So fancying a trip to Darjeeling? You must be lured by the dazzling snow peaks of Kanchenjunga overlooking the hill town? And the beautiful tea gardens on the slopes of rolling hills, the orchids, pines & rhododendrons, the cute Himalayan toy train whistling its way through the mountains? And you want to combine all that with great sightseeing tours, food, shopping and other exciting activities. Right?
Just to give you a head start about the place, Darjeeling hill town is located at an altitude of 6,710 ft. in north east India and is part of the state of West Bengal. The nearest airport is Bagdogra and the nearest major railway junction is New Jalpaiguri (NJP).
It takes about 3 hours to reach Darjeeling from both these locations by car. Private taxis (available at NJP and Bagdogra), shared taxis (available at NJP) and bus (from Siliguri bus stand, only 8 kms from NJP) are the main public transports to reach Darjeeling from NJP station or Bagdogra airport. Alternatively, you can take the fascinating toy train from NJP or Siliguri all the way up to Darjeeling soaking in the Himalayan beauty over some 7 hours.
NOTE: Only private taxis are available at Bagdogra airport, no bus service, shared taxis or toy train. Unlike in Gangtok, there is no helicopter service from Bagdogra to Darjeeling. You need to go by road and negotiate steep & winding mountain roads.
You will see numerous sprawling tea estates in Darjeeling that produce world’s best tea, as well as the amazing narrow gauge Toy Train - an engineering marvel which could overcome the steep gradients and curves of the mountains and provided a scenic railway transportation in the hills. Residents are mostly immigrant Nepalese (predominantly Gorkhas), Tibetans, as well as some Lepchas and Bhutias from Sikkim. Nepalese are mostly Hindus while Tibetans follow Buddhism. When you compare them with the people of lower plains, they are quite different both in looks and culture. It’s an amazing world out there. But they are warm and tourist friendly.
The town center of Darjeeling is known as Mall or Chowrasta, which is a flat open public square, a pedestrian only zone free of vehicular traffic and surrounded by colorful stores with backdrop of mountains and valleys. Mall or Chowrasta is the town square.
Most tourists try to stay near the Mall area to be close to hub of all activities, restaurants and shops. So due to high demand, numerous hotels of all types have mushroomed near the Mall area. Alternatively you can stay a bit away, enjoy nature & views, and a location relatively free of crowd. During spring, summer and autumn, the weather in Darjeeling is pleasantly cool and perfect for city dwellers who flock in volumes during such time. Many come to enjoy the rains in monsoon and chill in the winter as well. And when such visits are combined with wonderful views of snow peaks and valleys, tea gardens, forests & flowering plantations, amazing sightseeing tours & activities, great food & stays, and all at affordable prices... won’t you love a vacation like that?
Darjeeling Tourist Attractions___________________________________________
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) and the amazing Darjeeling Zoo:
HMI is a destination by itself and a said to be a pilgrimage for all climbing enthusiasts of the world. It was established in honor of Tenzing Norgay after he and Sir Edmund Hillary climbed the Everest in 1953. It has a well stocked museum with mountaineering displays and many expedition artifacts, a boarding school for mountaineering students, houses for the trainers, a restaurant, a souvenir shop and more. HMI is located on Jawahar Road or the Birch Hill that can be accessed from the Mall Road and Lebong Cart Road. One can actually walk down Mall road & then Jawahar road to reach HMI.
The main entrance to Zoo and HMI are the same and both should be covered at the same time. The unique feature of this zoo is, it 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.
Located at the highest point in Darjeeling area, Tiger Hill is best known for the dazzling sunrise view of the Kanchenjunga and the snow covered peaks of the entire eastern Himalayan range. On a clear day you can even see the mount Everest from here. Tiger Hill is located 11km from the Darjeeling Town and takes about 40 minutes to reach by car.
Located 5km from Darjeeling Town and just below Ghoom, Batasia Loop as the name suggests, is a loop or a spiral of a narrow gauge railway track where the Toy Train negotiates a sudden sharp descent from Ghoom. It’s a wonderful viewing place with manicured gardens, streams and falls, from where you can get a wide range view of the Darjeeling’s landscape, Kanchenjunga and the other Eastern Himalayan peaks.
This is one way you can be part of special diverse offerings from the nature and all in one place. From the ropeway of Darjeeling which is also known as the Rangeet Valley Passenger Cable Car, you can have mind blowing view of the valley below, see the spread of lush tea gardens, dense forests, mountain streams in their full flow, waterfalls, and the awesome snow peaks at the background. Get off at a lower station and enjoy the tea estates, walk through the tea gardens, or just relax and enjoy the view around. It’s hard to find all these together in one place.
Darjeeling Mall (Chowrasta):
The Chowrasta or the Mall is the town center in Darjeeling. This is a lovely little flat area, a public square where four roads meet. This public place is where you would like to lounge & bake in the sun, sit and watch the wonderful views of the mountain range and see many locals and tourists hanging around. One side of the mall is lined with pine trees through which you get wonderful mountain vistas, the other side is lined with lovely boutique shops of different kinds. And all around the mall, you have benches to sit and relax.
Rock Garden & Ganga Maya Park:
These two are scenic parks in wonderful settings located a few miles away from the Darjeeling town. Rock garden is about 10km and Ganga Maya is another 3km from there. Rock Garden is all about terraced gardens at different levels that have been cut through the rocks having a waterfalls with nice seating arrangements. Ganga Maya is more spread out and has a beautiful stream flowing through it on a valley, has flower gardens, fountains and more.
