewing the beauty of Kanchenjunga. We took a stroll along the road while children enjoyed pony rides. Coming back to the Chowrasta we enjoyed piping hot tea, local alu bhurji and roasted peanuts.
The walk along the Mall and shopping at the Chowrasta had made us hungry so we decided on having dinner at the Glenarys. The Glenary’s is owned by the Edwards family in Darjeeling and is over 100years old. It has a wonderful Bakery and café and a restaurant. The food is excellent and view exquisite.
The Tiger Hill.
After a nights rest we woke up in the dark for viewing sunrise from the Tiger hill. We had booked an SUV for the entire day, which took us to the Tiger Hill which is about 12 kms from main Darjeeling. We trekked up a little to find that a lot of tourists had already arrived before us. In the biting chilly morning we enjoyed steaming Darjeeling brew sold by ladies carrying huge flasks. We were lucky to have a clear weather, we watched mesmerised as the sun spread its golden rays in various hues across the majestic Kanchenjunga.
The Ghoom monastery
Our next stop was the Ghoom monastery, built in 1850. The clay statue of Buddha was made with clay brought form Tibet. The two huge lamps are kept burning throughout the year. The intricate work and paintings are worth watching. There is a serene spiritual ambience, which leaves a lasting impression in the mind.
The Dali Monastery
After visiting the Batasia loop and enjoying the serene view, we went to the Dali Monastery. The Dali monastery was built in 1971, and is the residence of the supreme head of the Kargypa sect of Buddhists. The structure and paintings of this monastery are awesome. The prayer room has five cylindrical golden drums, which elderly monks were rotating and offering prayers. The chants create a spiritual atmosphere in which one can immerse oneself.
The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park.
The 67.56 acre zoo was made in 1958 at a height of 7,000 feet. The zoo is a breeding centre for endangered species like Siberian tiger, Himalayan wolf, snow leopard, red panda. There are about 60 species of orchids and some oak trees are more than 100 years old. All the animals and birds looked bright and healthy in the natural surroundings. The huge trees and mists floating around created a mystical atmosphere.
After looking around the zoo we went to the Everest museum situated within the complex of The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. The museum displays a chronological history of the attempts on Mt. Everest. The display starts from 1852 when Radhanath Sikdar measured Mt. Everest for the first time. It was named after Sir George Everest the then survey General of India. The personal gears and equipments show how difficult it was for early climbers to mount the Everest. The equipments of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, the first Everest conquerors are also on display.
Bengal Natural History Museum.
The Bengal Natural History Museum showcases animal and bird life in the Darjeeling hills. The stuffed animals, fishes and birds looked so fresh that they seemed to be artificial.
Our next stop was The Tenzing rock which is a fun place for amateur climbers. A pair of natural rocks is used for practising climbing. People are assisted as they climb up and down the rock. It is a great place to boost up your skills as a rock climber. Although initially it seemed impossible we actually managed the daunting task with some help.
Happy Valley Tea Estate.
This emerald green tea garden gave us the feel of life in the tea gardens. It is spread over 177 hectares and is situated 3 kms north of Darjeeling. The estate produces hand rolled tea which is as exquisite as it is expensive. We bought some tea for ourselves as well as gifts for friends and family.
The Darjeeling Ropeway.
It is another popular tourist Destination plying from ‘North Point’ in Darjeeling town and ‘Singla’ on the banks of the Ramman river. The journey was exciting and offered us beautiful views of the valleys and hills in Darjeeling.
The Peace Pagoda.
Our last stop was the Darjeeling Peace Pagoda which is designed to help people around the world to unite for World Peace. It houses the four avatars of Buddha. It is situated in the slopes of Jalapahar hills and offers a peaceful and spiritual surrounding; which the hills, trees and mountain mists enhance. The driver dropped us at the mall where we enjoyed mouth watering, piping hot momos which are hard to resist. After a stroll and a lot of shopping of woollen garments, we wound up for the day.
The stay in Darjeeling was made even more appetising with the local delicacies like steaming hot momo and Tibetian Thupka. These are must haves in Darjeeling along with Darjeeling tea which is low in calorie and high in caffeine giving you energy to climb the slopes. As we drove down to the plains, the mist covered mountains seemed to beckon us for another visit.