A colorful city nested in the Himalayan foothills, Darjeeling is by far one of the most scenic cities that I have ever been to. Surrounded by snow-capped giants and lush greenery this town is the place I first fell in love with the Himalayas.
First time I went to Darjeeling was in 2005 with my family and it was love at first sight!! I was so smitten by her charm that she tempts me to come back again and again. Even if my first and second visits to Darjeeling were nearly a decade apart something’s in this town will never change. The smiling friendly faces, lush greenery and scenic mountains, colorful monasteries that will give you an insight in to a rich history and culture are just a few things that remain constant. This hill station and the surroundings have always reminded me of a scene right out of a fairy tale!!.
We left the bustling streets of Kolkata to make our way to Darjeeling and ended up taking a train to Jalpaiguri- the starting point to Darjeeling for many.
Once u get down from Jalpaiguri station make your way outside where you will see an array of jeeps, vans and cars waiting to take you to hilly Darjeeling. Make your choice wisely after inquiring in as many counters as you can. Take your time weigh your options and bargain a bit 😉
The route to Darjeeling is as breathtaking as the city itself ! Lush greenery, sea of tea plantations, mountains looming up from behind one another, Kanchenjunga playing peek-a-boo, road-side houses that gives you an insight as to what life is in these parts of the Himalayan foot hills, are just a few things that make taking this bumpy road worthwhile.
A sudden increase in the number of homes and road-side shops will indicate that you have reached the city limits of this enchanting city. A cloud of houses covering the hill side, monasteries looming from in between the hills, The mystic weather, clean air, the mountains in the backdrop! Oh how I miss Darjeeling!
Searching for our hotel amid the busy streets was not an easy task, after going through so many back roads and up a small hill we found our hotel, A modest hotel tucked away in a back ally of Darjeeling- bliss!!. (the paved path leading up to our hotel was so steep that you practically have to climb it with both you hands and feet!! I wish I had a picture!)
Once settled in we made our way to Mall Street the center of the city . A narrow road leading up a small hill jam packed with street side shops, hotels and tourists- Mall street has a charm of its own.
Once you get to the center you come in to a small open space where you can ether sit and enjoy the surroundings or go on a pony ride! Other than that there are many art galleries filled with artsy things and antiques belonging to many cultures making it a Paradise for antique collectors.
A short walking distance away from mall street is the Shrubbery Nightingale Park. The path leading to it starts from the center of Mall road and winds around hills taking you away from the chaos of the city center. Its peaceful out here.. just you and the surroundings with a few buildings here and there.
On the way to Nightingale park you will pass a few interesting landmarks such as the St.Andrews church.
The path leading to the park is ideal for a cold evening stroll. A calm quite place to walk around and experience the breath taking views of the surrounding mountains.
The park itself is quite amazing with the flower gardens, Large Lord Shiva statue and the mountain view. Also the park houses a wide open space in the middle which hosts a few cultural dance performances per day -make it in time and it’s an added bonus!!
The next morning was an early start for us since we were planning to head out to Tiger hill, the best view point of Kanchenjunga (According to me that is!) If you are planning to go to Tiger hill best start early morning to catch the sun rise- best part of the day. Start REALLY early if you want to find a nice view point. Pre book a cab and take warm cloths because its COLD up there that early!!
Once you get to the view point you can ether go to the observation Deck or opt to just stand on a cliff outside. I prefer the outdoors. Yes its freaking cold and yes the wait is looooongg but its one of those experienced that you have to suffer through to get to the best part. Bundled up in the cold sipping hot masala chai while waiting for the mist to part and the sun to rise is a memory that you will always cherish.
The deal with Tiger hill is that your fate lies in the hands of mother nature. If she doesn’t want to show you her colors she won’t! Out of the two times that I have been to Tiger hill only once I got to see the sun rise. The other time I just stared eagerly in to deep mist like a total idiot for hurs (from 4am till 6 am ish)!!. The wait was long but no sun!! no Kanchenjunga! nothing !! just a hint of color and a wall of fog that i’m sure you can cut with a knife!!. Don’t get me wrong it was not a BAD experience. Yes I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see the sun rise and the glamour surrounding it but just standing there experiencing everything that was going around me was a memory of its own.