Japanese Temple & Peace Pagoda:
About 10 minutes by car, you will reach a wonderful area that is symbolic of peace and tranquility. Located in the Jalapahar hill, the Japanese Temple is built in traditional Japanese style where you can join the prayers and feel the spiritual peace amongst humming and chants. Close to it is the Peace Pagoda where there are four large avatars of Lord Buddha. The view from the top is magnificent. You can see the snow peak range from here including the Kanchenjunga.
Bengal Natural History Museum:
What started as a modest effort in 1903 to display butterflies and birds of the Darjeeling district, has grown to house a large collections of mammals, birds & nests with eggs, reptiles & fishes and even insects of wide varieties. The displays are actually specimens of real creatures that had been captured, stuffed and preserved. The Bengal Natural History Museum can be reached by few minutes walk from the Chowrasta Mall.
Observatory Hill and Mahakal Temple:
Rising from behind the Mall, Observatory Hill is an ideal place to get a 360 degree view of Darjeeling and the peaks surrounding it. The Mahakal Temple, the central temple of Darjeeling of all faiths is located on top of the hill where the original Dorjeling Buddhist Monastery once stood.
Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center:
This center was established on October 2nd, 1959 for rehabilitation of Tibetans who followed Dalai Lama and escaped their homeland during the period of mayhem. In order to sustain living, they adopted the principle of self help. The center is located on a hill top that can be approached from the Lebong Cart Road. You can see Tibetan men and women making exquisite hand crafted items like woolen carpets, shawls, carved wooden crafts, leather items and more. There is an outlet at the center from where you can buy these items.
Happy Valley Tea Estate:
It is time to enjoy the sprawling tea estate that is spread across 437 acres. Your trip to Darjeeling remains incomplete till you visit the Happy Valley Tea Estate, which is Darjeeling’s oldest tea estate and was established in 1854. If you are touring Darjeeling between March and May, then you are likely to see the plucking process. The Happy Valley Tea Estate is approximately 3 kilometers away from Darjeeling town and I must say that tea lovers are surely going to like this place… because of the sweet flavour blending with the atmosphere.
Tenzing and Gombu Rock:
A memorial to Tenzing Norgay and Nawang Gombu, the Tenzing and Gombu Rock are said to be a pilgrimage for mountaineers. Located approximately at distance of a 20 minutes drive from Darjeeling, these two are massive natural rock formations where rock climbing training is given by the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Tenzing himself used to practice on the one named after him.
The largest monastery in Ghoom, which was built in 1875 by Lama Sherab Gyatso and belongs to the Gelug sect, the Ghoom Monastery is one of the major Buddhist pilgrimage places in Darjeeling district. It is approximately 8 kilometers from Darjeeling town. Besides the prayer hall, the monastery houses a 15 feet high statue of “Maitreya Buddha”, images of Buddha’s disciples, and many Buddhist texts.
Perched on a steep hill and approximately 5 kilometers away from Darjeeling town, the Dali Monastery which was originally named as Druk Sangag Choling Monastery, is yet another important Buddhist pilgrimage center belonging to the Kargyupa sect. It was built in 1971 during the time of Kyabje Thuksey Rinpoche. It houses a prayer room, a Tibetan school, a coffee shop and residences belonging to over 200 monks. The monastery also maintains huge cylindrical golden coloured drums.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway_________________________________________
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the DHR or "Toy Train", is a 2 ft (610 mm) narrow-gauge railway that runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling in the Indian state of West Bengal, India. Built between 1879 and 1881, the railway is about 88 km (55 mi) long. Its elevation level varies from about 100 m (328 ft) at New Jalpaiguri to about 2,200 m (7,218 ft) at Darjeeling.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the first, and still the most outstanding example of a hill passenger Railway. Open in 1881, it applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing and effect rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is still fully operational and retains most of its original features intact.
The Darjeeling line was built to a gauge of 2 feet (600mm) to enable the line to traverse the tightly twisting route through the hills. In 1886, though, the well tanks and under cylinder wings were retained, a narrow saddle tank was inserted between the dome and the chimney, partly to get increased water capacity and partly to get better balance between the axle loads with the pull on the draw bar. Regarding the Official opening date of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) are, from Siliguri to Kurseong is 23-08- 1880, from Kurseong to Sonada 01-08- 1881, Sonada to Jorebunglow 05-04- 1881, Jorebunglow to Darjeeling 04-07- 1881 and from Darjeeling to Darjeeling Bazar is 16-06-1886. Usually the construction stage, light engines are worked on the section much before the official date of opening.
The DHR was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999, later two more railway lines were added and the site then became known as Mountain Railways of India. To be nominated as World Heritage site on the World Heritage List, the particular site or property needs to fulfill a certain set of criteria, which are expressed in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and its corresponding Operational Guidelines.The site must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. The protection, management, authenticity and integrity of properties are also important considerations.
Toy Train Joyride - Darjeeling to Ghum & Back:
Toy train joy rides operate from Darjeeling Railway Station. It’s a 2-hour round trip from Darjeeling up to Ghum and back covering a total distance of 14kms. There are four such round trips in a day, two in the morning half and two in the afternoon. The train stops for 10 minutes at the Batasia Loop. At Batasia the train makes a loop around a wonderful manicured garden. The view of Darjeeling town and the snow peaks of Kanchenjunga from here are unparalleled. The War Memorial built in honor of the Gorkha soldiers who sacrificed their lives is located at the center of the Garden. Ghum is the highest altitude station on the Darjeeling Himalayan Rail track. Altitude of Ghum is 2225.7 meters (7407 ft). Here the toy train stops for 30 minutes for a visit to Darjeeling Himalayan Railway museum. The DHR Museum is located at the station premises. The highlight here is the oldest toy train engine - The Baby Sivok. The entree fee to the museum is included in the ticket price. DHR sends by post a certificate validating your ride on the toy train so that you can cherish the memories of your ride.