A unique heritage joyride on the quaintest toy train would take you to "the queen of the hills"- Darjeeling, the most popular hill station in Esatern Himalayas at an altitude of 2250 meters (7500 feet). One can view the entire Singalila range along with Mt. Kanchendzonga, in this enchanting journey where you come across scenic valleys, meandering rivers and lush green tea gardens- the birth place of the muscatel flavoured Darjeeling tea, revered by connoisseurs across the globe. Visit the Ghoom Monastery, Tibetan Refugee Center, P. N. Zoological Park , Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and the Tiger Hills for the most magnificent view of the snow capped contours of the Kanchendzonga Range, as they are painted a brilliant hue of gold, by the hesitant first rays of the sun- truly, a sight to behold and nurture forever!
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.
WBTDC’s Tourist Lodge has 2 parts – main and annexure.
Tel: (0354) 2254411
Rent: Main Building double-bedroom costs Rs. 1,100–600/-. Annexure double-bedroom costs Rs. 500/-. Five bed dormitory costs Rs. 750/- whereas four bed dormitory costs Rs. 700/-.
Darjeeling Gorkha Hill council-run Maple Lodge
Tel: (0354) 2252813
Rent: Double-bedroom costs Rs. 475/-, double-bedroom with breakfast and dinner costs Rs. 1,020–1,175/-; four bed dormitory costs Rs. 1,565/-.
Louis Jubilee Complex is also run by Darjeeling Gurkha Hill Council.
Tel: (0354) 2256395
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 150/-; three bed costs Rs. 175/-; six bed dormitory is Rs. 60/- per bed. Breakfast and dinner are served for an additional cost of Rs. 56/- per head.
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 500/-; double bed suite costs Rs. 600/-.
Tel: (0354) 2257226
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 40800/-
May Fare Resort
Tel: (0354) 2256376
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 5,500/-
Tel: (0354) 2254041
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 5,805/-
Old Belle View
Tel: (0354) 2254178
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 1,000–1,500/-
Tel: (0354) 2254075
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 800–1,500/-
Tel: (0354) 2254563
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 1,400–2,500/-
Tel: (0354) 2254159
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 750–1,150/-
Tel: (0354) 2253561
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 550/-; four bed Rs. 650/- and five bed Rs. 800/-
Tel: (0354) 2253591
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 600–1,000/-; three bed costs Rs. 1,000/-
Tel: (0354) 2257610
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 600/-
Tel: (0354) 2253732
Rent: Double bed costs Rs. 350–550/-; four bed Rs. 400–600/-
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.
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.
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 Lioyd'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.
Other nearby Destinstions
Ava Art Gallery
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 are:
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 1:00 p.m. 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.
The taxi fare for a half day sight seeing is around Rs. 500/-.
Darjeeling District Hospital, Tel: (0354) 2254218. Tibetan medical and Astro Institute, Tel: (0354) 2254735.
CONTACT INFORMATION: Darjeeling Tourist Office, Tel: (0354) 2254050
DGHC Travel Desk (for sight seeing and conducted tours), Silver Fur Building, Bhanu Sarani, Darjeeling– 734101. Tel: (0354) 2254879, 2255351.
Some places in the vicinity are: Rock garden, Piece pagoda, Ava Art Gallery and Lebong.