Things to see and do in Darjeeling
Spring and early summer (March – May) are the best times to visit Darjeeling. This hill station remains pleasantly cool during these hot summer months that leave the rest of the country scorched. Sea also the best hill stations in India.
Why visit Darjeeling
Darjeeling offers stunning views of Kanchenjunga, the highest mountain in India. There are lush tea gardens on the slopes of the hills. The food is amazing and there are plenty of opportunities for shopping and adventure. Do you need another reason to visit Darjeeling?
Darjeeling is part of the State of West Bengal. It is a hill station located at an altitude of 6,710 feet. The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri and the nearest airport is Bagdogra. It takes about 3 hours to reach Darjeeling by car from these locations. Darjeeling is a small hill station spread over an area of 10 square kilometers. It is part of Darjeeling district. Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim and another tourist attraction in North East India is a 4 hours’ drive from Darjeeling.
History of Darjeeling
Like most other hill stations in India, Darjeeling was developed by the British who needed respite from the heat. In the 1800’s they built a health resort there, but it wasn’t the resort that earned Darjeeling a place on the travel map of India. It was the tea grown here. Darjeeling tea has a special aroma. It was famous all over the world in the 19th century itself. Darjeeling began to develop when roads were laid to connect it to the plains. And then the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was built. The improved connectivity eventually made Darjeeling one of the most popular destinations in North East India.
There are numerous tea gardens in Darjeeling. The narrow gauge Toy Train is still operational and continues to amaze travelers with its ability to negotiate steep gradients and the curves of the mountains.
People living in the hills are mostly immigrant Nepalese and Tibetans. While the Nepalese are Hindus, the Tibetans follow Buddhism. They look so different from the people living in the lower plains. It is a beautiful world that never ceases to amaze the traveler.
The Mall or Chowrasta is the heart of Darjeeling. It is an open public square where vehicles are not allowed. There are several stores, restaurants and hotels here. The Mall is the hub of all activities and hence this is where most tourists prefer to stay. There are plenty of hotels in and around the Mall. If you need quiet, you should find accommodation a little away from the town center.
Darjeeling has perfect weather during spring (March – April), summer (May – June), and autumn (September – November). Needless to say, the town attracts countless tourists during these seasons. Monsoon is not exactly a great time to visit Darjeeling. It rains incessantly. Mist will envelop the entire town, and you won’t be able to see farther than a few inches, let alone the peaks of Kanchenjunga.
Darjeeling has got everything that a tourist needs – sprawling tea gardens, snowy peaks, deep valleys, winding mountain roads, dense forests and flowers. Combine these with amazing food, adventure and wonderful sightseeing tours and you have a perfect holiday.
Places to visit in Darjeeling
Darjeeling has countless tourist attractions. These include incredible viewpoints, monasteries, temples, museums, galleries, parks, waterfalls and rolling tea gardens. During spring and autumn when the sky is clear, tourists flock to the lookout points from where they can get magnificent views of the snow-clad Kanchenjunga peaks.
While some tourist points can be accessed on foot, you will need to hire a taxi to reach others. The local taxi drivers and tour operators offer 3-Point, 7-Point or Mixed Point sightseeing tours. Some tour operators also offer village tours, heritage tours and tea garden walks.
Darjeeling has numerous hotels and resorts catering to various budgets. Know your budget and find accommodation accordingly.
The Mall has several restaurants where they offer Indian, Chinese, Nepali, Thai, Tibetan and Continental dishes. The food is simply amazing. Try Tibetan wanton soup or Nepali thali. You will not regret these choices. A Naga dish made from dried bamboo shoots and meat is another delicacy. Restaurants also cater to various budgets. There are plenty of tin shack eateries as well. They offer excellent food at incredibly low prices.
Shopping and nightlife
Darjeeling has plenty of stores that sell handicrafts, woolen clothes, jackets and kashminas, not to mention the world famous Darjeeling Tea. Darjeeling also has some great pubs and bars where both locals and tourists gather at night.
Trekking in Darjeeling
Darjeeling is a trekker’s paradise. If you enjoy walking and climbing, there are plenty of unbelievable routes that offer brilliant views of the mountains, wildlife and forests. Where else in the world can you get incredible views of four out of five tallest peaks in the world? Darjeeling is also famous for its rich flora and fauna. Rare animals like Red Panda live in the hills of Darjeeling. The hills are home to over 600 varieties of orchids, and other flowering plants like magnolia, rhododendrons, and primula.
Best time to visit
Darjeeling attracts visitors throughout the year. There is no good time or bad time to visit Darjeeling. It depends upon what you want to see. Winters (December – February) are very cold and it snows sometimes. Still, a lot of people visit in winter to enjoy the occasional snow and chilly weather.
Darjeeling has mainly two tourist seasons. In spring (March – April) and autumn (September – November), the temperature is pleasantly cool and the sky is clear. The rainy season lasts from June to September. Spring is a great time to visit Darjeeling. You will find flowers wherever you look. If you are planning to visit in March or April, book your accommodation well in advance.
The temperature remains pleasant in summer (May-June), but you hail storms may jeopardize your plans.
The rains start in June and mist will envelop the city quickly. Not many people visit Darjeeling during this season, but if you enjoy the play of mist, monsoon is also a great time to visit. It rains incessantly. There is an important advantage to visiting Darjeeling in June or July – you will have the hills to yourself. The forests also look their best during this season. And the sound of rains falling on the tin roofs of cottages – well, there is something incredibly romantic about it.
As the sky becomes clear in autumn, the mountain peaks will become visible. So if you want to enjoy beautiful views of Kanchenjunga, visit in September or October.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Toy Train
The Toy Train has been an integral part of Darjeeling for over 130 years. The British introduced it in 1881 to connect Siliguri with Darjeeling.
The tea is what put Darjeeling on world map. During your visit to Darjeeling, don’t forget to visit the tea gardens that produce the best tea in the world. Darjeeling Tea isn’t all that cheap. Regular black tea can cost Rs.700 (about $10) per kilo. White organic tea may cost over Rs. 50,000 / kg.
Darjeeling has changed over the years. Today it is one of the busiest hill stations in India. To accommodate the influx of travelers, hotels and resorts have mushroomed everywhere. Mindless construction activity has destroyed some of its charm, but if you look for beauty, Darjeeling still has got plenty of it. These hills once inspired Mark Twain so much that he wrote about Darjeeling: “The one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once by even a glimpse would not give that glimpse for the shows of the rest of the world combined”.