DARJEELING

Location

Darjeeling is a city and a municipality in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is located in the Lesser Himalayas at an elevation of 2,000 metres (6,700 ft). It is noted for its tea industry, its views of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain, and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Darjeeling is the headquarters of the Darjeeling district which has a partially autonomous status called Gorkhaland Territorial Administration within the state of West Bengal. It is also a popular tourist destination in India.

History

The recorded history of the town starts from the early 19th century when the colonial administration under the British Raj set up a sanatorium and a military depot in the region. Subsequently, extensive tea plantations were established in the region and tea growers developed hybrids of black tea and created new fermentation techniques. The resultant distinctive Darjeeling tea is internationally recognised and ranks among the most popular black teas in the world.The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway connects the town with the plains and has some of the few steam locomotives still in service in India.

Darjeeling has several British-style private schools, which attract pupils from all over India and a few neighbouring countries. The varied culture of the town reflects its diverse demographic milieu comprising Lepcha, Khampa, Gorkha, Newar, Sherpa, Bhutia, Bengali and other mainland Indian ethno-linguistic groups. Darjeeling, alongside its neighbouring town of Kalimpong, was the centre of the Gorkhaland social movement in the 1980s and summer 2017.

How to go

By air: The nearest airport to Darjeeling is Bagdogra which is approximately 95 km away from the city. There are some direct flights from the cities like Kolkata, Delhi and Guwahati to Darjeeling. From the airport, one can reach the city by hiring taxis. It will take almost 3 hours to reach Darjeeling from the airport. Flights are available from all major cities.

By rail: The nearest railway station to Darjeeling is New Jalpaiguri which connects the city with all the major parts of the country. There are a number of trains from cities like Kolkata, Delhi, Guwahati, Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Bhubaneshwar and Kochi. People can hire private cabs from the station to reach Darjeeling.

By road: Darjeeling is well connected to some of the major cities closeby such as Gangtok and Kalimpong which are located at a distance of 100 km and 51 km respectively. The city is also connected with Kolkata which is 651 km away and it takes around 14 hours to reach here. The capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu is just 310 KM away from this beautiful place.

Places to visit

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway:  A visit to the city of Darjeeling is incomplete without a joyride at the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway toy train. Moving at a snail pace over the hilly terrain, it is an experience no one wants to miss.

Tiger Hill: If you want to witness the first rays of sun hitting the twin peaks of Kangchenjunga, along with a panoramic view of Everest peeping through the peaks standing by its side, then Tiger Hills make for a perfect sunrise for you. You can see Kurseong to the south along with multiple rivers flowing down. Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary is another nearby attraction you could visit – the place inhabits various high-altitude animals and bird.

Batasia Loop: Located around 5 km from Darjeeling, Batasia loop is a spiral railway track where the toy train takes a complete 360 degree turn. The toy train descends by 1,000 ft. as it completes the loop through a large circular area.

Darjeeling Ropeway: Darjeeling Ropeway is a cable car circuit where one can witness a myriad of exquisite landscapes, from the glorious snow-capped mountains to the charming valley replete with verdant tea estates.

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute: The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, commonly known as HMI Darjeeling, was established on November 4, 1954 primarily to encourage mountaineering as an organized sport in India. HMI regularly conducts Adventure, Basic and Advanced levels of mountaineering courses which are very comprehensive courses. These courses are highly subsidised to encourage mountaineering as a sport.

Nightingle Park: This park was earlier called ‘The Shrubbery’ when it was a private courtyard. The park was closed for renovation for about four years and has reopened for public since 2011. There is a giant statue of Lord Shiva, a musical fountain along with the great scenery.

Darjeeling Rock Garden: The Rock Garden or the Barbotey Garden as it’s commonly known is located a little far from the city around ~10 km away. The benches in the garden are made by cutting rocks at different levels.

River rafting in Teesta:  White Water Rafting in the River Teesta is one of the most exciting things to do in Darjeeling. A favourite among the adventure junkies, the rafting has a series of rapids ranging from Grade 1 to 4. However, the difficult rapids are only allowed to the professionals or the seasonal trainers as it is risky. You should definitely try this activity when in Darjeeling.

Why should you visit Darjeeling?

View of Himalayas: Darjeeling offers some breath taking panoramas from almost any guesthouse or hotel in town that has a roof terrace. Try Magnolia Residency for a hearty breakfast and amazing sunrise views, or follow the pilgrims out to Tiger Hill for stunning vistas of the snow-capped mountain Kanchenjunga. Like a guard that towers over the town and standing at 8,598 metres, it is India’s highest peak and the third highest in the word. If you are lucky on a clear day you might even catch a glimpse of Mount Everest glinting in the distance as Tibetan prayer flags flutter around you in the breeze.

Tea: A visit to Darjeeling would not be complete without sampling a steaming hot cup of the internationally acclaimed Darjeeling tea. With a distinct flavour like no other tea it is best served black, with no milk or sugar to distract from the delicate flavours said to have notes of apricot and toasted nuts; And when you have had enough of drinking the tea, head down to Happy Valley Tea Estate, (an organic farm and member of the ethical tea board) for a guided tour of their tea factory. By the time you leave you will know the difference between whole leaf, first blush and oxidisation like a seasoned pro. Once the tour is finished, be sure to take a long walk through the tea terraces for spectacular views and a glimpse of the tea pickers in action. The Happy Valley Factory tour is free, running from 8am-4pm every day except Sunday. If you can, try to arrive before 11.30am to see the pickers at work in the fields.

Colourful houses: Nothing sums up Darjeeling’s character and atmosphere quite like its collection of pastel-hued houses stacked up almost on top of each other – clinging to the hillside in a type of ramble shackle beauty. Walks around town and further afield will throw up houses in all shades of the rainbow – the perfect setting for the vibrant culture of the people who live here.

Taste of Britain: If you are feeling nostalgic for good ol’ British cucumber sandwiches and cream scones then Darjeeling will satisfy all your cravings. Formally a military hill station set up by the British armed forces in the mid 19th century, they left their imprint on the place in the form of Afternoon Tea. Darjeeling is still home to a few colonial style hotels that serve up traditional British fare like cheese and pickle sandwiches, Victoria sponge and of course lashing of locally grown Darjeeling tea. Try the Windamere Hotel for a step back in time and have high tea served to you while warming your bones in front of their open coal fire.

The food: Being a border town with so many fascinating neighbouring cuisines it is no wonder Darjeeling has so much to offer for your taste buds. For truly Indian flavours you can sample crispy Dosas served with hot samba and coconut chutney at the tourist hot spot Hasty Tasty. This place also has spectacular views over the mountains. For more international tastes warm up with a hearty bowl of Tibetan Thukpa (soup made with noodles, meat and broth) and deliciously plump Momos (dumplings filled with meat or vegetables) and wash it all down with a cup of sweet and salty Yak Butter Tea. Visit the family run restaurant Kunga – a favourite among the locals and known for truly authentic Tibetan flavours.