The first time I went to Tiger hill it was the same drill- early morning, freezing cold, masala chai and a flock of humans! Only difference- we got to see the sun rise properly and also got to see Kanchenjunga bathed in the colors of the sun! its one of the most amazing sun rise i have ever seen.
The sun slowly coming up in the horizon and spreading its color on to the mountains, and at the same-time stars still glistering in the mild light. Breathtaking!!!! ( sadly this was pre-need to take all the picture in the world era of my life ;( )
While coming back from Tiger hill make sure to stop at the Dail monastery because early mornings are the best time to visit since the monks perform prayers during the early morning hours and in the evening.
The Dali monastery nested on the side of the road serves as the entry way in to the heart of Darjeeling. Situated 4-5 km away from the center of the city, Druk Sa-Ngag Choeling Monastery or commonly known as Dali monastery is one of the biggest monasteries in Darjeeling. the vast colorful structure is build in the traditional Tibetan style and the walls are filled with paintings that depict the life and teachings of lord Buddha.
(Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)
Listening to the chanting of prayers by about 200 monks at the same-time is sure to give you goose bumps and leave you speechless!
Other than the Dali monastery Darjeeling is home to many splendid monasteries that are definitely worth exploring. Do visit to a few to get an insight in to the Tibetan culture and Mahayana Buddhism.
Our next stop was the Peace Pagoda which is about 15 min drive from the city center. On the same premises of the Peace Pagoda is a Japanese temple that you can visit and learn about the traditional ways of the Japanese Buddhist. You can also join in a prayer session and be enchanted by the prayers and the drum beats!
After visiting the temple you can climb your way up to the Peace Pagoda, a symbol of harmony and peace!
If you take a stroll around the pagoda you will get to see carvings depicting the life of lord Buddha on the sides. and if your lucky (unlike me 😦 ) and visit the pagoda on a clear sky day you will get to see a clear breathtaking view of the mountain range around Darjeeling.
(Image – Vishvathika Nadarajasharma)
Next stop- The Rock garden, situated just outside Darjeeling this is a recently added attraction to Darjeeling. The road leading to this garden is very steep with many hairpin bends. Despite the fact that the road is a bit difficult and scary the scenery offered of the beautiful landscape is worth the ride.
The Rock garden is built around a waterfall, based on rocks cut at different heights and is filled with flowering plants and trees. A staircase is built along the waterfall to climb up and on your way up you will cross small beautiful bridges. Even though the bad weather was a Debby-downer for us in other places it was surely a treat here!! walking around the garden in a slight drizzle was pretty awesome ! and also the waterfall was in full bloom !
While your in Darjeeling why not do something to pump up your adrenaline!!. Best option- Rock climbing!! There are many stations located throughout Darjeeling that offers rock climbing and on our way back from the rock garden we made a stop at the Tenzin Rock HMI a small yet fairly challenging climbing face (Nop its no Himalayas but still!).
One thing I regret not doing or rather I couldn’t do was taking a ride on the Toy train! During the time we visited Darjeeling the toy train was not functioning properly due to landslides. It was just doing a few small rounds to locations nearby!
The War memorial located on the Batasia loop is a monument built to remember the Gorkha soldiers of Darjeeling. Here you can get a clear view of the surrounding mountains and also you can use binoculars that are available to view the mountains and the China border (at least that’s what the people there said!) A fun thing to do here- you can dress in traditional attire and pose for a picture.
As our last stop in Darjeeling we made our way to the world famous and recognized Darjeeling Zoo. Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological park is home to a array of wildlife ranging from high altitude Himalayan animals to highly endangered species. The roadway leading up to the entrance is lined with shops filled with small traditional colorful trinkets and food ( Ideal for shopping! ).
Once you enter the zoo you will be amazed to see the number of different species who live here, some of which you only get to see on Discovery channel. Red pandas are without a doubt the highlight of the zoo since they are highly endangered!
Also you can visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute just located next to the zoo to learn about Mountaineering in the Himalayas and the history surrounding it .
Darjeeling is a city that has so much to offer to its visitors! There is so much to do and see in this small hill station if you dare to wonder around!I highly recommend Darjeeling to anyone heading to India and I can’t wait to go back again !!
So hey, I hope you enjoyed reading the longest blog post in my (short) blogging life and please feel free to share your thought about Darjeeling and what-not !!
Until next time,