TEA TOWN BY THE HIMALAYAS
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a little toy train that chugs up the mountain at about 13 kilometres an hour. It’s an ideal pace to wind through thick forests of oak, maple, chestnut, walnut, pear, cherry and cardamom plants. The rolling slopes are carpeted with tea plantations, interspersed with rhodendrons, magnolias and orchids, and Tibetan flags flutter on the Hussel Khola stream. There is a steady, perceptible drop in atmospheric temperature as you putter along, especially as the train reaches Ghoom, the highest point of its journey at 7,407 feet. From here, it descends 1,000 feet through an incredible 5-kilometre loop to arrive at Darjeeling. As you get off the train, you notice how cold it is compared to when you boarded the train at Siliguri or New Jalpaiguri.
Darjeeling, the land of tea plantations and one of the most popular hill stations in India, is situated at an altitude of 6,710 feet in the Mahabharat or Lesser Himalaya range, right beside the spectacular Himalayas. Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain peak, is always in the backdrop. Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain peak, may briefly appear amid the clouds on a clear day.
As fascinating as the natural landscape are the natives of the hills of Darjeeling, the Lepchas, the Gorkhas, the Sherpas, and the Bhutias with their distinctive Nepali and Tibetan influence. Tibetan noodle soup called Thupka and the Tibetan momo, steamed dumplings of vegetables or meat wrapped in dough and served in soup, are the most cherished foods. Tibetan thangkas (silk paintings with Buddhist themes), singing bowls, and prayer wheels are as popular takeaways as Darjeeling tea.
The days in Darjeeling fly past as you visit high-altitude monasteries and tea gardens, bite into momos, and tap singing bowls.
- Area: 3,149 sq km
- Altitude: 6,710 ft (Darjeeling town)
- State: West Bengal
- Distance from nearby towns/ cities: Mirik (50 km), Siliguri (80 km), Kurseong (35 km), Kalimpong (51 km), Gangtok (115 km), Kolkata (665 km)
- Take away: Darjeeling tea, famous for its musky spicy taste and aroma, is a must-buy. Pouches of various varieties of the tea make great gifts too. Thangka, a Tibetan silk painting with embroidery that depicts a Buddhist deity, a scene from a story, or mandala, is another cherished buy. Apart from these, the markets of Darjeeling are full of Tibetan and Himalayan handicrafts and religious objects that make wonderful souvenirs.
#1. DOW HILL FOREST: ONE OF THE MOST HAUNTED PLACES IN INDIA
Located at a distance of one hour from Darjeeling, the Dow Hill forest is the most mysterious locale of Kurseong. Urban legends confirm haunted and supernatural phenomenon surrounding the forest which add to its mysticism. It's rumoured that the many unnatural deaths and suicides surrounding the place have earned it the nickname of 'Suicide Forest'.
#2. Keventer's Restaurant: The Breakfast Haven
Darjeeling is well renowned for Keventer’s Restaurant and the exquisite sumptuous breakfast served there. Since years, its delectable English breakfasts have attracted several tourists. The most popular of them is the mouth-watering spread of salver served with ham, bacon and eggs. The restaurant also has a popular roof terrace which is a delight for natural ambient lovers. What’s more? Anurag Basu’s acclaimed movie ‘Barfi’ starring Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra was shot on this very open roof.
#3. SNOW LEOPARD: THE ENDANGERED WILD CAT
Darjeeling is the natural habitat of snow leopards - an endangered species of wild cat. Similar to leopards but smaller in size, these wild cats primarily live in mountainous regions. Darjeeling's Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park serves as a breeding centre for snow leopards as an initiative to save this endangered species.
#4. CHATTAKPUR, WHERE ECOLOGY MEETS NATURE
With the blend of exotic hills, picturesque huts and lush terrain, Chattakpur scores high as the perfect eco-village to take on for your trekking adventures. For birdwatchers, this village is a paradise as some of the rarest birds flock together here. Located at a distance of one hour from Darjeeling, this village is well-maintained by the Forest Department of West Bengal.
