Darjeeling is one of the most scenic and hugely popular hill resorts in India. Situated at a height of 2134 meters above mean sea level, Darjeeling lies 686 km from Kolkata in the Indian state of West Bengal. Nestled among the backdrop of the mighty snow clad Himalayan peaks, Darjeeling has been a popular with tourists for its beauty and salubrious climate. One can get a clear view of the world’s third highest peak, Kanchenjunga, from the town on a sunny day.
It is also home to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), a World Heritage Site. Tourists can enjoy leisurely walks through the town’s quaint streets, watching the laidback life of the local residents.
Darjeeling offers a plethora of options for those seeking an adrenalin rush. Visit the Singalila National Park to catch a glimpse of the red panda, rhodendron blooms or for some high altitude trekking. The park is a camper’s delight as it is largely free of vicious animals and snakes, making it the most popular family camping destination in the eastern Himalaya. Mountain biking, outdoor camping, river rafting, canoeing and kayaking. If nothing interests you, then just hang up your boots and unwind soaking in the scenic beauty of the hill town.
The name Darjeeling is derived from ‘dorje’ meaning ‘thunderbolt’ and ‘ling’ meaning ‘place’. The district was the part of Sikkim up to the beginning of the 18th century. Disputes over borders led to the intervention of the British East India Company. The British found Darjeeling suitable for setting up a sanatorium. The Chogyal of Sikkim granted the areas in and around present day Darjeeling to British in February, 1835.
In 1839, Darjeeling was connected to the plains by a road. Dr. Arthur Campbell of the Bengal Medical Service experimented with tea seeds in his garden at Beechwood. The first commercial tea gardens were planted at tea Tukvar, Steinthal and Aloobari in 1852. Tea, being a labour-intensive enterprise, required sufficient numbers of workers. For this, employment was offered to people from across the border of Nepal.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, considered as an engineering wonder was built between 1879 and 1881. DHR was inscribed as World Heritage Area (WHA) in 1999. It is the first Hill Railway in India and the second in the world to get the prestigious status.
Apart from the major Hindu religious festivals like Diwali, Dussera, Holi, Ram Navami, etc., several festivals of the different ethnic communities are also celebrated. The Tibetan ethnic groups like the Lepchas, Bhutias, Gurungs, and Tamangs celebrate New Year called Lochar in January/February, Maghe Sankranti, Chotrul Duchen, Buddha Jayanti, and Tendong Lho Rumfaat.
• While visiting Darjeeling, it is best to pack a few warm clothes since the weather is usually cool and gets a little chilly during the nights. Especially during the rainy and winter season, warm clothes are a must.
• An umbrella also comes in handy as the place is known for its unpredictable showers.
• For those visiting the town during peak season, it is best to book accommodation well in advance since the place remains packed with tourists.
- Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society was formed in 1997 to promote awareness of, interest in and support for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR). It has over 800 members in 24 countries. DHRS also publishes a quarterly magazine.
- Darjeeling and the DHR has been featured in several Hindi movies. Sharmila Tagore-Rajesh Khanna song sequence Mere Sapnon Ki Rani Kab Ayegi Tu from the film Aradhana continues to be high on popularity. Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Raju Bangaya Gentleman and Saif Ali Khan-starrer Parineeta are some of the movies shot in Darjeeling.
- Mahatma Gandhi visited Darjeeling once in 1925. The Mahatma completed most of the 80 km of journey from Siliguri to Darjeeling on foot. So enthralled was the Mahatma that he declared the best way to travel through such a beautiful land was on foot.
Shopping in Darjeeling is a beautiful experience for any tourist. Attractive handicrafts and curios bearing Himalayan stamp, which make for gift items back home can be bought here.
The most important and valuable item of this place is the aromatic Darjeeling tea. Darjeeling tea became the first Indian product to receive a Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2004-05. A geographical indication (GI) is a name or sign used on certain products which corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin. The use of GI may act as a certification that the product possesses certain qualities, is made according to traditional methods, or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin.
Some of the must-buys include the locally made Tibetan paintings known as thangka, traditional masks, Nepali khukri, wooden statues, brass objects and woolen clothing. The main shopping centers in Darjeeling are Chowk Bazar, Chowrasta, Ladenla Road, Nehru Road, Supermarket, Motor Stand and Mahakal Market.
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodation is easily available at Darjeeling. There are several hotels that dot the place. Resorts and Hostels also offer a comfortable stay. You may pick the one that suits your budget.
The Mall: The Mall is Darjeeling’s popular commercial street. It is lined with Tibetans selling hand-knitted sweaters and souvenir shops chock-full of Himalayan artifacts and both real and imitation antiques. Photo shops carry turn-of-the-century photos as well as specialising in hand-painted black and white prints with glowing oil colours. The Mall leads to Chaurasta, a square, which doubles as a bandstand, a pony riding arena for children and a haven for lovers.
Chowrasta: The Chowrasta, meaning crossroad, is a hive of commercial activity. The Mall Road originates and culminates at the Chowrasta. This is the heart of Victorian Darjeeling. Here hotels, restaurants and shops brush against each other. The shops and stalls are a veritable paradise for souvenir collectors. The Bhutanese sellers display their wares. Woollen garments, tribal ornaments, Thankas, rosaries, brass statuettes and Gorkha daggers are kept on display for sale. Foreign goods are also available in some shops. Local handicrafts are much in demand.
Bengal Natural History Museum: The Bengal Natural History Museum is near Chowrasta, the heart of Darjeeling. The museum contains a representative and comprehensive, but dusty, collection of Himalayan and Bengali fauna. The museum houses more than 4300 specimens. Bird species, reptiles, and other animals of the Eastern Himalayas are displayed at true to life altitudes. The butterfly and beetle section merits special mention. Specimens of estuarine crocodile, which is responsible for the greatest loss of human life in Asia, are also seen here. Mineral forms of various stones are attractively displayed. The museum is open on all days except Thursdays, and is open between 10 am and 4 pm.
Observatory Hill: The oldest site in Darjeeling is Observatory Hill, known locally as “Makal-Babu-Ko-Thaan”. According to legend, a Red Hat Buddhist Monastery called Dorje Ling, or ‘place of the Thunderbolt’, stood at this very spot. The Nepalis destroyed it in the 19th century. The Shivas and Buddhists share the temple that stands there today.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute: A spot not to be missed is the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute created by the late Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who conquered Mt Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary on 29 May 1953. A display of equipment used on the climb is one of the highlights. A zoological garden nearby has an assortment of wildlife such as yaks, Siberian tigers and red pandas who call the region their home.
Darjeeling Rangeet Valley Passenger Ropeway: At North Point about 3-km from the town, this is the first passenger ropeway in India.
Darjeeling Club: This is popularly known as the Planter’s Club and has the best possible location in town and has a breathtaking view of the mountains and valleys. Approachable directly by car and has a parking area. Limited number of rooms and available for temporary members but permanent members have the first claim. Fully equipped kitchen, bar and other indoor game facilities are available here.
Senchal Golf Course: This 9-hole golf course is one of the highest golf courses in the world (altitude 8,150 ft). It is near the Tiger Hill and has a Club House and a Tourist Lodge.