“The sky lit up in crimson and turned into shades of saffron
As I waited for the magic to happen
Gold engulfed the Kanchenjunga on the sides
And the Sun popped up right before my eyes.
Of sunrises and sunsets, I keep chasing
I learned my best was in Darjeeling.”
The British tyrannical rule in India has gifted the country with some of the prettiest jewels in terms of picturesque hill stations. These idyllic locations that served mostly as the summer retreats for the British officials are now remnants of an era that was elemental in shaping the very essence of this country. The existing colonial architecture is like a glimpse into the bygone era of the British rule and a heritage that has been carefully preserved by the people of these places. You may find such architecture in various parts of the country including Mussorie, Shimla, Manali and Darjeeling.
Darjeeling is a quaint hill station in the lap of Eastern Himalayas in India. Previously a part of Sikkim, Darjeeling was given to the East India Company as a gift from the king of Sikkim in the year 1835. Apparently, Lt. General Lloyd identified the potential of Darjeeling to be turned into a British sanatorium. The British also assessed the strategic implications of such a location adjacent to Nepal and Bhutan and agreed to construct facilities that would be ideal for British nationals for healing or vacation purposes. Thus Darjeeling started its eternal romance with Tea and from being an uninhabitable piece of mountainous terrain transformed into the most sought after hill station among the British as well as the Indian elite’.
How to Reach
The nearest airport is Bagdogra and the nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal. Shared cabs are easily available from both the airport and railway stations. You may also get shared cabs from Tenzing Norgay Bus Stand in Siliguri (near NJP and Bagdogra). The fares shouldn’t be anything more than Rs 200 per head. These cabs are mostly SUV s like Scorpio, Bolero etc.
You may also book an entire cab for the journey, the charges of which should be around Rs 3000 for the entire vehicle. Darjeeling can be reached within 3-4 hrs from Bagdogra/NJP depending on the traffic and road conditions. Traffic jams in the mountains are way different than the traffic jams of cities. The roads are very narrow and steep and one blockage may lead to hours of being stuck in a jam that doesn’t move uphill or downhill.
Where to stay
Well, I stayed at a lovely hotel called Hotel North Star located at 11, H.D. Lama Road in Darjeeling. The hotel is located near the Orient Line and the Chowrasta or the Mall Road is just a five-minute walk. The view from the Town View rooms is pretty awesome. You can see the entire Kanchenjunga range above and below the verve of an ever busy Golghar area (known for its awesome shoe shops) will keep you transfixed. The hotel has a functional kitchen that serves delicious food and is well maintained by a bunch of lovely staff. The bell boy Arif was a delight to talk to. All in all this place is worth every penny you pay.
Places to see.
Everything in Darjeeling is a spectacle. If you are awestruck by the flamboyance of every colonial structure you see or have chased sunrises all your life for that one absolutely brilliant shot, then know that you are in the right place. Darjeeling can never fail to satiate the wanderlust in you.
Let’s take you on a clichéd but unbeatable touristy trail in Darjeeling.
Mahakal Temple, Observatory Hill.
You may not be the religious kind of traveler but you got to see this temple. Located atop the Observatory hill this place gives you a breathtaking view of the city. The temple is believed to have been the location of an ancient monastery called the Darjeeling Monastery built by Lama Dorje Rinzing. However, in 1815 it was destroyed by Gorkha invasion and the location was shifted to Bhutia Busty. The temple is located at the rear side of the Mall Road and the trail leading up to this temple is absolutely stunning.
Andrew’s Church, Chauk Bazar.
One glimpse at this church and you are kind of teleported to some other era in some other country. This old Anglican Church looks like it is right out of some picturesque Scottish countryside. If you walk on the left Mall Road then you can see that the church is located near the Bhanu Bhawan and overlooks the Loreto College now know as the Southfield College.
