There was a time when every newly-wed couple in a Bollywood movie honeymooned in Darjeeling (the other favourite being Switzerland!). Before that, there was a time when the colonial British raced in droves to Darjeeling to escape the blistering summers in the Indian plains.
The name Darjeeling derives its origin from 2 words - Dorje meaning thunderbolt and ling meaning land, roughly therefore translating to “Land of the thunderbolt”.
The romance of this misty, sleepy little town nestling amidst snow-capped mountains replete with beautiful flowering plants like orchid, primrose and magnolia, lush with evergreen pine and rhododendron, and often iced with cottony snow, is unquestionable. This town for a while changed hands off and on, between the rulers of Sikkim, the British, was laid claim to by Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal, but none of this seems to have affected its beauty or the universal friendliness of its inhabitants – a hospitable assortment of Lepchas, Rongpas, Gurungs, Dukpas, Bhutias and Lamas - people from various hill tribes around the region – ever smiling and warm.
And then there’s the tea.
Nothing is quite as fragrant, fresh and aromatic, for hardly any other place comes with this unique blend of altitude, soil, rain and shine, notwithstanding the sweet people who help grow and pluck it. People who have never heard of Darjeeling, the hill-station, have still heard of Darjeeling tea, and it is unfashionable not to serve it on any airline in the world at 33000 feet.
The kings of Sikkim once owned all the area in present Sikkim right up to the plains of Bengal. Darjeeling and Kalimpong was part of it. This was until they lost Kalimpong in the early 18th century to the Bhutanese. A few decades later, the Gurkhas invaded and annexed Sikkim and whatever remained of the land, soon after Gurkha rule was enforced on Nepal. Gurkha ownership of this area was short-lived, though, for the British soon fought and defeated them, to restore Sikkim to its king – for a price, of course. The price was British control over affairs throughout this area, including relationships with neighbouring states, in exchange for a stipend for the King.
During the investigation of a dispute between Nepal and Sikkim, two British officers, Capt. C. A. Lloyd and Mr. J. W. Grant, passed by Chungtong, a place towards the west of Darjeeling and were quite fascinated by what they saw. They spent some time in Darjeeling, and its abundant possibilities became quite apparent to them. They recognized instantly its promise as a sanctuary and resort, and not less importantly, as a door into Nepal as well as Tibet. No sooner was this conveyed to the powers in Calcutta than they cleverly, inexorably manipulated their way into taking over beautiful Darjeeling, the king hardly in any position to resist the British pressure.
This development, however, had a direct impact on the trade between the Lamas and the merchants of Sikkim, and friction between the Tibetans and the British escalated. So did hostilities, and the British eventually assumed control over all the land belonging to the Raja, even terminating his annual stipend. Once a quiet Sikkimese enclave, Darjeeling assumed a different status, ensuring that Sikkim was cut off from the plains, unless contact was through British controlled land. Sikkim came to be invaded by the Tibetans, and following that, the British headed to Lhasa for battle. In the meantime, Darjeeling grew and developed rapidly, houses, hotels, roads and infrastructure falling in place. With this grew the population, not least because of the recruitment of laborers from Nepal to work on the tea plantations established by the British in the 1840s, sprawled across the region.
The Gurkhas presence in up-country West Bengal was a ticking time bomb over an entire century, though, what with the Nepali language not being acknowledged as local, government jobs favouring those who ethnically belonged in Bengal and spoke Bengali, and other subtle political discriminations. The growing resentment became a movement in the 1980s, and exploded in the form of riots throughout the hill country.
The insurgence by the GNLF (Gorkha National Liberation Front) continued for years, led by Subhash Ghising, with a rampaging demand for a separate state known as Gorkhaland. The movement left hundreds of people dead, and thousands driven out of their own homes by force. Tourism, long a traditional identity of Darjeeling, shuddered to a sad, chilling halt. The State Government eventually gave in, awarding autonomy of operation to the DGHC (Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council). Though still part of West Bengal, Darjeeling functions independently up to a measure.
Darjeeling is situated in northern West Bengal, which is one of the eastern states in India. It stands at a height of 2134m (7053 ft) and covers part of a mountain ridge. It is a small town, with an area of about 11.5 square km. People here speak English (at least a smattering of), Nepali, Hindi, Tibetan and Bengali. The climate, obviously is one of the best things about Darjeeling. A deliciously cool maximum of 20 degrees in the summer months between March and May, it freezes up in the winter, the temperature dropping below zero. Monsoon is between June and September, and is fairly heavy with an average of 320 cms.
How to get there:
The airport closest to Darjeeling is Bagdogra which is approximately 90 km from here. Indian Airlines as well as a few of the private carriers operate in and out of here. Bagdogra has flights to and from Calcutta, Delhi and Guwahati. Driving from from Bagdogra to Darjeeling would take about 3½ hours, winding through the hills. Darjeeling has its own travel infrastructure making it convenient to book and organize your tours from within here.
The closest Major railway station is at Jalpaiguri, which at 88 km from Darjeeling is a 3 hour drive away. You can take the famous toy train,. The journey takes approximately seven and half hours.
There is a “Toy” train (which is basically an ancient meter gauge train operating here) that runs between Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, which takes as many as 8 hours one way! The purpose of this train, however, is not commuting but sightseeing, and is a truly breathtaking journey. This trip is legendary and never fails to thrill.