#5.SANDAKPHU: THE MISTY MOUNTAINS COLD
The highest peak of West Bengal, Sandakphu rests around a 2-hour drive from Darjeeling. Situated on the edge of Singalila National Park, the summit offers breathtaking views of nature’s snow-lands of the Singalila Ridge and the peaks Kanchenjunga , Everest, Lhotse and Makalu. The peak of Sandakphu is accessible both by car and by trekking. Since the mountain roads are sometimes too rough to cover, trekking from Singalila National Park offers an alternative adventure.
#6. BOAT ORCHID: A TREAT FOR THE EYES
Darjeeling is home to Cymbidium or Boat Orchid, a visually alluring orchid which grows in nurseries all over in Darjeeling. The unique thing about this orchid is that it is a delicacy for people from Bhutanese origins, as they cook it in a spicy curry or stew called 'olatshe' or 'olachoto'.
LATPANCHAR: BIRDWATCHER’S PARADISE
At a one and a half hour drive from Darjeeling, lies Latpanchar, the highest point of Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. A fascinating place for photographers and birdwatchers, this place hosts a plethora of migratory birds in various seasons. As for the wildlife sanctuary, animals like deer, barking deer, wild boars, leopards and elephants can be found in abundance. The plantations of Cinchona adorn the region as well which add the right bit of mysticism to this awe-inspiring place.
#8. GHOOM MONASTERY: A SLICE OF TIBET
The Yogi Choeling Monastery, popularly known as the Ghoom Monastery, is a Buddhist place of worship and spiritual training that was built in 1875. Located at Ghoom (or Ghum) at about 8 km above of Darjeeling, this monastery has a collection of rare Buddhist scriptures and text. The serenity of this place intrigues and captivates tourists from all over the world with their essence and culture of Tibet and Buddhism.
#9. CORONATION BRIDGE: THE RIVER GATEWAY TO DARJEELING
Also known as the Sevoke Bridg, the Coronation Bridge spans over the Teesta River connecting the districts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri. Named to commemorate the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937, this bridge is a renowned architecture in the landscape of Darjeeling. The gateway of this steel-crafted bridge is adorned by two lions giving it the nickname of ‘Baghpul’ (Tiger Bridge). The entire bridge is built on a fixed arch which was tactically constructed to support the bridge on the bed of Teesta River. While travelling from Siliguri, this bridge welcomes tourists to Darjeeling.
#10. ST. MARY’S HILL: A MILLION DOLLAR VIEW
St. Mary’s Hill is a beautiful tourist place in Kurseong, located at an hour's drive from Darjeeling. Surrounded with lush green forests, the hill stands as one of the best picnic spots near Darjeeling. It also hosts the Church of St. Mary’s situated near its peak along with the beautiful Church of St. John’s. There is also a renowned statue of Mary and Jesus at a cave called St. Mary’s Grotto. Famous for its architectural brilliance, this one keeps the tourist mesmerised.
#11. PHAGSHAPA: FIERY FLAVOUR FIESTA
The cuisine of Darjeeling has heavy influences from Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. Phagshapa, is one of the exotic dishes that one must try out on a visit to Darjeeling. The dish consists of a preparation made from fried pork with chilies and radish put in the mix to enhance the flavour. Since no other spices are added, the taste and the aroma of the chilies are well highlighted in its taste. A Nepali platter by origin, Phagshapa is well cherished by the local residents as well as tourists alike.
#12. RED PANDA : DARJEELING'S RED CAT BEAR Known as the lesser panda or the red-cat bear, the Red Panda is an endangered arboreal mammal whose conservation measures are well catered to in Darjeeling at the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park. The red panda’s diet thrives on mainly on bamboo shoot and leaves and small fruits from trees. Being slightly larger than a domestic cat – the red panda looks adorable in its reddish brown fur and its long shaggy tail.
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8C°C – 25°C
-1°C – 10°C
Jun to Sep
BEST TIME TO VISIT
March to mid-June and September to November are the best months to visit Darjeeling. By end-June, heavy rains make this town damp and dark, while temperatures fall below freezing point in December to February.
The spring months of April-May are the ideal time to see the flowers like rhododendrons, roses, dahlias, etc in full bloom.