Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen

Tripoto

The very first thing that comes to my mind, and perhaps to a host of people around when you utter "Darjeeling' is the famous tea that this part of the globe produces.

Well, this hill station has far more to offer than the aromatic tea that one sips and gets into a dizzy of joy.

She is truly a queen.

The majestic Kangchenjunga, the third tallest mountain at 8586 meters under the morning sun rays makes you forget who you are, where you come from. I was dumb founded and spent 2 hours soaking in the sublime beauty

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri

Breath taking views of mountains. Undulating plateaus and valleys, greenery that stretched far and wide. The most striking are the colors that we saw.

Along the hill edge as we walked, the town with its small and conical houses draped the hill surface ..all under the glare of the morning sun

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

The greenery cloaked valleys with a curtain of fluffy clouds hanging from sky made us stare for ever

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

A mix of blue, dipped in light and dark shades of green, make an incredible style statement from nature... wherever you look, all you see is dazzling colors thrown by nature.

The Tiger hill valley which we trudged to catch the sun rise on Kangchenjunga

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

We planned to spend four to five days in this hilly crucible. The terrain is harsh and the roads are steep, circuitous and moderately drivable.

Instead of our trusted Swift, we were driving a locally bred rugged SUV, a Sumo Spacio 3 liters which was fairly well suited due to her high ground clearance and high low end torque needed to climb the gradient.

We started our sojourn by getting up early to see the sunrise at Tiger Hill.

The sun skirts the hill edge as it climbs the golden sky

Photo of Tiger Hill, Darjeeling, Senchal Forest, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri

At 5 am the temperature was around one to two degrees and with the skin numbing cold, we were hardly able to talk.

With hands dug deep into the jackets, we kept our eyes peeled to catch the first light of sun.

Khangchendzonga, looked like a jagged edged bullion as the first sun rays fell on the slopes

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

I will try to paint the thought I had when I saw this... I felt like being a non existent entity and all my problems in life overshadowed, all my challenges in life weathered..all my accomplishments in life simply evaporated.

I lost my worldly presence... perhaps I was looking at the creater.

Every second the mountain changed its color.. it was gold, then was it crimson? or white. The clouds, the wind and all the forces of nature were playing around

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

The peak with all the flashing color looked like a supreme force which was not from this world.

There are such level of brilliance in this world of ours...and what we do, think about mean and petty things of win and loss and join the rat race to ruin ourselves...

The serenity over the Tiger Hill was absolute..who used the brush..the sun or the wind, was hard to find

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

I was glad that I had the perception of beauty and that element was working in me to appreciate what I saw. As we came down, the valley lit up and the activities started. A huge section of local people had laid out a market to sell warm garments for the winter which included shawls, pullovers, sweaters.

Local inhabitants selling warm garments and attracting customers on the prowl for buying

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

We too went for a stroll across to catch a glimpse.

The cool breeze wafted across the valley and multiple variety of flowers swung randomly to welcome the visitors.

Flowers with their gentle colors drew crowds in large numbers

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

In some places, we saw dense forest growth and with the distant mountains, as the backdrop, presented nature's ever changing moods,

As the day grew older, the clouds thickened, slowly blanking Khangchendzonga as we saw the range through the forest

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

On our way down, we saw "Ghum", India's highest railway station. Tucked away on the slopes, the small station had few meter gauge railway wagons parked. How tiny they looked.

Ghum, in the early morning.. train traffic is yet to begin

Photo of Ghum, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri

The most interesting part is the drive over the Hill Cart road which juxtaposes itself with the meter gauge railway track and both train and vehicular traffic criss-cross each other and train and cars stop to give a passage to the other.

Sometimes, people jump out of the slow moving smoke emitting train and grab the passing car/Jeep to travel.

The Darjeeling toy train and our car playing hide and seek on the Hill Cart Road

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

The feeder roads in Darjeeling are narrow and comes in sharply with a thirty degree angle, this necessitates to have smaller cars with short wheel bases for quick turns.

Typical Darjeeling road with sharp turns

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

One of the most interesting places is the Darjeeling zoo. It has great inmates - Red pandas, leopards, exotic birds, so we parked on the angled road and paid a quick visit.

The near extinct Snow leopard with his head on the cage wire..that long tail helps the feline to balance on rocky ravines when it pounces on its prey

Photo of Zoological Park, Lebong Cart Road, Jawahar Parbat, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri

A pair of red pandas on a late afternoon walk across the tree branches

Photo of Zoological Park, Lebong Cart Road, Jawahar Parbat, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri

Clouded leopard, extremely rare..rolled on his side to catch the sun

Photo of Zoological Park, Lebong Cart Road, Jawahar Parbat, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri

A Common leopard, uses stealth and surprise to kill..it took quite an effort to locate the cat

Photo of Zoological Park, Lebong Cart Road, Jawahar Parbat, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri

The musk deer known for its scent which he emits, used as a fragrance by the city yuppies to make their presence felt

Photo of Zoological Park, Lebong Cart Road, Jawahar Parbat, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri

After a two hour stint at the zoo, we started driving towards newer areas to see the tea lands which hug the mountain sides like a green carpet.

