A Guide To Darjeeling, The Queen Of Hills In India
Darjeeling, a charming hill station in northern West Bengal, is unquestionably one of our favourite destinations of all time. We can’t get enough of Darjeeling, to be honest. The Queen of Hills is a land of breathtaking beauty, surrounded by rolling green tea plantations and the majestic Kanchenjunga ranges towering above the skyline.
The place’s eternal beauty and quaint Victorian charm are enough to entice both visitors and locals. The adorable Darjeeling toy train that whistles its way through the mountains is the icing on the cake. What other hill stations have so many natural wonders rolled into one?
Darjeeling, located at an elevation of approximately 6710 feet, is one of India’s most beautiful destinations. Darjeeling is derived from the Tibetan words ‘dorje’, which means “land,” and ‘ling, which means “mountain.” Darjeeling literally translates as “the land of thunderbolt.”
Darjeeling was a part of Sikkim (which was an independent kingdom at the time) and Nepal for a short time before being purchased by the British East India Company in 1835.
Caption Llyod, a British officer, spent a few days in Darjeeling in February 1829. The area was known as the “Old Gorkha Station of Darjeeling” at the time. The place was nothing like it is now. It was a desolate landscape with dense forests and mountains. Caption Llyod saw Darjeeling as a great sanatorium or health resort for British officers.
What is the Best Time to Visit Darjeeling?
Darjeeling typically has two peak tourist seasons: March to May and October to November. This is the peak season for tourists to visit Darjeeling. It is entirely up to you to plan your Darjeeling trip based on what you want to experience in Darjeeling. I’d like to talk briefly about the seasons in Darjeeling.
March to May (Spring and Summer)
This is a fantastic time to visit Darjeeling. The weather is still pleasant. After all, one of the primary reasons for planning a trip to Darjeeling is to avoid the summer heat in the plains. The sky is also clear, allowing for a clear view of the Kanchenjunga ranges. However, this is peak tourist season, and Darjeeling will be packed with locals.
March and April are the spring months, as well as the rhododendron blooming season.
June to September (Monsoon)
Monsoon season typically begins in mid-June and lasts until September. There is a risk of landslides during the monsoon season, and some roads may be closed as a result of the rain. Darjeeling, on the other hand, looks incredibly beautiful and romantic during the rains, though you won’t get any mountain views because the weather is mostly cloudy. Also, tourism is low at this time of year, so you can see an uncrowded and relatively tranquil Darjeeling.
To be honest, monsoon season is one of our favourite times to visit Darjeeling. We get cheaper rooms, the roads are empty, and the mist and clouds that envelop the roads completely enchant us.
October to November (Autumn)
Autumn is an excellent time to visit Darjeeling. The weather is still pleasant, nature is alive, and the skies are clear. During this time, you would have excellent views of the snow-covered peaks. However, this is peak season, and Darjeeling will be packed with both domestic and international visitors.
December to February (Winter)
Winter in Darjeeling is bitterly cold, with snowfall in December at higher elevations. Tiger Hill, which is only 11 kilometres from Darjeeling, also gets snow in the winter. During this time, Darjeeling sees fewer visitors. If you plan to visit Darjeeling during the winter, bring woollens.
Winter is our preferred season for Darjeeling tours. We love the winters in hill stations, and Darjeeling never disappoints in this regard. Darjeeling oranges are also popular, and we get them in the winter.
Having said that, the weather on the hills is difficult to predict. It can be sunny and bright one minute and then cloudy and foggy the next.
How to Reach Darjeeling?
Bagdogra Airport is the nearest airport, and New Jalpaiguri Railway Station is the nearest broad gauge railway station (NJP). I mentioned broad-gauge railways because the famous toy train can take you to Darjeeling from NJP.
To get to Darjeeling, you can take both shared jeeps and rented vehicles from NJP. You will take rented cabs from Bagdogra Airport to Darjeeling. Shared jeeps are also available from the Siliguri Main Bus Stand in the direction of Darjeeling. Buses are also available from Siliguri to Darjeeling, but I would recommend taking the shared sumos instead.
Best Places to visit in Darjeeling
Darjeeling is a small hilly town, but there are a number of places to visit in Darjeeling that are only a short distance away. Darjeeling town is small, but the Darjeeling district encompasses 3,000 square kilometres. While Darjeeling has many attractions and places to visit, you can also travel to Kurseong and Kalimpong, two other hill stations that are equally beautiful and charming. I’ve discussed some of the must-see tourist attractions in Darjeeling here.
A trip to Darjeeling, in my opinion, is never complete without witnessing the sunrise at Tiger Hill. Tiger Hill, at an elevation of 2,590 metres, is located approximately 11 kilometres from Darjeeling town. If you visit Tiger Hill during the day, it is just another viewpoint with few tourists. However, early in the morning, there is a long line of cars and people waiting for the sun to rise. Tiger Hill is now famous around the world for its breathtaking sunrise views of Kanchenjunga and other eastern Himalayan ranges.
