Monday, February 23, 2009


Darjeeling - a Himalayan Queen

At an elevation of 6812 ft., this West Bengal hill-station, with its monastries and tea gardens set against the snow-capped vistas of the world's third-highest mountain, Mount Kanchenjunga (27,400 ft.), is just the perfect retreat if the mention of a cozy vacation peppered with adventure escapades ticks you on. Just as the flight of your imagination begins to take off, a quaint whistle of a century old little train penetrates the vista and you are reminded once again - it is Darjeeling!


The Toy train: The century old Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, fondly nicknamed 'toy train', is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This engineering marvel begins from Sukna (533 ft.) and chugs up the hill to reach Darjeeling(6812 ft.) passing Asia's highest railway station Ghoom at 7407 ft. - making it one of the most treacherous rail jouneys in the world. The hung-ho apart, the toy-train trail is something should not be missed if you want to feel the spirit of a this paradisiacal land and of its humble denizens.

Tiger Hill:
Roosted at 8482 ft. near the Ghoom Monastery and about 13 km from the town, the magnificient views of the sunrise over the Kanchenjunga makes it a photographer's dream-come-true. On a sunny day, the world's highest peak, the Mount Everest, can be spotted in the distant horizon. Flanking the Tiger hill is the Senchal lake with a 9-hole golf course (one of the highest in the world), a clubhouse and an exotic tourist lodge - that is a popular weekend escape.

Monastries: The Monastery at Ghoom, about 6 km south of the city has a 4.57-m high statue of a seated Maitreya Buddha (the coming Buddha) that attracts adherents from far and wide. Aloobari Gompa, about 3 km from the city centre, is a good place to drop by for some interesting Tibetan and Sikkimese religious accessories you can also buy as souvenirs. About 11 km from the city, with the backdrop of Kanchenjunga, is the colorful Bhutia Busty Gompa, whose library has the original Tibetan Book of the Dead, amongst thousand other Buddhist texts.

The Observatory Hill: For a good visual sweep of the entire purlieu climb up the Observatory Hill or the Mahakal Baba ko Sthan, held sacred by Hindus and Buddhists. The Kali shrine and the colorful fluttering Buddhist prayer flags strung between the pine trees make a beatific spectacle.

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute: Perched on the Jawarhar Parbat, about 2 km from Chowrasta, is an institute for training the adventure mongers. Why you should go there for is the institute's collection of historic mountaineering equipment, specimens of Himalayan flora and fauna, a relief model of the Himalayas and a record of all attempts to scale the Mount Everest.

Zoological Park: Neighboring the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is the Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park that houses the Siberian tigers, Himalayan Black bear and the Red Panda. Not to be missed is the Snow Leopard breeding centre here.

Dhirdham Temple: Located just below the Darjeeling railway station, the temple is a replica of the famous Pashupatinath Temple of Kathmandu (Nepal).

Passenger Ropeway: Situated at 3 km from the city center at the North Point is the 5-km long India's first passenger ropeway that connects Darjeeling with Singla Bazaar on the Ranjit River at the bottom of the valley. A ride on this cable-car repletes the theme of adventure so typical of this roof-top city.

Adventure escapades: Trekking begins in Darjeeling and proceeds through Maneybhanjyang, Tonglu, Sandakphu and ends in Phalut. Teesta river is ideal for whitewater rafting.

Festivals: The Beni Mela is held on the banks of the River Teesta in January, the New Year for the Bhutias and the Lepchas. Tibetan New Year is celebrated in February and is marked by great festivities, religious ceremonies and colourful folk dances in monasteries. Every 14-20 November, the Teesta Tea and Tourism Festival is held here with cultural performances, tea estate visits and organised tours, treks and walks around the region.


Shop for Himalayan curios like thangkas (Tibetan paintings), brass statues, Nepali khukris and masks, jewelery, woodcarvings, woven fabrics and bamboo baskets, carpets and of course, the famous Darjeeling tea. Chowrasta and The Mall are the shopping spots. For Tibetan souvenirs visit Habib Mullick and for local handicrafts go down to Hayden Hall.


Darjeeling momos (a steamed dough dumpling stuffed with pork, beef or vegetables) and thukpas (noodles in soup) are famous. Wai-Wai is a packaged snack comprising of noodles which can be munched dry or boiled. Churpee, a kind of cheese made from cow's or yak's milk. For the freezing evenings try Chhang, a local beer made from millet or the royal Darjeeling tea.

For Indian and Chinese food, check out Park (Laden La Road) and for wholesome vegetarian thalis and Indian snacks head to Hasty Tasty (the Mall).


Kalimpong (51 km): A quieter hillstation at an altitude of 4,100 ft., Kalimpong is known for its magnificent views of Mt Kanchenjunga, abundance of wild orchids and educational institutions.

Mirik (48 km): At an altitude of 1,730 m this sequestered hill-station is carpeted with forests of Cryptomeria Japonica, orange orchards, tea gardens and cardamom plantations. Sumendu Lake, with its 3.5 km of cobbled promenade, offers boating facilities. Also visit the carpet-weaving centre at Krishnanagar. Trekking tracks to Kurseong and Sandakphu begin here.

Kurseong: The toy train hisses past this station midway between Darjeeling from Siliguri is Kurseong (1,458 m) famous for the Deer Park and Makaibari Tea Estate.

Phalut & Sandakphu: About 60 km away is a joint that commands the best views of the Himalayan grandeur. Giant flowering Rhododendron trees and a pointillism of reds, pinks and whites Dwarfs comprise of the en route trail. On attaining heights of over 3,048m, one is surrounded by skeletal trees devoid of leaves and branches, which are especially eerie when the clouds roll in and envelop the area. Sandakphu with over 650 avian species is an ornithologists paradise.

Rock Garden, Barbotay (15 km): The Chunu falls cascading over the boulders provides an ecstatic view.

Location :
500 km N of Kolkata, West Bengal, East India

Go there for :
Tea Gardens, Toy Train, Adventure

Climate :
8.5°- 15°C (Sum); 1°- 6°C (Win)

When to Go:
Mar-Jun, Sep-Dec

Local Tongue:
Nepali, Bengali, Hindi

STD Code :
+ 91 - 354

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