Hills! which place does this word pop in your mind ? Maybe someplace in the northern part of India - Shimla .. Manali..Dalhousie.. Kashmir.. etc..etc. Well these are wonderful destinations, up in the north. But if you're someone from the eastern part of the country and want to save some traveling time, but still want to have that ' Himalayan experience', then this tiny city nestled in the foothills of Himalayas, in the northern part of West Bengal should be your next destination. Even if you're not an easterner, I would still suggest Darjeeling as your next vacation to the hills, just for that amazing view of the Mt. Kanchenjunga, which you can enjoy from practically any part of the place.
DID YOU KNOW : Mt. Kanchenjunga (height - 8586 m ) is the third highest peak of the world. It lies partly in Nepal and partly in the Indian state of Sikkim.
How to reach : You can board any train from Howrah(West Bengal) , that runs from Howrah to NJP(New Jalpaiguri) . Then, you can avail a cab (which is readily available at the NJP station), that will take you to Darjeeling.
Journey duration : it takes around 10 hrs via train from Howrah to NJP. A flight is preferable from your city directly to Bagdogra airport (Siliguri airport), for the ones not from or around Kolkata. The cab from Siliguri station to Darjeeling takes around 4-5 hrs. Generally, travelers tend to take a break for a night in Siliguri and start there journey uphill to Darjeeling the next morning.
Our journey commenced on the morning of 10th June, from Siliguri. I can't help but mention, that I was really mesmerized by the sprawling landscapes right from the beginning of our journey. You get to see the hills as soon as you reach the outskirts of Siliguri, and I found myself jiggling like an excited 5 year old, just at the sight of them. Oh and don't forget to notice the famous toy train track that runs straight from Siliguri to Darjeeling. If you're lucky enough you will get to see the toy train itself.
FYI : Journey by the toy train from Siliguri to Darjeeling is not recommended, as it runs really slow. But if you still want to have an experience of the ride, you can buy a ticket for the intervening local stations.
The landscape changes drastically, as you start approaching the mountains. On your way to Darjeeling from Siliguri, you will find another town named Kurseong, which is an ideal place to relax and while away, if you are not much into hectic schedules . You can book a cozy room at the Kurseong tourist lodge, and admire the beatific hills and tea gardens surrounding you, while sipping your steaming cup of Darjeeling tea.
Well our destination was Darjeeling, and although we admired Kurseong for its British colonial architectures, and views, we had to move on.
So we reached Darjeeling at around 1 in the afternoon. We had pre-booked our rooms at the Darjeeling Tourist lodge, which would be our haven for the next four days.
FYI : Although most of the places provide a clear view of the Mt. Kanchenjunga (given that the weather is sunny), it is said that DTL(darjeeling tourist lodge), is one of those few hotels which provide a direct view of the peak from the hotel rooms. Proof: the picture above was taken from my hotel room. :)
After having our lunch, and resting for a while, we went out to the infamous Darjeeling mall road, which is kind of a gathering-shopping-horse riding-walking spot for all tourists and locals alike. Oh and the whole of Darjeeling seems to be crazy about football, and since we visited during the upcoming FIFA world cup , what we got to see is this -
the weather was amicable and it felt great to take an evening walk up the hilly roads, amidst nature. On our way to the mall we spotted an old church, named St.Andrew's cathedral ,which looked like a cut out version of a church from the Victorian era.
by the time we completed our tour around the mall, shopped and had some tea, it was already 8 in the evening. Days in the hills are shorter than the ones in plains. The roads tend to get deserted by 9:30 at night, so we thought better and went ahead for dinner. If you want to have a complete English dining experience, then do visit Glenary's in Darjeeling, which is a combination of a bakery and restaurant, of the old English style. With soft live music in the background, semi-dim lighting and good food, you tend to have a good time at this place.
Day 2 started with us sipping our Darjeeling teas, and enjoying the view of Kanchenjunga from the balcony of our hotel room .. Oh What a sight that was!! You really have to be there, to know the feeling. The sun was treacherous though, it didn't promise to stay up long in the sky, and the clouds posed a threat to ruin our day ahead, so we didn't waste much time and started our journey to a nearby point named Lepchajagat, which is around 19kms away from the town of Darjeeling. We had hired a local cab, which was readily available at Darjeeling, and the driver charged us around 2000 bucks for a whole day trip to different locations around Darjeeling. Now you must be thinking, that since the distance is only 19kms, it must have taken an hour so to reach Lepchajagat, but let me tell you, when you're up there in the hills, the distance doesn't really matter, because of the steep paths and sharp turns, the drivers are extremely careful , and it took us a good 2 or 2.5 hrs to reach Lepchajagat. Oh and not to mention the early morning Darjeeling traffic (yeah !! you get traffic jams in hill stations as well !!) But the amazing landscape at Lepchajagat made us forget, all our woes regarding the traffic and bad roads. Its a photographer's paradise, and a paradise for anybody who loves nature, or maybe for you who never knew that you loved nature, because you discover your love for it when you visit this place. As for me, the minute I set foot out of the cab I felt that out of the blue somebody has made me time travel and I have landed right into a Robert frost Poem . We were walking through the woods, amidst the chirruping of unknown birds, the swooshing of winds, and clouds occasionally touching us like feathers. I remember this one spot , which reminded me of the poem " The road not taken' by Robert frost. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I .. I took the path less taken by.. and that has made all the difference..
I so wished, that I could climb up those stairs to go and look for the mystery that remains hidden in the forest, but alas !! I couldn't. As I had told you earlier time was of the essence to us, and we were on a tight schedule. SO for the time being I had to ignore Mr. Frost , and had to take the path more taken. But more surprises awaited us, as we moved forward, and the prime view point of the place took our breath away, with its amazing scenery. Surrounded with Coniferous forests and clouds playing hide and seek amongst the trees, the place had us mesmerized.
After being awestricken by Lepchajagat , we went ahead to our next stop that is known as Tinchuley. The mystery behind the nomenclature is that, you get to see three different peaks from this particular place, and these three mountain peaks are located in Sikkim. So you're basically getting a view of Sikkim while you're standing in Bengal. You also get to see the Teesta river from this place, which is a major supplier of water in the upper parts pf Northern Bengal and Sikkim.
Teenchuley is a really beautiful place, and if you feel that you would like to admire its beauty for a longer time then you can book a homestay over there and spend a day or two in the lap of nature.
From Teenchuley we went ahead to Lamahatta forest park. Now let me give you my two cents on this place. If you are not one for hiking through steep mountainous paths, which will take around an hour or so, then it is not advisable for you to visit this place. On our parts, we really enjoyed the hike or a mini trek, we did fall a few times( well me more than the others) , and we were of two minds, once or twice whether to move ahead or not, but we did. You must be thinking by now, that why exactly should you climb uphill, well the answer to it is a lake amidst a pine forest. If the thought of a lake up in the mountains, that is surrounded by pine trees doesn't excite you, then have you heard of the phrase 'It's the journey that matters and not the destination' ?? If you have, then I'd suggest you to visit this place just for that hour long hiking experience.
With Lamahatta, our trip for the 2nd day ended, and we went back to Darjeeling exhausted but satisfied.