Darjeeling, the Queen of the Himalayas

Situated at a height of 2042 meters (6700 feet) above mean sea level, Darjeeling is known for its cool climate throughout the year. Photo: Shutterstock/Modern Artisan

Known as the ‘Queen of Himalayas’, Darjeeling has always been an endearing destination for tourists across the globe. The small town on the lap of the Himalayan mountains in the northern tip of West Bengal had served the colonial rulers as the summer capital. The name Darjeeling has its origin in two Tibetan words ‘Dorge’ means ‘thunderbolt’ and ‘Ling’ means ‘a place’ or ‘land’. Thus Darjeeling means the ‘Land of Thunderbolt’.
The location
Situated at a height of 2042 meters (6700 feet) above mean sea level, Darjeeling is known for its cool climate throughout the year. A blend of culture and tradition of North-Eastern states, the majority of the population here speaks Nepalese and is also conversant in Hindi and English.

How to reach?
Whether travelling by train or flight, book your tickets as early as possible (minimum two months) to ensure a smooth journey and to get affordable fares. The nearest airport is Bagdogra of the Indian Air Force. New Jalpaiguri (NJP) is the nearest railway station. Siliguri, the nearest city to the airport is 16 km away.
Flying down at Bagdogra
By air, it takes hardly two hours for direct flights to reach Bagdogra airport from Bengaluru. Flying over the Himalayas was a visual extravaganza. It was like a voyage through a ‘milky ocean’ of clouds. You can marvel at the snow-clad peaks of the majestic Himalayas kissing the blue sky. Darjeeling is 90 km away from Bagdogra and 88 km away from the New Jalpaiguri Railway station. Buses to Darjeeling are available from the Tenzing Norgay Bus stand at Siliguri (Rs 100 to Rs 150). Cabs are also available from both airport and railway stations (Rs 1000 and above).

The Toy Train and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Don’t miss a joy ride in the toy train which has a legacy of more than 125 years. Aptly recognized by the United Nations (UN) by conferring World Heritage Status in 1999, the 88 km long railway line was built by the British, between New Jalpaigury and Darjeeling in 1880s. An engineering marvel, the train goes uphill through the 610 mm narrow gauge line, starting from 100 m above sea level at NJP to 2200 meters to Darjeeling. Those with enough time can enjoy a 7-hour trip from NJP top enjoying the climb or can have a feel of the custom-made 2-hour round-trip from Darjeeling to Ghum.

Ghum Railway Station
The round-trip would start at 7: 40 am every day and the last ride is at 4:20 pm. Rides in both diesel engines (Rs 1000/ person) and old steam engines (Rs 1500/ person) are available. The train moves through beautiful tea gardens, panoramic valleys, and sometimes even through the road- cutting through the bustling streets. The ride has two stops, one at Ghum, and the second at Batasia Loop.

Ghum Railway Station and Museum
Ghum is the railway station, set at the highest altitude (2258 meters) in the country. At Ghum, there is the Darjeeling Hill Railway (DHR) museum where the oldest and defunct steam engines are kept. Step down at the station and ensure some memorable photos.
Batasia Loop
On return, the train would stop at Batasia Loop for 10 minutes, from where one can have a view of Mount Kanchenjunga if the weather is good. You can also see the Darjeeling town below. Here you can also try the traditional dress of the indigenous communities and also buy some curios. One can have a panoramic view of the valley from Batasia Loop also there is the war memorial, with a garden, constructed in honour of the nameless Gorgha soldiers of Darjeeling who sacrificed their lives to protect the nation.

Tiger Hill, the Sunrise viewpoint
At Darjeeling, the ‘sunrise’ at Tiger Hills, is one of the most enchanting experiences. Here the first rays of sun illuminate the snow-capped Himalayan Mountains amid which you can see the twin peaks of Mount Kanchenjunga in all its glory. If the sky is clear, one can also see Mount Everest. Lying at 2590 meters from sea level, the viewpoint is hardly a 30-minute drive, (13 km) away from the city. One has to trek about 500 meters on foot to reach the viewpoint where there is a vast gallery for tourists to comfortably sit and watch the sun blessing the horizon. Better to start by 3: 30 am as you can reach the viewpoint before 4:15 am to find a comfortable seat or watching spot. Cabs operate from the city to the hill every day.

Monasteries, the abode of culture and tradition
Each monastery of Tibetan Buddhist origin provides a feast for the eyes, a festival of colours. More than a dozen monasteries are situated here. The Ghoom Monastery, Bhutia Busty Monastery, Dali Monastery and Samten Choeling Monastery are considered the most significant. At Ghoom monastery you will be welcomed by the statue of Maitreya Budha, believed to be the future incarnation of Buddha. Buy some curios as it is one of the sources of income for the inmates, apart from the contributions. Mesmerising Tibetan art and depictions of Buddhism decorate the walls. Different images of Bodhisattva are also seen here.

The Darjeeling Tea and cuisine
At Darjeeling don’t miss to visit the high-altitude tea gardens where the globally acclaimed best Indian tea brands have been made. And also buy some high-quality tea. Darjeeling cuisine also is unique with Nepali and Naga dishes. Along with beef and chicken dishes, pork is also popular. The ‘Hotel Kathmandu Kitchen’ on Mall Road is the best to taste Nepali dishes, which has almost 30 Thali varieties. To have a unique taste of Naga cuisine, step into either ‘Kunga Restaurant’ near Chowk Bazaar or to ‘The Revolver Restaurant’, near the Union Chapel at Gandhi Road.

The blessing of the seasons
The best season to visit the hill destination is ‘October to December’ (autumn) and also between ‘February to April’ (spring). During winter the temperature in the town dips to 5 degrees Celsius. At greater heights, the temperature goes further down to a sub-zero level. During summer (March-May) the temperature would be 15 degrees Celsius to 20 degrees Celsius. 

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