Friday, January 11, 2019


Most of the visitors to Darjeeling spend no more than two nights at this hill station and then move on to either Gangtok or other locations. But we decided to be in Darjeeling for six nights and took the hill station on foot. Yes!
Kanchenjunga peaks
When you hear Darjeeling, what comes to your mind? Whatever be your answer, I am here to say its much more than that. Darjeeling has 80+ tea estates, Toy train (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Kanchenjunga (world's third highest mountain), India's first cable car system (rope way), a zoo (with rare species including snow leopard), Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Monasteries and a lot more. At this point, I must also admit that the place needs significant administrative attention to ensure the hygiene and maintenance of the hill station.

Darjeeling tea - Straight from the source
Another aspect that is worth mentioning is PEOPLE. It is a confluence of people from Bengal, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and a lot of tourists from across the globe. Another thing that you gotta give it to the locals - they are very fashionable. 
From the Tibetian refugee camp
Darjeeling is a small city and all the attractions are to the left or right of the city. Tourism is a major revenue generator and the local attractions are skillfully crafted into packages. The most popular ones are the seven points and three point tour - each requiring a day. Some enthusiastic people can do all of it in a day as well. :)
Darjeeling city
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park and Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI): This is a small zoo that is host to a variety of fauna, such as snow leopard, black panther, tiger, red panda among others. It also has the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and Bengal Natural History Museum inside the zoo campus. At the HMI, they have a wall climbing set that you could try your hand (and leg) at. One could easily spend 2-3 hours here and not get
Entry to the Zoo and HMI

Know your way around the wild!

Black Panther


Red Panda
Snow Leopard

Inside the HMI

History Museum
Tenzing climbing rock: This one is a steep rock next to the road and then there is a micro mini version of it on the opposite side of the rope. Here as well, there is a activity that one could indulge in - Rock climbing. It is safe and fun.
Tenzing Rock Climbing for the Enthusiasts
Tea garden: The tea garden was right next to the Tenzing climbing rock. The tea garden was a patch of a bigger tea estate right next to the road which lacked the charm, dust all over the plants, it was not maintained and was definitely not worth being listed on the tour - at least the part that was shown. I have seen better tea gardens than this in Ooty and even on our way from Bagdogra to Darjeeling and was expecting the tea gardens of Darjeeling to be overwhelming at the least.
A view of the tea garden
Tibetian refugee camp: This one, on the other hand was pretty exciting. It had sections for wood craft, paintings, carpets and other artifacts. I also got a chance to witness the process of making carpets by hand. It is a very fine and time consuming art, taking weeks just to complete one piece - all by hand.
Prayer wheel at the Tibetian refugee camp
Carpet making - Work-in-progress
Artist at work
Another hand crafted piece - Work-in-progress
Japanese temple and Peace Pagoda: With this we returned towards the main city and to the Japanese temple. We were lucky to reach at the time of the prayer and joined the monk along with a few visitors. Peace Pagoda is right next to the temple and we were there just in time for witnessing the sun set.
Peace Pagoda
If you were counting, this is just six. Seventh is the ropeway which was closed for most of 2018 due to some unresolved issues with the local administration. (And they say, somethings must be left for a next time :))

While going through these places, there were various avenues to get some snaps of the city and the valleys.

The very next day, we went to a nearby tea garden by the name Happy Valley Tea Estate. This was a few kilometers from our hotel and we decided to go on foot. This was worth the effort and this time I wasn't disappointed. We also took the tea processing tour which was INR100 per person - totally worth it. We also bought a variety of tea that would last us for more than a year.
Happy Valley - Tea processing plant
Tea tasting

A view of the tea estate
Another view of the city from the Happy Valley tea estate
Within the city there were a few places where we spent a lot of time - The Chowk, Chow rasta, Mall road, Mahakal temple, Hill Observatory, botanical garden, Nightingale park and view point.
Center stage @ Chou Rasta
Botanical garden
Mahakal Mandir
Sunset from the Observatory Hill
Exclusive: Thank you for reading until this line. Here are a few things that not all tourists know. Remember the Shahrukh Khan starer movie "Mai Hu Na." Well, it was shot in Darjeeling and the campus used was the St. Paul School. Another one is the Glenary's Bakery and Cafe. Glenary's has a range of offerings for all ages. They have indoor and outdoor seating a view of the city and the hills. It is a must visit and take the outdoor seating. Staying on food - Kunga is a restaurant that you must try if you want a flavor of local food. Lastly, remember that Darjeeling is towards the east and sun sets early here. Meaning, the shops and restaurants close early too. Some as early as 6:00 pm. If you miss this window, you could try the street food as well for another hour or so.
Saint Paul's School Campus - "Mai Hu Na" was shot here

Glenary's Bakery
Moving on to the next most famous tour - three points covering the Tiger hill, Ghoom Monastery and the Batasia loop.

Tiger hill is famous for its sunrise. What makes this sunrise unique is the view of the Kanchenjunga when the first rays of sun fall on it - Golden tip as it is called and you could imagine why? This one requires a 4:00 am departure from the hotel to reach the venue on time. We reached around 4:45 am and there were like hundreds of people already there ahead of us marking their spots for the next couple of hours until the sunrise. The time for sunrise according to Google was 6:10 am. There are coffee vendors who would start guiding your way around this place in exchange of buying coffee from them. One helped us get a decent spot for the sunrise and then we waited. unfortunately, the Kanchenjunga peak was covered by the clouds and we missed the golden tip. It was just like any other sunrise for us, just at a new place with everyone around stepping over you. The place was awfully crowded even in the month of December which is supposed to be an off season. Considering this, the administration is constructing a structure for the visitors to witness this event in an organized manner. Hopefully that would have an advance booking of seats and lesser chaos at the venue.
Sunrise @ Tiger Hill
Ghoom Monastery: Next one on the list is the Ghoom monastery which we learned that is closed at the early hour of the day. Still we could roam around take a couple of pictures and leave for the last spot for the day.
Ghoom Monastery
Batasia Loop: This is the most iconic spot of Darjeeling that would come up in your search or "things to do in Darjeeling". Its a park like place with a central structure in honor of the brave soldiers of our motherland and has an oval track for the toy train. Since it was our last Day in Darjeeling, we could not wait until the arrival of the toy train and left after a quick bite outside the Batasia loop.
Batasia Loop
There is another attraction that we were told about - Mirik Lake. We decide to cover it on our way back to the Bagdogra airport. The entire route is very scenic with some very beautiful tea estates. However, the Mirik lake itself was not up to the mark. It is an artificial lake which has a dense tree line on one side and random establishments on the other. Horse rides are available here if you are interested. Things that make it worth the trip is the scenic beauty of the route to the lake and the Pashupati Market in Nepal that is also en-route.
Mirik Lake
Monastery in Mirik
Darjeeling has a lot of promise and with focused administrative efforts, this hill station can be a better place for the locals and the visitors.
Best time to visit: Recommended between October to February if you want to avoid the heavy crowd. You could also explore renting a two wheeler to explore the city on your own.
How to reach: Nearest airport is Bagdogra (~70KM) and nearest train station is New Jalpaiguri (~75KM). There are buses from Kolkata and Siliguri as well.

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