Darjeeling in India

THE QUEEN OF THE HILLS

Darjeeling (Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council) in northeast India provides the perfect ambience of a hill resort with its mild climate and laid-back charm. Its verdant hills and valleys are steeped in color, and are interspersed with vast stretches of lush green tea gardens. Presiding over all these is the 8,586-m Mt. Kanchenjunga looming over the northern horizon, giving a magical aura to the land that entices thousands to its environs and leaves all the senses intoxicated.

Darjeeling is hemmed in by Sikkim in the north, Nepal in the west and Bhutan in the east. Darjeeling town, Kalimpong and Kurseong are the major urban centers. Heavily influenced by British India, Darjeeling still retains legacies of its colonial past. The toy train is one of the most striking examples of Darjeeling's British Raj influence.

DARJEELING TOWN


Darjeeling town (population 83,000 and elevation 2,134 m) is located on a spur with houses hugging the hillside. The places to visit are Chowrasta, a wide promenade atop a ridge lined with shops and restaurants; Mall Road, starting and finishing at Chowrasta, for a leisurely stroll amidst peaceful surroundings and splendid views; Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park which houses the Siberian tiger, Himalayan black bear, red panda, snow leopard and many other animal and bird species, and the nearby Snow Leopard Breeding Center and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, a training center for mountaineers which also houses the Everest Museum; Natural History Museum, with its fine display of Himalayan wildlife; Observatory Hill which has Hindu and Buddhist shrines; Dhirdham, a pagoda-style Hindu temple; Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Center, a major center for the
production of Tibetan carpets, woodwork and leather goods; the Buddhist monasteries of Bhutia Busty, Thupten Sangag Choling (Dali) and Yiga-Choling (Ghoom); Batasia Loop, a marvelous feat of railway engineering; Tiger Hill for its renowned sunrise view over the Kanchenjunga and the eastern Himalaya; Japanese Peace Pagoda, established by the Japanese Buddhist order, Nipponzan Myohoji; and Lloyd's Botanical Garden which has a varied collection of Himalayan flora.

Visitors can also take a ride in the Darjeeling-Rangit valley passenger cable car or hop on the toy train which wheezes and winds all the way from Siliguri to Darjeeling town via Kurseong.

AROUND DARJEELING

Kalimpong (pop. 46,500) is a sleepy little town situated at an altitude of 1,200 m, some 50 km to the east of Darjeeling. It once used to be the hub of the trans-Himalayan trade between India and Tibet when merchants used to ferry goods by mule caravan over the Jelepla Pass on the Sikkim-Tibet border.

The places to visit are Kalimpong Arts and Craft Center for handicraft goods; Tharpa Choling Monastery, a repository of old scriptures and documents; Thongsa (Bhutan) Monastery, the oldest in the area; Dharmodaya Vihar, a Nepalese Buddhist temple; Parnami Mandir and Mangal Dham; Durpin Danda from where the mountain ranges of Sikkim, including Jelepla, Tiger Hill and the confluence of the Relli, Riang and Teesta rivers can be viewed; Zong Dog Palri Fo Brang Monastery at Durpin Danda; Deolo View Point for magnificent views; and Kalimpong's famous flower nurseries.

Kurseong (elevation 1,458 m) is a quaint little town about 30 km to the south of Darjeeling on the way to Siliguri.

The market consists of rows of shops lining the main road which is crisscrossed at several points by the railway tracks of the toy train. The places to visit are Eagle's Crag which has a park from where glorious views of the Kanchenjunga on one side and the southern plains on the other can be taken in; Dow Hill which has the forest museum, Deer Park and a water reservoir, all set amidst moss-laden conifers; and Chimney, a serene, open meadow.

Mirik (elevation 1,767 m) is another tiny hill resort easily accessible from Siliguri, Kurseong or Darjeeling. The centerpiece of the town is the Sumendu Lake where boating under the serene gaze of the Kanchenjunga makes for a most relaxing pastime. Rameetay Dara and Deosi Dara are two elevated points near the lake from where the view is terrific. Apple orchards and tea gardens are other attractions.

VISA

Foreigners visiting Darjeeling must possess an Indian visa. No special permit is required for either travelling or trekking inside Darjeeling. However, necessary travel documents need to be shown as and when required.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

From Kathmandu, take the one-hour flight to Bhadrapur (the nearest Nepalese airport to Darjeeling), drive to Kakarbhitta (Nepal-India border, 34 km), to Siliguri (36 km) and to Darjeeling (77 km, 2 hours 30 minutes). An alternate and quicker route is to hire a taxi at Bhadrapur and drive for about one and a half hours to the border town of Pashupatinagar in the north. From here, taxis are available to Darjeeling, which is merely 45 minutes away. Darjeeling is also connected by road with Sikkim (120 km) and Bhutan (about 200 km). Darjeeling town is 90 km from Bagdogra, the nearest Indian airport, where scheduled flights operate from New Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. The nearest railheads are Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri (88 km) which are connected to Kolkata, New Delhi, Guwahati and other major Indian
cities. From Siliguri, buses, taxis and the famous toy train (8 hours) leave for Darjeeling. Transport is provided by buses, four-wheel drive and smaller vehicles. Local taxis are also available for hire for getting around.

GENERAL INFO

Darjeeling is a hilltop town overlooking hills and valleys below.

Season: March-May and September-November are the best times to visit. Bring light woolen clothing during summer (maximum temperature 16 degrees Celsius) and heavy woolens in winter (minimum 1.6 degrees).

Adventure: Trekking, white water rafting, kayaking, canoeing, mountain biking and rock climbing.
Accommodation: There are modern hotels and restaurants in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, and comfortable lodges in Kurseong and Mirik.

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