Tiger Hill has a watchtower from which you can get a panoramic view of the mountain ranges. It’s an incredible sight to see the first rays of sunlight fall on the snow-capped peaks of Kanchenjunga and Everest. As the sun rises above the horizon, the sky gradually changes colour from golden yellow to orange.
Autumn and winter are the best seasons for seeing sunrise. However, the weather in Darjeeling is quite unpredictable, and a sudden cloud can completely obscure the sunrise view. Tiger Hill is a great place to visit in Darjeeling if you want to soak in the Himalayan beauty.
Batasia Loop and War Memorial
Batasia Loop is located on the Hill Cart Road about 5 kilometres from Darjeeling town and is one of the highlights of your Darjeeling trip. The Batasia Loop is a massive railway loop just after Ghum where the Darjeeling toy train makes a 360-degree turn. From here, you can get a panoramic view of the Kanchenjunga ranges and the surrounding landscape. At Batasia Loop, there is a well-maintained eco-garden with proper seating arrangements where you can sit and enjoy the beautiful views.
The War Memorial can be found in the centre of the Batasia Loop. The Gorkha War Memorial was dedicated in 1995 to honour the Gorkha soldiers who gave their lives for the country. A 3-metre bronze statue of a Gorkha soldier pays homage in the centre. A small market area outside the Batasia Loop sells curios, bags, hats, and other decorative items. After watching the sunrise at Tiger Hill, you can visit Batasia Loop.
Darjeeling Mall or Chowrasta
Darjeeling Mall, also known as Chowrasta, is the town’s centre and the most happening place. The Mall is a flat piece of land that has been converted into a pedestrian-only zone, with no traffic allowed. There are seating areas throughout the Mall where you can unwind with a steaming hot cup of Darjeeling tea. Tea bars, curio shops, book stores, and other businesses can be found in the Mall area. You can take a leisurely stroll around the Mall or simply sit on a bench and watch Darjeeling come to life in front of you. A horse ride around the Mall is also available at a fixed price.
Around Darjeeling Mall, there are a few noteworthy attractions. You can walk around Mall Road and see some of Darjeeling’s important and heritage sites. Many functions and cultural programmes are also held in the open-air auditorium and stage. The Mall, also known as Chowrasta, is the social fabric of Darjeeling.
Darjeeling Zoo and HMI
Darjeeling Zoo, also known as the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, is one of the most appealing places to visit in Darjeeling. The zoo, which spans 27 hectares, is the only one dedicated to conservation breeding programmes for rare Himalayan species such as the red panda, snow leopards, Tibetan wolves, Himalayan Black bears, and other endangered species.
The Himalayan Mountain Institute, or HMI, is said to be a must-see for mountaineers and climbers. It is also a must-see for all mountain enthusiasts. It has a mountaineering museum and many expedition artefacts. HMI is part of the same complex as the zoo, and both can be visited together. We make it a point to visit HMI whenever we visit Darjeeling. Just looking at the complex and reading its slogan “May you climb from peak to peak” makes us happy.
Timings: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the summer and 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the winter.
Rock Garden and Ganga Maya Park
The Rock Garden and Ganga Maya Park are two lovely parks near each other. The Rock Garden, about 10 kilometres from Darjeeling town, is a terraced garden cut through the rock with seating arrangements in between. The cascading waterfall cascading down the rocks is the main attraction here. Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council established the Rock Garden, also known as the Barbotey Rock Garden, to promote tourism in Darjeeling.
Ganga Maya Park is about 3 kilometres from Rock Garden and has a beautiful flower garden and fountains. In the park, there is a small lake where visitors can go boating.
Japanese Temple and Peace Pagoda
The Japanese Temple and Peace Pagoda is a place of peace and tranquillity. It is about a 10-minute drive from Darjeeling town in the Jalapahar Hills. The temple, also known as the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple, was built in 1972 by Nichidatsu Fujii, a Japanese Buddhist monk. The temple has two stories and is built in the traditional Japanese style. The view from here is simply breathtaking. From here, you can see the Kanchenjunga peak.
The Peace Pagoda is right next to the temple. The Japanese Peace Pagoda was built to bring people of all castes and creeds together for the sake of world peace. At the temple, you may occasionally hear Buddhist chants and prayers. The place is indeed serene, and you can sense it once you arrive.
Timings: Every day from 4:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The prayer times are 4.30 AM to 6.00 AM and 4.30 PM to 6.30 PM.
Happy Valley Tea Estate
A trip to Darjeeling would be incomplete without a visit to a tea garden. Happy Valley Tea Estate is the best place to get a firsthand look at tea gardens as well as how tea leaves make their way to your cup. Wilson Tea Estate, which was established in 1854, was the name of the tea estate. The estate was later renamed Happy Valley Tea Estate. The estate, which spans approximately 110 hectares, is one of the highest tea estates in West Bengal. The majority of the tea bushes here are over a century old!
