Darjeeling

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.

Tips

•    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.

History

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.

Fun facts

  • 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.

Culture

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.

Shopping

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.

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Where to eat

A popular food in Darjeeling is thupka and momos, a steamed dumpling containing meat and vegetables cooked in a doughy wrapping and served with watery soup called thupka, but one doesn't get stuck for want of multicuisine food. While there are a number of quality restaurants that serves anything from popular Chinese and Continental to hot and spicy Indian, along the bends and streets you can find plenty of eateries that sells lip-smacking local delicacies all day long.

Best time to visit

The best time to visit this hill station is from March to May and from September to December. The rains which start by May end are heavy downpours making living conditions cold and dreary and should be avoided as they frequently cause landslides.

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