I always wanted to visit Darjeeling as it has old world charm with modernity. I was thrilled of thinking about Himalayan Toy train ride, tea estates and mount Kanchenjunga in back. Darjeeling is quiet town, once a summer capital to the British India located in the North east part of India at the foothills of the Himalayas nestled in between Nepal and Bhutan. This beautiful little town is at an elevation of 6812 ft, very popular destination among who want peace and tranquility away from the maddening crowd of the cities.
Here is list of things I enjoyed in Darjeeling very much:
1. Watch Sunrise at Tiger hill
A trip to Darjeeling is incomplete without viewing sunrise at Tiger Hill. Watch the sky change colours at the break of dawn with the magnificent sun rise and to get a glimpse of a clear Himalayan range which can best be seen from this view point.
Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to visit due to bad weather.
Travel Tips: Take early morning ride by 3.30 am- 4.00 am to get the good spot for the view as it gets very crowded if you reach late. The best season to see the dazzling snow covered peaks as the sun rises is between mid October to December.
2. Darjeeling Himalayan Toy Train Ride
Visit to Darjeeling is incomplete without Darjeeling Himalayan toy train ride. It was built and is operating since the 1880’s; the world famous UNESCO world heritage run on steam engine and diesel engine. A joy ride on this train is a must from Darjeeling to Ghum and back. This ride can revive your childhood in 2 hour journey from Darjeeling to Ghum and back. It takes you to the Batasia loop and Ghum station with a visit to Ghum Museum. Ghum station is the highest railway station in India.
Also read about my experience of Darjeeling Himalayan Toy Train Ride
3. Visiting Tea Estate/Tea Factory
Darjeeling is famous for its tea since British raj era. I had visited happy valley Tea estate perched on the slopes with a tea factory in the premises. A beautiful tea garden situated at a walking distance from Darjeeling bus stand. It is one of the highest tea gardens in India and first completely organic tea company.
It was not tea plucking season, so I couldn’t witness the tea making process. As a tea lover, you can take chance to taste different varieties of tea at famous cafes on the Mall road and nearby.
Also take a note that you can find some branded darjeeling tea as expensive as INR 150000/Kg.
4. Ghum Monastery
It is one of the oldest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Darjeeling area built in the year 1850. Inside the Monastery there are images of many Buddha deities and lamas such as the Avalokitesvara, Buddha of compassion, and Tsongkhapa who was the founder of the Gelupka sect to which the Monastery belongs. On a clear day you can get the marvelous views of snow clad peaks of mount Kanchenjunga from outside the main gate of the monastery.
Travel Tip: Entry to the monastery is free. You can visit it on the way back from Tiger Hill
5. Dali Monastery
This was not in the list of places to visit, but accidentally I found it during my toy train ride. It was looking awesome when I had seen it from distance on Hill cart road and tempted to visit it. It is located in Dali which is 5 km from Darjeeling city center. It is one of the largest monasteries with white buildings built in typical Tibetan style and perched on a steep hill.
When I entered through the arch gate and walked up to the ramp, I was awestricken with the structure of the building. The chants and humming sound creates a wonderful spiritual ambiance. Dali Monastery has many monks and disciples who reside here.
Dali Monastery is open daily from early morning until evening. The prayer timings are from 5.00 AM-6:30 AM and 5.00 PM to 6:30 PM.
6. Padmja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park and HMI
Darjeeling Zoo is different from any other Zoo in a city. Here you can actually see some of the high altitude amazing Himalayan animals and some endangered species that are rarely seen anywhere else in the world. It is the largest high altitude zoo that spans across 67.5 acres of area at an average altitude of 7,000ft (2133m).
My sole reason to visit here was red Panda. In their natural habitat of forests, they usually spend the day on tree tops and come down after duck looking for food. They love to eat bamboo leaves and fruits.
At the end of the Zoo, there is Himalayan Mountaineering Institute [HMI] where you can enroll for rock climbing and mountaineering courses. Also you can visit the mountain museum in the premises
7. Japanese Temple and Peace Pagoda
There is wonderful Japanese temple located in the serene and peaceful environment from Main mall road area. The temple is also known as the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple. The two storied white building was built in a traditional Japanese style in the year 1972.
Close to the temple there is the Peace Pagoda that showcases four avatars of Lord Buddha. From the top of the Pagoda, you can get the panoramic views of Darjeeling landscape and Kanchenjhanga views.
Timings: The temple open hours from 4:30 AM – 7 PM daily. There is no admission fee.
8. Indulge on food at Glenery’s Bakery
If anyone who has sweet tooth like me, need to visit the Gelenery’s – prominent landmark of Darjeeling located on the Nehru road. It exists since British raj colonial days. It is two storied building with restaurant above.