Happy Valley Tea Estate, located below the Hill Cart Road, is best visited between March and October, during the plucking and processing season. During this time, a tea factory employee will show you around and explain the processes of withering, rolling, fermenting, and drying, as well as how black, green, and white tea are extracted from the same tea leaves. Tea tasting is also available at the end of the tour. There is also a tea boutique where you can purchase high-quality Darjeeling tea grown on the estate.
Timings: The Tea Estate and Factory are open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Because tea is not picked in the winter, the factory is closed from November to February.
Observatory Hill and the Mahakal Temple
Just behind the Mall is the Observatory Hill and Mahakal Temple. The Mahakal Temple can be found at the top of Observatory Hill. As you walk down Mall Road, you will notice a set of stairs leading up to the hill and temple. It is believed that the Mahakal Temple was built on the site of a Buddhist monastery called Dorjeling Monastery.
The original monastery was built in 1765 by Lama Dorje Rinzing and was destroyed during the Gorkha invasion in 1815. Later, the Mahakal Temple was built there, and the monastery was rebuilt about 1.5 kilometres downhill from Chowrasta.
Not only will you hear Hindu prayer chants at Mahakal Temple, but you will also hear Buddhist monks reading scriptures. It is a beautiful union of Hinduism and Buddhism, similar to what we saw in Nepal’s Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
Timings: The hours are from sunrise to sunset.
The Ghum Monastery, also known as the Yiga Choeling Monastery, is one of the most magnificent monasteries near Darjeeling. It is one of the oldest Tibetan monasteries in the Darjeeling area, located at Ghum at an elevation of 7400 feet and 8 kilometres from Darjeeling town. The 15-foot-tall statue of Maitreya Buddha, or the future Buddha, is the monastery’s main attraction.
It is believed that the clay used to create the Buddha statue was brought all the way from Tibet. In front of the statue, there are two massive oil lamps that are kept burning all year. A 108-volume Kangyur – The Tibetan Buddhist Gospel – is also housed at the monastery.
Tenzing and Gombu Rocks
Tenzing Rock is a massive naturally formed rock in Darjeeling named after Tenzing Norgay. The Gombu Rock is located directly opposite Tenzing Rock and is named after Nawang Gombu, Tenzing Norgay’s nephew who scaled Mt Everest twice in 1963 and 1965. The HMI uses these rocks for rock climbing training. Tenzing Rock’s right face is used for amateur climbers, so you can also try your hand at rock climbing.
Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre
The Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre was founded in 1959 to assist Tibetans who had fled to India following the Chinese invasion of Tibet. They adopted the self-help principle in order to survive.
Tibetans produce exquisite handicrafts such as shawls, carpets, and carved wooden and other items. You can see Tibetan men and women working patiently on these handicrafts if you go there. There is a shop where you can purchase these handicrafts. The Tibetan Refugee Centre is situated on a hilltop accessible via Lebong Cart Road. The complex also includes a small monastery. This is one of our favourite places to visit during our Darjeeling vacation.
Darjeeling Toy Train
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railways Toy Train Ride is undoubtedly one of the major attractions of Darjeeling and should be included in your Darjeeling tour. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) was India’s first mountain railway, opening in 1881 to connect Darjeeling with the plains of Siliguri. This mountain railway is said to be one of the best examples of a mountain railway and an outstanding engineering feat accomplished during that time period. The DHR has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you have the time, taking a ride from NJP to Darjeeling is the best way to experience the Darjeeling Toy Train. It is a long ride, almost a day long, but it will be an unforgettable experience. If you don’t want to go on this adventure, you can take a toy train from Darjeeling to Ghum or Kurseong.
The Darjeeling Toy Train Joy Ride, on the other hand, is the best option. This is a 14-kilometer ride that takes two hours from Darjeeling Station to Ghum and back. The train comes to a halt at Batasia Loop. Darjeeling Joy Ride costs between Rs 1000.00 and Rs 1600.00 per person.
How can I not mention Darjeeling Tea while writing about Darjeeling? Darjeeling is without a doubt one of the finest tea producers in the world. Darjeeling has a number of tea gardens and estates that produce some of the best tea in the world. One of the most valuable souvenirs from India is a packet of Darjeeling tea.
The cup is ready and waiting for you. Enjoy the aroma and flavour of fresh and pure Darjeeling Tea with a sip. Enough with the tea advertisements! Now, let me tell you where you can get tea in Darjeeling. Darjeeling Tea can be sampled at a number of outlets, tea lounges, and tea bars. Our personal favourites are the Darjeeling teas served at Nathmulls on Darjeeling Mall and Glenarys on Nehru Road. We also enjoy the tea sold by roadside vendors.
Some of the best places to have tea during your Darjeeling trip are
- Nathmull’s Tea and Sunset Lounge
- House of Tea
- Golden Tips Tea Lounge
- Afternoon Tea at Windermere
- Happy Golden Cafe
You can get your tea packet from any of these locations. However, I would recommend purchasing Darjeeling tea from establishments that provide an invoice rather than roadside stalls. Another good place to buy Darjeeling tea is Happy Valley Tea Estate.