Chowrasta or Mall
A culmination of four roads, Chowrasta is a bustling location with locals, travelers, and hawkers. You may spot kids practicing the Cartwheel or other such B-boying stunts or children merrily riding their scooters or tourists busy clicking pictures before the golden statue of Bhanu Bhakta Acharya, a highly accomplished Nepali poet who translated the Ramayana from Sanskrit o Nepali language. This place is everything that a city center should be, the streets flanked by some of the oldest curio shops to restaurants serving the best dumplings or even the stench of horse shit is also oddly satisfying.
If you go to Darjeeling and don’t watch the sunrise from the Tiger Hill, then you have seen nothing at all. It is believed that the great poet Rabindranath Tagore had visited this haven numerous times just to catch a glimpse of the breathtaking sunrise but failed every single time.
A world heritage site, Tiger Hill can mesmerize you beyond imagination with the spellbinding sunrise and its subsequent lighting up of the entire Kanchenjunga range. You have to be very very lucky to be able to see sunrise here if you are visiting during the monsoon months as the view gets disrupted by clouds most of the time.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park.
Both these establishments are adjacent to each other and form an important part of the itinerary while sightseeing Darjeeling. The Zoological Park hasn’t been well maintained lately but I remember during my childhood years this place used to be full of animals all around and was indeed a treat to inquisitive souls such as mine.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute also houses a museum where you can see many artifacts carefully preserved from the successful expeditions apart from the other things on display.
Rock Garden and Ganga Maya Park
After traversing through serpentine narrow roads spiraling downward you reach this beautiful location adorned by waterfalls on one side and huge rocks and the mountain on the other. This is a perfect place to rewind and simply immerse in the tranquility that this place has to offer. Both these spots are adjacent to each other and are far from the noisy honking of the city
Orange Valley Tea Estate
Earlier it was the famous Happy Valley Tea Estate that the tourists were taken to, now it’s the Orange Valley Tea Estate. This is a valley overlooking vast expanses of tea plantation across the mountainous slopes that in a single word is spellbinding. I have seen many tea plantations in the flat lands of Dooars in West Bengal but these tea plantations remind me of the Temi Tea Estate in Sikkim. Picturesque tea shrubs carpeting the slopes of the hills are indeed a treat for the eyes.
An exquisitely beautiful monastery located at a distance of around 5km from the city, this monastery has a huge statue of Lord Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava, and goddess Tara and Manjushri. The actual name of this monastery is Druk Sangag Choling Monastery.
Peace Pagoda and Japanese Temple.
The Japanese Temple is also named as Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple. The chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo reverberates throughout the temple premises. The chief priest conducting the prayers is a jovial man who may ask you to join him in the chanting while pointing at a board that clearly reads the words being chanted. With the small hand fan like thing, that acts like a drum pad and a stick you can also join in the chanting of the Buddhist incantations.
The Peace Pagoda is adjacent to the temple and carefully depicts the four different manifestations of Lord Buddha in birth, meditation, sermon and nirvana. The beautiful wooden carvings around the structure also depict snippets from the life of Buddha.
Apart from the war memorial located at the center to commemorate the Gorkha soldiers in this region, this place holds an intriguing tale behind its naming as the Batasia Loop. The highest railway station in the region was Ghum and thereafter the route up to Darjeeling experienced a sharp fall. To counter such a sharp descent the British officials worked out a design for creating a loop for the train engines to ascend easily to the Darjeeling railway station. Such a construction is still considered as a major accomplishment in the field of railway engineering. This place will provide a panoramic view of the entire town and the adjacent areas of Kurseong and Sikkim. The breathtaking view of the entire Kanchenjunga range along with few other peaks is simply awesome.
A weekend getaway at Darjeeling could mean anything from brewing mugs of Darjeeling Tea, muffins at Glenary’s and feasting on momos at Keventer’s. Everything about this quaint little hill station is mesmerizing and magical. Darjeeling will only leave you craving for more and one visit ain’t enough to immerse yourself in the aura of these magical mountains. Stay tuned for more posts on this little haven called Darjeeling.