I loved all the bakery items like Pastry, cakes, croissants, muffins which served with the lovely smiles from the staff. I recommend trying breakfast with some Darjeeling tea.
Timings: Glenary’s Bakery & Cafe remains open daily from 7 AM to 8 PM
9. Enjoy Tea testing at Golden Tips Tea Lounge
I know Keventer’s is very famous place for the tea testing in Darjeeling. But I love the ambiance and view of tea lounge here. I am big tea lover, so I took chance to try a Tea here. The Golden Tips Tea Lounge belongs to the Golden Tips Tea Company. They are tea merchants and collect tea from plantations all over India including the Gardens in Darjeeling. Golden Tips Tea Lounge is located right at the Chowrasta Mall. Here you can have fresh Darjeeling tea and accompany that with some vegetarian snacks. You can also buy tea and few crockery items from here.
Travel Tips: You can also visit Nathmull’s and Keventers Tea Lounges in Darjeeling.
10. Visit Oxford Book Store
It is located at Chowrasta square beside the Golden Tips tea lounge. If you are book lover, you will love this place. Having colonial building of British bygone era, it is favourite landmark in Darjeeling.The ground level is occupied by the bookstore and upper floor is occupied by one of the old Chalet hotels in hill town.
I loved the collection of books from Tibetan, sikkimise, Himalayas, lepcha folk tales and what not. It remains open from 9.30 AM to 7.30 PM. You will fall in love with the hills here if you haven’t yet.
11. Take Detour and visit nearby villages with Awesome Tea Estates on the way.
I found Darjeeling a very commercialized place with all folks of tourists, lot of vehicles on the road, narrow path stranded with water flowing from Pipes everywhere. As I talked with the local fellows they told there is no space for underground water pipes.
As I couldn’t go for Tiger Hill sunrise due to heavy fog and rain,I decided to Visit nearby villages on a day trip. I Had visited Lamahatta and Takdah, Tinchuley villages with beautiful lush green scenery on the way.The route from Darjeeling to Takdah is amidst tea gardens both the side.You can visit few view points and monasteries and if time permits you can stay here if Darjeeling is not your choice of place
Travel Tips: We had paid INR 1800 for the day trip from Darjeeling for small car.
12. Walk around the Mall Road
The most famous land mark in Darjeeling is Chowrasta or The Mall,heart and soul of the town. The Mall is junction point for Nehru road and Dr Zakir Hussain road.As you start walk from Nehru road towards chowrasta you will pass through many Souvenirs shops, Keventers, Glenery and so many other eating joints. Chowrsta also houses few of oldest buildings of Darjeeling and open seating area with benches. One can soak in the view of mountains and sitting on a bench from the observatory hill, doing nothing but watch the clouds that pass by mount Kanchenjhanga.
Other Points of Interest:
- Darjeeling Ropeway
- Tibetan refugee self help centre
- Lebong race course
How to Reach:
The nearest airport to Darjeeling is Bagdogra which is approximately 95 km away from the city. There are some direct flights from the major cities of India. From the airport, one can reach the city by hiring taxis or Shared Jeep. Private taxi can cost you approx INR 1600-2200 depending on the car you select.
If you are coming by Train, New Jalpiguri / Silliguri is the nearest railhead located 88 kms away from Darjeeling and Take shared Jeep/Private taxi to reach Darjeeling.Share Jeep can cost you approx INR 100-130/Person.
Also you will get buses from the Tenzing Norgay Central Bus Terminus located on Hill Cart Road in Siliguri. It is about 8kms from NJP station and can cost you INR 130-150/Person.
Where to Stay:
There are numerous hotels/home stays to stay from budget to luxurious. I had stayed at Hotel orchid residency at INR 1400/Night which is budget hotel near Clock tower are and walking distance from Nehru road and other famous places of eating.
Where to Eat:
Visit Glenery’s for trying best bakery items. Also Hasty Tasty restaurant is popular vegetarian restaurant located on the Nehru road on the way to Mall. The restaurant offers cuisine including South Indian, North Indian, Punjabi, Gujarati and even Jain food. Another place where I ate is Frank Rose Cafe, just walking distance from Hasty Tasty restaurant is also a great option for vegetarian food lover.Here you can have sandwiches, interesting dips and south Indian dishes. Apart from this, savor unlimited chowmein and momos on the Mall road in evening time.
Once you are in Darjeeling, take local tours that cover all the best sightseeing places in prescribed time limit. It generally comes in package like 3-point tour[covers Tiger Hill, atasia Loop, Ghum Monastery] ,5-point tour and 7- point tour. You can also skip some point and can do mixed points tour.
Taxis are available at the Club Side taxi stand (Gandhi Road or Laden-La road).There are also lots of taxis at the chowk bazaar motor stand at the lower level. If you want to opt local sightseeing via shared Jeep, it is available from Gandhi road taxi stand who offers per person rate.