Women and children working in the tea gardens and throwing the tea leaves behind them in the basket that they carry

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

As far we could see, we saw tea gardens hung over the undulating hills and valleys. The temperature was quite low due to a mix of heavy moisture from the trees and slight drizzle from the rain.

The tea gardens of Darjeeling... acres of hill slopes covered with this low height trees that fill the appetite of millions across the globe

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

The famous Darjeeling black tea leaves from a near by stall on the garden. The aroma itself was so good, that we took three cups of it with various combination of milk, and no milk; the liquor type is very translucent if properly made.

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

Driving in Darjeeling is quite challenging, especially if you are a driver of the plains. The road surface in some places are quite rough but the trick is to drive in low gears, and I being a die hard stick shift gear head ..only drive vehicles with manual transmission, that way I had the complete control to suit the road condition.

Of course, a four wheel drive vehicle would have been really good for climbing steep roads.

Hill side driving.. which one to see, the beautiful scenery around you through the windows or the road ahead

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

The difficult part is when you are turning on the outer edge of a road where there's a plunge on your left and you have a car on the opposite side.

Driving with utmost care, balancing the car between the death on the left and the car on the opposite direction...quite an interesting moment

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

You just drive with the outer edge as your guide and keep slow speed and use engine as your brake.

We came down and parked to visit the handicrafts shop to see things on display... absolutely beautiful decorative objects available in any of the shops in this hill town.

Buddha heads, with intricate designs on display

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

For lunch, we used to have this very simple and highly nutritive dish, called Thukpa. Not only we felt ready to move around even after a good meal, we also could pull for at least 4 hours without a meal.

Thukpa, the Tibetan dish of chicken stock, noodles with veg or non-veg mix

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

One of the famous places in Darjeeling is the 'Mall', it is open area with scores of handicraft shops, eateries with good music ring around the ground.

People in great number flock to this place to have a great view of the Kangchenjunga and just amble across in the evenings... every one has a fair share of their liking.

The Mall in Darjeeling, where tourist flock to spend the evening

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

Crowd enjoying the Mall...the area remains filled with revelers even till 9 pm in the night

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

The following day, we drove to Kalimpong, another hill town, around 49 kms from Darjeeling with splendid mountain views all around.

We saw great many tea gardens and saw villagers coming back from them after a day's work.

Road to Kalimpong, quite smooth over the hills snaking its way through the mountains

Photo of Kalimpong, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri

The confluence of Teesta river and Rangeet river, The spot from where we took this snap was picture perfect. Two rivers meandering through the dense jungles over the hills. All you can hear is the distant roar of the rivers and sound of wind

Photo of Kalimpong, West Bengal, India by Gautam Lahiri

On our way down, we visited few monasteries, which are quite prevalent across hill town. We saw the revolving rhymes line the walls. Young lamas were seen playing on the monastery grounds.

A little lama boy from the monastery was playing cricket as we visited

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

A senior Lama is lighting up the fire before the worshiping sessions start. The fragrance of herbs and dry plants burning as the Lama blows over it was intense and smelled as if we were traveling through thousand deep forests.

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

A monastery brings such serenity to the mind, we spent about an hour exploring

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

The area with the smell and quietness, and a distant drum of a Tibetan hymn kept us captivated for hours

We drove back to Darjeeling along the gurgling Teesta river which thew marvelous views on every turn of the road. The road went up and down with numerous bends which kept my hands very busy with the steering wheel as we changed course.

Crossing the Teesta river and stopping to take a break to see the fast moving river water splashing against the rocks that shoulder the banks

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

Kalimpong to Darjeeling road along the Teesta river

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

The roads in these parts of the country ride wooden bridges over scores of small to big rivers as streams and rapids are a common place in this terrain.

When the car climbs on one of these, the entire bridge makes squeaks and sways sideways as we crossed one after the other.

A wooden bridge awaiting the weight of our vehicle as I aligned the car to cross a stream

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

After a grueling drive of close to 8-9 hours we returned to Darjeeling, By the evening, we could see the setting sun disappearing among the Himalayan mountain range.

The tea garden workers were also returning home with us, only traveling up along the road.

We bid goodbye to the setting sun as the hills started looking menacing with the fast disappearing light

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

A day for these tea garden women workers coming to an end as we were driving home

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

A singular experience of visiting and driving in Darjeeling. Every bit of the place is a nature's creation of vivid colors coupled with changing mood of the weather.

Darjeeling town with its small houses hugged the hill sides and the valley like a necklace

Photo of Darjeeling, the enchanting Himalayan Queen by Gautam Lahiri

As the sun went down, the houses built over the hill sides slowly started lighting up and looked like dots of yellow light as people prepared for the night. Once the sun went down, the general activity of a town comes down very rapidly and a quietness falls over the mountains...all you hear is the hush of wind, punctuated by car horns as somewhere a lone Jeep or a car making its way back home.

Shades of cold winds sweep the valley and town. Tightening the collar of my warm jacket I eased the clutch of the Jeep and with a cloud of loose dust off the hills, the car reached us back to base.

Trip first published on The Voyager

1 Comment(s)
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hi plz let me know the best month to visit darjeeling
Fri 09 30 16, 07:39 · Reply (1) · Report
We always make it a point to visit Darjeeling in mid March to April as it is cooler than the plains. However, October to early December is also good just before the biting winter sets in.
Fri 09 30 16, 20:07 · Report