Darjeeling- the queen of hills once a summer capital to the British India is a small town in the North east part of India located at the foothills of the Himalayas nestled in between Nepal and Bhutan. This beautiful little town is at an elevation of 6812 ft, very popular destination to the local Bengal people as well as Indian tourists and foreigners who want peace and tranquility away from the maddening crowd of the cities.
How to get there-The fastest way to get there is to fly in from Delhi/Kolkata to Bagdogra which is the closest airport and then drive 100km up the steep mountain winding roads overlooking the well manicured tea plantations and pine trees. This drive takes you approximately 3 hours or you could take the toy train all the way. As u approach the town u get your first glimpse of panoramic Mt Kanchanjunga which is breath taking and this picturesque view overlooks the town of Darjeeling. Best time to visit would be in spring that would be March-May and then autumn October-November. December to March during winters is also great as the weather is clear and you get clear blue skies most of the days however it gets a bit chilly. This beautiful town is home to me and I hope I do justice in suggesting places of interest for the first timers.
Tourist attractions-10 must see places
Most of the places are best explored by walking or trekking but if you are not the adventurous kind you could drive around by hiring a local cab.
You need to start your day very early by 4 :00-04:30 am as you cannot leave Darjeeling without watching the sun rise from Tiger Hill. Watch the sky change colors at the break of dawn with the magnificent sun rise and to get a glimpse of a clear himalayan range which can best be seen from this view point.
Batasia Loop- On your way back from Tiger Hill you could stop at Batasia railway loop, a war memorial built for the Gorkha soldiers. You can see full Darjeeling town and once again the serene beauty of Mt. Kangchandzonga.
2 . Monasteries
There are several Buddhist monasteries amongst which the famous ones are at Ghoom and Dali which can also be covered on the way back from Tiger Hill.
3. Zoo and Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
The zoo is pretty interesting as you get to see wildlife thats rare like tibetan wolves, red pandas, snow leopards and other Himalayan animals. Himalayan mountaineering Institute is a mountaineering museum as well as this Institute offers 15 days adventure course which takes you camping trekking, rock climbing, kayaking and it is a great adventurous course to do if you have the time. They also offer 30 days basic course which takes you to the base camps.
4. Toy Train
Which was built and is operating since the 1880’s is world famous UNESCO world hertiage run on steam engine and diesel. A joy ride on this train is a must from Darjeeling to Ghoom and back.
5. Happy Valley Tea Estate
The closest Tea Estate which you could possibly visit if you are spending just a few days here. If you are a tea drinker you would love to see the process of how tea is made. Don’t leave Darjeeling without tasting our renowned unique quality tea which you can find a variety of black, green and white at any of the tea shops in town. You will definately buy a packet or two as souvenirs to give friends and family.
6. Peace Pagoda
The Japanese temple is at a hill top at Jalapahar where you see the four avatars of lord Buddha, a beautiful walk through the wilderness pathway to get there. Take a walk around this temple and enjoy the calmness and peace. The temple is open from 04:30-06:00 am and evening 16:30-18:30.
A beautiful open hill slope garden showcasing the flora and fauna of the Himalaya region. If you visit during Spring u’ll get to see the rhododendron trees in full bloom which is spectacular.
8. Shrubbery Park-
Beautiful view of the snow capped himalayan range. You can spend some time just taking stroll or lazying around feeling totally in sync with nature.
9. Observatory Hill
Just behind the bustling locals favorite haunt Chowrasta is the Mahakal Mandir(temple) where Buddhists and Hindu worshipers offer prayers. Colorful prayer flags and the sound of bells gives a feeling of divine peace when you visit the temple.
The main square which is always filled with tourists, locals, street, hawkers, cafes, curio shops etc you could go for a pony rides around the mall road from here. U have to take a walk around the mall road at Chowrasta where you see St Andrew’s church which was built in 1843. You will also come across Bhanu bhawan and Raj Bhawan.
There are plenty of hotels around this area as it the centre of town and popular amongst the tourists.
Few other places you could visit while in Darjeeling if you plan to stay longer are- the Tibetan Refugee centre, Dhirdam temple, a ride on the ropeway which takes you to Takvar where you see the arial view of tea plantations, rock garden, mirk lake and for the adventurous ones I suggest you trek the trail of singhalila and river raft at Teesta.
The locals are a diverse mix of indigenous culture and race but all live in harmony despite the differences. People are genuine, frindly,warm, good hearted and helpful .
Best places to eat
Keventers( best for breakfast),Glenarys & Park for lunch /dinner, Slotee and Penang- for the best local momos, thukpa and other local cuisine
There are numerous hotels, guest houses, home stays where you could put up. Getting a place to stay will never be a problem as every other house in Darjeeling is a hotel or a guest house.
This journey to the hills will leave people from across the globe with quite an experience of serene beauty which I assure you will treasure for life.