Darjeeling is a charming hilly town in the north-eastern Indian state of West Bengal.It is a popular tourist destination both for local tourists and foreigners.It is well known for the amazing views of the Kanchenjunga mountainous range and vast tea plantations scattered all over the region.Darjeeling is a very compact town with good tourist facilities and virtually everything within an easy reach.The best thing about Darjeeling is probably the diversity of attractions and activities it offers to its guest from stunning natural setting to impressive colonial architecture.
1.Happy Valley Estate
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway locomotive…DHR 777
Say Darjeeling and the first thing to come to your mind is the tea.Leaving Darjeeling without buying at least one pack of the local tea is a huge mistake.There are many tea plantations all over the region but the most famous and the most visited one is probably Happy Valley Estate.The visitors are invited to a guided tour around the factory where you can witness the whole process.Though you can visit all year round, during the winter season the factory does not operate.Tea tasting session is included into the visit and the whole thing inevitably finishes with a visit to the on-site store where you can buy various kinds of tea and other tea-related souvenirs.You are most welcome to roam freely through the plantations and see the ladies dresses in colourful clothes picking up tea leaves.The latter is fully free and the entrance fee to the factory is INR 100.
Open daily from 9 am to 3 pm.
2.Japanese Peace Pagoda
Japanese Peace Pagoda was constructed as a part of the worldwide project of Japanese Buddhists who build pagodas to support peace in the world.It sits on the hill over the railway station and when the sky is clear you can get perfect views over the whole Kanchenjunga range from the pagoda.There is also a small temple with the prayer hall where monks pray to the sound of drums.Visitors are encouraged to participate take a drum, sit on the floor and chat the mantra written on the board in front of you.There is no entry fee and the temple is open from 4.30 am to 7 pm.Prayer sessions are held at 4.30am, 6am, 4.30pm and 6.3pm.
Chowrasta or Darjeeling Mall is practically the centre of Darjeeling and a local hub with souvenir shops, tea shops, coffee shops and also a small amphitheatre where cultural events sometimes take place.It is spread below the Observatory Hill – with the temple area combining Buddhist and Hindu sacred mandirs.
Chowrasta is a great place for evening walks when the lights are on, you can have dinner or coffee and explore the shops around.
The location of Darjeeling and surrounding areas is famous for the views over Kanchenjunga mountain, the third highest mountain in the world.Tiger Hill is a must do activity for almost all the visitors who travel there for Kanchenjunga observation during the sunrise.Arrange a car in advance by yourself or just ask in a hotel and be ready to wake up early.The drive usually takes you to Tiger Hill and on the way to Batasia Loop a special part of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the stop in Ghoom monastery.
5.Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Listed in the UNESCO heritage, this is one of the Indian crown jewels.Narrow gauge railway once connected Darjeeling and New Jaipalguri and it was a journey of a whole day along the road, climbing up the hills all the way to the top.Now you can travel from Darjeeling to Ghoom (the highest Indian railway station) in a Toy Train either with a diesel or steam engine.The ride takes 2 hours and from Darjeeling it climbs up the hill to Batasia Loop with 10 minute stop and then in Ghoom for 30 minutes.You can visit a small railway museum there.The train then returns back to Darjeeling.Do not miss this opportunity and buy the ticket in advance as the demand is always high.It is a great experience the views are splendid and the train rides very slowly which allows to observe the narrow street and almost touch the cars passing by.
Toy train ride costs INR 800 per a diesel ride and INR 1,300 per a steam ride.
If you take a ride on one of the trains of the Himalayan Railways, your train will stop at Batasia Loop for sure but you can visit it on your own as well.This is a great engineering part of the railway and it was constructed to lower the gradient of ascent.Inside the loop there is a War Memorial and when the weather is pleasant, the panorama is decorated by Kanchenjunga mountain.
If you visit Batasia Loop as a part of a train ride, your entrance fee is included into the train ticket.If you visit it on your own, the fee is INR 50 per person.Along the rails there are sellers with various products.
7.Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre
After the difficult times in Tibet and the escape of Dalai Lama, many Tibetans left their homeland and settled in India.The Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre in Darjeeling was founded in 1959 and it is focused on various activities of refugees, mostly related to the production of traditional Tibetan handicrafts, such as jewellery, thankas, prayer wheels or woolen articles and so they manage their income.
It is open from 9am to 4.30pm except Sundays.There is no entry fee.
8.Mountaineering Institute and Darjeeling Zoo
These two attractions of Darjeeling are located in one complex and the entrance fee allows you to visit both.The zoological garden is not large but it shows some fine specimens of Himalayan animals.There are cute red pandas, the Himalayan monal and Himalayan bear.The impressive Bengal tiger also attracts the visitors attention.Behind the Zoo, there is Mountaineering Institute with Mountaineering Museum, the grave memorial of Tenzing Norgay, a sherpa who climbed Mount Everest with Edmund Hilary and they became the first people on the summit.There is also a statue of Edmund Hillary.Mountaineering Institute also organises mountaineering courses.
Lloyds Botanical Garden is a nice addition to Darjeeling visit as it is not crowded and it is a bit off the trail and hidden.If you miss the nature and you need some rest, this might be the right choice.It is in a walking distance from the centre and is located below it.If you are not sure, ask the locals.They will direct you so you can find the right way.The entrance is through the green metal gate and it is not otherwise well marked.Roam around the paths and do not miss the orchid garden.
There is no entrance fee.
We have already mentioned that Toy Train stops at Ghoom for 30 minutes but it is also good to spend more time in this nice village.Except the above mentioned railway museum there are exceptional Buddhist monasteries.Yiga Choeling or Old Ghoom Monastery is a small monastery with almost 5 metre high Maitreya Buddha and Samten Choling Monastery known as Ghoom Monastery which is a new complex, recently repainted with a school for monks.
When you visit Darjeeling and the surrounding areas, you will certainly understand why the British have chosen it as their summer escape from lowland heat, and we believe your visit will be full of great experience.