Jalpaiguri is well connected thereafter to all the major cities in India. The well-known trains that run through New Jalpaiguri Junction are:
(From Calcutta )
Darjeeling Mail, Kunchanjunga Express Kamroop Exp., Teesta Torsa, New Jalpaiguri,
(From New Delhi)
North East Express,
Darjeeling is 665 km from Calcutta, the closest metropolis. The closest major city on the plains is Siliguri, and the road that takes you there from Darjeeling, once called the Hill Cart Road, is now called the Tenzing Norgay Road. Buses ply at fairly frequent intervals between Siliguri and Darjeeling. Private Taxis and jeeps are also available for hire. The journey of about 80 km. takes nearly 4 hours.
There is nothing as humbling and awe-inspiring as a glimpse of the great Himalayas. And from Tiger Hill, the highest point in the area, you get an uninterrupted face to face meeting with the Kanchenjunga, no less! Besides this, an opportunity to watch a sunrise over the 3rd highest peak in the world, you will also see some of the other peaks among the Eastern Himalayas, and on a clear day, even Mount Everest.
The Toy Train
This meter Guage joyride from an era long past, provides you the greatest fun arriving in Darjeeling. It takes six to seven hours to cover the distance of a mere 82 kms, and every minute is worth it - the slow crawl up hill gives you time to pause, admire, meditate and absorb the sublime physical beauty of the region, replete with deep valleys, forests, waterfalls, scything through mountains and tunnels.
For the metro bred traveler, a walk around the “Mall” in Darjeeling will be like no other he has ever had. Mist and greenery abound. Every once in a while, a honeymooning couple emerges from a cloud drifting through Mall Road or Chowrasta, arm in arm, immersed in togetherness. A nippy draft sends you to the warmth of any of the quaint shops in the Mall, or for a cup of tea to hurriedly sip before it cools down.
Within the city and around it are some spots that definitely merit a visit - The Japanese peace pagoda with its depiction of the various stages of the Buddha's life.
There is also the nation's oldest passenger ropeway, The Darjeeling Ropeway connecting North Point (Bijanbari, little Rangeet Valley) to Singla Bazar in Darjeeling. 6 passengers in a boxed car can travel down this ropeway, enjoying the tea gardens en route.
Ghoom, all of 2 km from Darjeeling has the world’s highest railway station. It is also home to a monastery you could visit.
Everything is picturesque and pretty in the small town of Kurseong between Darjeeling and Siliguri famous for its educational institutions and churches.
Be sure to see the Batasia loop on the Darjeeling Himalayan railway, a remarkable feat of Modern engineering. Whether or not you take the slow train ride (for which the reason can only be a lack of time), this visit can be a quick one, for it is just 5 km. from Darjeeling.
The Tenzing Norgay Himalayan Mountaineering Institute here, as the name suggests, trains mountaineers, and also houses a small but interesting museum.
Situated alongside the institute is the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, a sanctuary for rare animals like the Llama, the Siberian Tiger, Himalayan Black Deer, Panda, Llama and birds. Visiting hours: 8 to 4.
For another look at the Himalayas, a desire that is normally always insatiable, you might want to try Jawahar Parbat and the Observatory Hill, both equally popular viewing points.
The Lloyd's botanical gardens and Dhirdham temple are two other sites to visit, the latter reflecting an architectural style that is typical of Nepal and further North. The former – 40 acres of alpine plants and a dazzling array of flowers – is too important to ignore, even for a non-enthusiast.
Love Road or Lover's Road:
A road built and meant only for lovers? Well, all the world loves a lover, and Darjeeling has a road especially for them. The view from here is beautiful, the population sparse for obvious reasons, and it isn’t far from Mall Road in Downtown Darjeeling.
Senchal Lake, 10 km from Darjeeling, is popular for a few hours of picnicking, and tourists are guided there by the local residents, ever proud of the lake that supplies water to their town.
For those who hold trekking as holy as a religion, Darjeeling is a veritable temple. Trekking here reaches its apex at Sandakphu, 12000 feet high in the mountains on the renowned Singalia ridge. Trek pilgrims converge here to partake of nature’s plenty in the form of the towering Eastern Himalayas, starting at 5000 feet, they weave their way through rich forests and wild flowers. The flora in the region is nothing short of breathtaking – imagine giant magnolias and 600 different kinds of orchid! Sandakphu offers a view of Kanchenjunga, Chomolhari, Lhotse, Kumbhakarna, Makalu and Mount Everest, 4 of the 5 highest peaks on Earth, a panorama no other spot in the world can offer.
The route to Sandakphu trek-wise promises a visit to the Rimbik Forest Bungalow for a lovely view of Darjeeling itself, and en route, Phalut, the closest view you’ll ever get of the Kanchenjunga.
Of course, Sandakphu is accessible by road as well, for those who prefer the highway to the eye-way.
The list goes on and on – Tenzing and Gombu rock for mountaineering enthusiasts, Rock Garden and Ganga Maya Park, Happy Valley Tea gardens, ask for these by name.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) occupies a position of huge pride as a World Heritage Site, the only one besides the Semmering Railway in Austria as a stellar Hill Passenger railway.
Where to stay
Seven Seventeen 3
Hotel North Star 3
Gymkhana Resort3 star
Karni Farm. Eco resort