DARJEELING
ABOUT THE PLACE

The year 1828, two Britishers, Lloyd and Grant, reached a tiny sleepy Himalayan village. They were won over by the snow-capped mountains, the virgin forests and the uncanny similarity with the British climate reminded them of their homeland far away. The British government, complying with their wishes, forced the then ruler of Sikkim to give the tiny village of ‘Darjeeling’ as a gift. It became an instant hit with the British who were desperately on the look-out for a place to escape from the heat and illness that plagued the plains. They decked up Darjeeling with cottages, clubs, hotels and churches. A narrow gage train line was constructed to facilitate communication, since the journey by road was pretty tiresome. By 1840, work was in progress for setting up tree plantations. With laying of railway tracks, the business boomed. After independence, Darjeeling’s popularity as a tourist-spot escalated considerably. But the present hill-town poses a sorry picture with unplanned encroachments, water-crisis and the subsequent strain on climate and ecology. But tourists, Indians and foreigners alike, flock in hordes still as they are unable to ignore the magnetic charm of mighty Kanchenjunga. The central point is the Mall, from which a circular road goes to the Observatory Hill and back.


HOW TO REACH

Come to Siliguri by car or bus from the nearest airport Bagdogra or the nearest railhead New Jalpaiguri. From there buses, taxis and jeeps are ready to take you to Darjeeling. During tourist-season, the vehicles are available from New Jalpaiguri station itself. Those who will take the route from Gangtok or Kalimpong will get abundant buses, taxis and jeeps from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. to cover the distance of 51 km from the latter.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Avoid the monsoons; best time to visit is from October to November and from April to June. December to March is cold, no doubt, but not uncomfortable at all.

ACCOMMODATION

government run tourist lodges, private hotels and resorts, including heritage stays

GETTING AROUND

The Mall

The central point of the town is the Mall. Tourists throng this place to enjoy horse riding, chitchat in the roadside coffee shops, to buy books from Oxford Bookshop, or simply to spend some leisurely time sitting on the wooden benches at the ledge of the Mall and witnessing the mischievous cloud suddenly shrouding the Mall premise and leaving it gradually. A circular road from the Mall goes to the Observatory Hill and back.


Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park

Popularly known as Darjeeling Zoo, the park can be reached after almost half-an-hour walk from the Mall. The park is open everyday, except Thursday, from 8:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m. Entry fee is Rs. 10/- per head. It houses a number of rare species like Siberian Tiger, Snow-leopard, Tibetan Wolf, Himalayan Black Bear, and Red Panda. The Himalayan Nature Interpretation Centre is inside the park and is open from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Do not miss out the Snow-Leopard Breeding Centre adjacent to the zoo.


Himalayan Mountaineering Institute

The Mountaineering Museum and the HMI Everest Museum inside the Institute are worth visiting. While the former showcases various mountaineering equipments, samples of Himalayan flora and fauna, the later displays the history of attempts on the Everest with the aid of photographs and biographies of the eminent summiteers.
The Institute is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. everyday except Thursday. Entry fee costs Rs 10/- per head.


Observatory Hill

The Observatory Hill is at the northwest of Chowrasta and is considered a sacred place for Hindus due to the Mahakal Temple in a small cave just a few steps down the hill. Buddhists also revere this place because it was once the site of the Dorje Ling Monasteray, from which the place came to be known as Darjeeling. The roads are decorated with bright red and yellow festoons.


Tiger Hill

The surreal beauty of sun rising from behind the snow-crowned mighty Himalayan peaks and gradually spreading its rays all over the sky is awesome. Jeeps are to be booked well in advance for a trip to Tiger Hill to see the sunrise at a fare of Rs 450–500/- per jeep. Shared jeeps are also available from Gandhi Road – previously known as Laden La Road – at a cost of Rs 65/- per head between 4:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. These vehicles leave Darjeeling for a ‘sunrise trip’ at around 4:30 a.m. Rs 5/- per person is charged to stand on the Tiger Hill pavilion. Climbing the pavilion one has to wait patiently for the sun to peep in from the horizon.

Upon sunrise the 250 km long mountain-range, adorned with peaks like Lotze, Mt. Everest, Makalu, Kokang, Janu, Rahtong, Kabru, Kanchenjunga, Pandim, Simbho and Siniyalchu etc is visible on a clear day from Tiger Hill (2,590 metres). However, all depends on the weather condition. A clear, cloudless sky will reveal a spectacular vision of the great Himalayan mountain ranges.

On the way back, one can pay a visit to the town’s drinking-water reserve, Lake Sinchal. Permission is given for picnic on the lovely garden lying beside the Lake. Take a toy-train ride or hire a car for a sight-see of Ghum Monastery and Batasia Loop.


And the Rest

A road from the Mall leads to ‘Step Aside’ – the house of the eminent Bengali freedom fighter Chittaranjan Das.

Cross the Tibetan Refugee Centre to arrive at the Bhutia Basti Gompha. At the Handicrafts Centre you can buy carpets, woolen goods, richly carved articles made of wood made by the Tibetan refugees. The Natural History Museum (1903), presently in a state of neglect, houses some taxidermy of local animals that help give some idea about the flora-fauna of the locality.

The Lloyd's Botanical Garden (1878), a few steps below the major bus-terminus, boasts of an enviable collection of flowers and orchids. Moreover, there is Alubari gompha, Dheerdham Temple, North Point Passenger Ropeway, Gangamaya Park, Gombu Rock etc.


TRAVEL TIPS • Reserve a day or two totally for a trip to the Buddhist monasteries. The evolution pattern is clearly discernable if you compare the older ones with the new, especially in terms of wall-paintings, use of colours, shape and size of the articles worship etc. Not much change, though, has occurred in terms of the temple architecture.

• A short trip to Ghum in toy-train would be quite enjoyable. The timings of train between Darjeeling and Ghum:

The first train starts at 11:00 a.m. from Darjeeling and reaches Ghum in an hour. The same train starts at 12:20 p.m. to reach Darjeeling at one o' clock. The second train reaches Ghum after departing at 2:00 p.m., and starts for Darjeeling 20 minutes afterwards to reach Darjeeling in the afternoon.


• An employee of Eastern Bengal Railway, Franklin Prestage, drew the plans of the narrow gauge train running from Siliguri to Darjeeling, the official name of which was Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. In 1880 March, the train had its first run between Siliguri and Tindharia. In 1881, it reached Darjeeling for the very first time. It has been accredited the covetable World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1999, the second only train to have achieved such a glory. The railway-line from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling covers a distance of 88 km, and almost crosses the road parallel to it for 177 times. Three loops fall on the way, the largest of which is the Batasia loop.
• North point Passenger Ropeway or Darjeeling Rangeet Valley Ropeway is India’s first ropeway.