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Darjeeling and one of its incredible views

Darjeeling – Travel Guide to the Queen of Hill Stations

Darjeeling was said to be a jewel in the British Crown, and it is still one of the most famous hill stations in India. It is at an altitude of 6,812 ft. No other town offers better view of Mt. Kanchenjunga than this. A visit to Darjeeling was on my bucket list since the time I watched the Bollywood movie titled ‘Barfi’ in 2012. My post “Darjeeling – Travel Guide to the Queen of Hill Stations” will give you a complete idea on touring this lovely place.

Short History of Darjeeling

Darjeeling city, also known for its tea plantations, lies very close to Sikkim border than the mainland West Bengal. Though the city lies in the state of West Bengal where Bangla is the official language, here you will find people speaking more of Nepali. Darjeeling and the place surrounding it was under Sikkimese rule for many years and then Nepalese (Gurkhas) conquered it. The King of Sikkim (Chogyal Kingdom) asked the East India Company (Britishers) to interfere and help them reinstate.

Anglo-Nepalese war was fought in 1814, after which the Gurkhas had to give the current Gorkhaland (Darjeeling and surrounding areas) to British who gave it to the Chogyals. Later, Britishers thought that Darjeeling was a suitable place for them to have it as an infirmary for British soldiers and after multiple frictions with Sikkim, they annexed the land from Sikkim.

town view
First bird’s eye view of the city

Things to know before visiting Darjeeling

When to visit?

Anytime between Oct to March would be fine to visit Darjeeling. During New Year’s you might even find snowfall. Thursday is a holiday for most of the tourist places and markets in Darjeeling. So whichever month you visit, you should make a note of this.

What to wear?

Mornings in Darjeeling are very cold irrespective of the season you visit. It is always safe to wear/carry jackets (ability to withstand cold at least till -3° C), woollen socks, thermals, sweaters, water resistant gloves, t-shirts, shoes and neck warmer.

What to eat?

You will find a variety of cuisines in Darjeeling like Nepalese, Sikkimese, Bengali, Tibetan and English. Darjeeling is a food paradise for non-vegetarians and there are limited options when it comes to vegetarian food.

Where to stay?

There are many heritage resorts (British resorts), budget hotels and many hotel chains in Darjeeling. I stayed at Dekeling Resort which was also a British stay which is more than 120 years old.

dekeling resort
Entrance to our room in the resort

How to reach Darjeeling?

You need to reach either Bagdogra Airport or NJP Railway Station (New Jalpaiguri) to go to Darjeeling. You will mostly find only reserved taxis at Bagdogra airport. If you want to go in a shared cab, then you will have to reach Siliguri/NJP from the airport between 7 am – 3 pm to get a ride.

Cost of taxi ride
1. Shared cab – Rs.200/- per seat (NJP to Darjeeling)
2. Reserved – Rs.1900/- to Rs.2400/- per cab (NJP/Bagdogra to Darjeeling)

Railway Station Darjeeling
Between toy trains

There is a toy train that leaves from NJP to Darjeeling at around 10 am every day. The distance is about 87 kms and takes 7 hours on a Diesel engine and 10 hours on a steam engine.

Cost of a ticket in toy train
1. First class – Rs.1420/-
2. AC – Rs.1700/-
There are Second Class tickets available at cheaper costs.

Travel within Darjeeling

There are umpteen taxis available in Darjeeling at various places for sightseeing. The easiest point where you will find taxis will be on Gandhi Road, especially at Chauk Bazaar. If you want to visit places within 1-3 km distance from your hotel, I suggest you walk instead of paying Rs.200 or more for every pickup and drop. On the  Darjeeling Mall Road, vehicles are barred and moving on foot is the only way to explore.

mall road
Mall road before sunset

There are local sight-seeing tours that cover 3, 5 and 7 places in a day and these are referred to 3-, 5- and 7-point tours respectively. I visited Darjeeling in the month of December a week before Christmas and it was off-season then. Our driver charged us around Rs.3000 for a 7-point tour in a Mahindra Xylo.

Note: I have contacts of the driver with whom we explored Darjeeling, if someone is interested.

Places to visit

Darjeeling Mall (Chaurasta)

It was afternoon by the time we reached our resort, and we took a walk downhill taking in the views of the city. We grabbed some hot momos on the way down to the Mall Road which is a vehicle free zone. The first place I visited in Darjeeling was the Mall Road. You will get everything that you need to buy for yourself or gift someone in Darjeeling Mall at negotiable price.
I will soon be posting a blog post on “Shopping in Darjeeling”.

Chowrasta
Chaurasta (Darjeeling Mall) after sunset

Tiger Hills (8,500 ft)

We had to wake up at 3.30 am on the 2nd day of reaching Darjeeling because our Tiger Hills sunrise drive had to start by 4 am. Tiger Hills give an impeccable view of the third highest mountain in the world, Mt. Kanchenjunga. It was very crowded at the peak of the hills but the view of Kanchenjunga was worth going that early in the morning.

