A serpentine road leads you up, past mesmerising views, to the queen of hills. The drive from Siliguri is breath-taking (because of the views and the drive!) It is not for the fainthearted. Because we visited in summer, the temperature difference was even more prominent. As we climbed farther up, the temperature dropped rapidly and the flora and fauna transformed beautifully.
Driving from Siliguri beside the abandoned Toy Train tracks.
Darjeeling is famous for its tea. Step into ‘Golden Tips’ shop or any tea estate for a memorable experience of tea-making and tea-tasting. You’ll be surprised at the variety of flavours and techniques that this simple beverage boasts of. Around the Chowrasta are many make-shift tea stalls where aunties with warm smiles sell hot cups of this famed tea. The Darjeeling tea is slightly sweeter than regular and has a mild flavour. No wonder this unique flavour is so famous.
At Happy Valley Tea Estate. Here they give you a tour explaining the tea-making process and let you sample different flavours of tea they manufacture.
The Chowrasta is the heart and soul of the city. This is where families hang out, eat and relax. This is where youngsters gather for live performances and pony rides. This is where couples come to shop and lounge. Surrounding the Chowrasta are many shops and restaurants. The major one is the Mall. It is the biggest street shopping destination in Darjeeling. From woollens to souvenirs and anything you want to take back home, is available here.
One of the roads that emerges from Chowrasta leads to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. The long downhill descent treats you to some gorgeous views. On the way are some small cabins selling steaming momos and piping hot tea. On reaching, you first enter the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park. It’s a well-maintained place with a variety of wild animals. At the end of the zoo is the mountaineering institute. I can guarantee, you’ll leave the place promising yourself to get more fit, if not climb a small hill. The pictures, the stories will inspire you and fill you with pride at this natural splendour that is the Himalayas that India adorns as her crest.
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
And the best place to marvel at the splendour of the Himalayas is the Tiger Hill. Book a cab from Darjeeling itself, a lot of local options are available. The eerie pitch-black ride uphill at about 3am, with only the shimmering hillside in view is something you will not forget soon. You need to be there before the crowd starts swelling. You cannot even fathom how high you’ve gone except assuming from the steep ascent of your vehicle. Go armed, with binoculars and cameras because you’ll not get another chance to capture the pink blush of Kanchendzonga peak at the honey gold touch of the first rays of the sun.
If you had planned to take the spectacular toy train from Siliguri to Darjeeling and were disappointed to find that it is no longer is use, do not lose heart. There is a shorter alternative and it is equally, if not more stunning. Book your tickets ahead at Indian Railways to avoid disappointment as there are limited seats. This coal-fuelled toy train takes you through Batasia Loop which too provides a gorgeous view of the Kanchendzonga. It takes a break at Ghum station for restocking coal. Here you can visit the Railway museum built just above the station. Then you return to Darjeeling on the same ticket.
The amusing toy train ride from Darjeeling to Ghum.
Need I mention that this is one of the best hill stations in the country? It is easily accessible, there are plenty of options to stay even if you come without prior booking and in case you fall helplessly in love with the mountains and want to explore the rest of adjoining hill stations like Kalimpong, Gangtok, Pelling or the further north-eastern regions, you’ll have no problem finding connectivity.
Prayer flags are a common sight in these regions.
Darjeeling haunts you with nostalgia. The warmth and happiness of the people here are unmatched. They are very friendly and they always greet you with a broad smile. The rustling of your boots on the wet leaves, the chirping of birds in the tall fir trees along the hillside, and other such noises which are peculiar to the mountain will fill you with a longing even before you leave.
Where all did you go in Darjeeling?