Sunrise at Mt. Kanchenjunga
Sunrise at Mt. Kanchenjunga

Ghum monastery

On the way back from Tiger Hills we went only till the entrance of Ghum monastery since we weren’t allowed any further due to the Covid rules. It is at 8 km from Darjeeling town and one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in India. The monastery is at a 10-15 mins walk from the Ghum Railway station.

Batasia Loop and War Memorial

We visited Batasia loop after Ghoom Monastery, on the way back from Tiger Hills. This is the place where the toy train takes a 360° turn after the Ghum station. There is a War Memorial right at the centre of the loop which was erected in 1995 to pay respect for the Gorkha soldiers who sacrificed their life for the nation.

war memorial and batasia loop
War Memorial and Batasia Loop with Mt. Kanchenjunga in the background

We got amazing views of Mt. Kanchenjunga from here. There were also many locals who were selling woollen garments inside the garden.

Timings: 5 am to 8 pm

Japanese Temple and Peace Pagoda

These were said to be 2 sightseeing points which can be covered at once, being in the same premises. It was a 1 km walk for us from our resort.

The foundation stone for the Japanese Temple was laid by a Japanese Buddhist monk. As soon as you enter the temple you will find pictures of Fuji Guruji who is the founder of Nipponzan Myohoji (Japan Buddha Sangha). The prayer timings in the temple are from 4.30-6.30am and 4.30-6.30pm. The Peace Pagoda is said to be built to unite people of all religions, caste and creed.

Timings: 4.30 am to 7 pm

Hindustan Mountaineering Institute (HMI)

Tenzing Norgay was a Nepali Indian Sherpa mountaineer who was one of the first 2 people to reach the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953. HMI was built as a tribute to Tenzing so that he could impart his skills to all those who want to pursue trekking in the Himalayas. He was also the first director of the institute.

Darjeeling Zoo and HMT entrance

There are a number of mountaineering and rock-climbing courses taught at the institute for which both Indians and foreigners register. “May you climb from peak to peak” is a famous quote from HMI.

Timings: 8.30 am to 4 pm

Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park

The zoo was named after Padmaja Naidu who was an ex-Governor of West Bengal and she was the daughter of Sarojini Naidu, the Nightingale of India. This zoo has got praises from all over the world for conserving Himalayan flora and fauna. You can find many endangered high altitude Himalayan animals at the zoo.

HMI, Bengal Natural History Museum and Darjeeling Zoo are present within the same premises. Thursday is a holiday for all the three that are mentioned.

Timings: 8.30 am to 4 pm

Tenzing rock

Tenzing rock is used by the HMI to practice rock climbing. The other side of the rock is used for amateurs to practice. You can find people selling tea nearby and there is nothing more to this.

Tenzing_rock
Tenzing rock

Chitrey Valley Tea Garden

A visit to Darjeeling is never complete without visiting a tea estate or a factory. You can find people outside the estate selling tea. The estate was not well maintained and there was plastic strewn at many places within the plantations.

Darjeeling tea garden
Chitrey Valley Tea Estate

Ropeway

One of the most famous attractions in Darjeeling is this ropeway. Darjeeling ropeway was the first of its kind in India. It is functioning from 1968. You will have to board the cable car which is 3 km from Darjeeling Chauk Bazaar. You should make a note that 19th of every month, the ropeway is closed for maintenance.

I was not able to experience the Ropeway in Darjeeling due to the Covid restrictions, but Gangtok ropeway saved me there. ?
Click here to read about my trip to Gangtok.

Timings:
10 am to 2 pm (summer, autumn)
10 am to 4 pm (monsoon and winter)

Ganga Maya and Rock Garden

These are gardens close to each other and at about 10 km from Darjeeling town. It was built to boost tourism in Darjeeling.

This place doesn’t come in any of the 3-, 5- or 7-point tours. Our driver asked us Rs.1000/- extra to take us to Ganga Maya and Rock Garden.

Places to visit near Darjeeling

  • Kurseong
  • Kalimpong
  • Doaars
  • Gangtok
  • Pelling
    Click here to know more about how to travel to the places near Darjeeling.
Batasia Loop

We heard from our driver that there used to be more places in Darjeeling for sightseeing, but many are banned by the government at present due to reasons unknown. It was quite saddening to see so many water tanker lorries due to water shortage in such a beautiful hill station. We should learn to preserve and not pollute nature by following eco-friendly ways of living.

Click here to read my other travel guides in India.

Aarthy Chinnaiya

Hola, you travel-prying soul! Welcome to my blog and thanks for stopping by! My name is Aarthy Chinnaiya, exploring new places, food and people gets me excited. I focus on budget travel and exploring places to the fullest in limited number of days (being a Software Engineer I don't get much leaves you see :P). Follow me for a constant dose of my travel stories, experiences, tips and much more.

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