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West Bengal: Queen of the Hills : Darjeeling
Darjeeling is the most loved and the most coveted place in Bengal to be at. Darjeeling, about 663 km from Kolkata, is connected from Siliguri both by train and by Bus. Even though the train from Siliguri to Darjeeling takes 3 hours more than the time taken by bus but still the never ending charm of the mountain railway track and the toy train attracts a lot of tourists. The toy train here on the auspicious occasion of 100 years celebration got the status of the 2nd World Heritage Site after Austria. The amazing and mysterious part of the track is the absence of tunnels. There is not a single tunnel on the way to Darjeeling. Now-a-days, many travellors give the train a miss to save time. The nature is quite generous along the track of the Toy Train. The joy ride will take you to Ghum, the highest railway station and the miraculous Batasia Loop there. The whole Darjeeling town and Kanchenjunga from Batasia loop appear really gorgeous and lucid.
It is said that Darjeeling, the queen of hill station, located at an altitude of 7100 feet, is the best one among all the other hill stations of India like Ooty, Shimla, Shillong etc. But the city has now become densely populated and the charm of the city has got diluted to some extent. Choose the hotel suitably to enjoy the ice-capped Kanchenjunga from the balcony. It may so happen that the clouds enter your room, so be careful to keep the windows closed. The sunset from Burch hill will definitely help you to find the peace of mind. The best times to visit Darjeeling are April-May and October-Fenruary. Though the rainy season is not a time to visit Darjeeling but the surrounding greeneries along with the Mountains fully covered by the clouds are something you will not be able to witness in any other season. The colorful city looks even more attractive in rainy season. But the snow capped mountains, including the Kachenjungha have to be missed. It is also next to impossible to get out and take a tour of the place in the rainy season.
Debatably, the name of Darjeeling comes from the word “Dorjee”, the meaning of Dorje is the Land of Thunder Bolt. Crisis of drinking water and frequent power cuts are the drawbacks of the plastic free city, Darjeeling.
Darjeeling is famous world over for its tea, which is very aromatic and has a delicate taste. More than 25% of teas produced in India come from Darjeeling but most of them are being exported to the other countries. You should buy Darjeeling tea from the city itself while coming back home. The calm and quiet place is not anymore peaceful these days due to the intermittent and sporadic political action from Gorkha groups demanding an independent state of Gorkhaland.
The newly built Lalkuthi is the main office of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill council. Even though it is not possible to enjoy the architectural Vista inside but the travelers can stroll around the council to enjoy the environment. The view of Kanchanjunga from Nipponjan Mayoji temple, about 5 km away from the city, is admirable. You can take a look at the nearby Santi stup (peace memorial), built in 1992. Museum in the rooms of Tenjing Norgey, built in 1954, carries the ancient reminiscences of Darjeeling.
The city starts where Toy train ends its journey. It’s always advisable and worthwhile to book your hotel near to the Mall. If you are looking for an economical hotel in a reasonable range, you need to come down a little, away from the Mall. Offices of different departments and companies are mainly located around the Mall compound. More than 300 species of trees and about 4000 species of flowers are making the city joyful. Darjeeling, the hill station, located in the shades of Pine trees gleefully calls nature lovers to have a feel of nature and get the pleasure of the beauty of the landscapes. Tea gardens on the slopes of the Himalaya look like a green carpet with tiny houses in and around the city. It is not a bad idea to buy some woolen dresses. A bunch of shops are there just around the corner in many areas like Mall and Hill cart road to give you an idea about their special and unique woolen materials. However, expect to engage into heavy bargaining.
The first rope way came into existence in Rangit valley, about 3 km from Darjeeling. The way is truly wonderful and striking, especially for Rangit river and green tea gardens on different slopes of the gorge.
Kathmandu, another tourist spot, can be reached directly by bus from Darjeeling but advance ticket booking ensures your seat. Kakra bhita in Nepal is another tourist spot which can be accessed by rickshaw from Panitanki (Panitanki can be reached by bus from Darjeeling).
Tiger Hill, about of 12 km from Darjeeling, at an altitude of 2590 meters, is idyllic to visit as early as possible in the morning to witness the golden Kanchenjunga, when the very first ray of the sun hugs the Kanchenjunga. You can savor the taste of tea on your way to the hill, which provides much waited warmth in the cold morning. The important thing to take care of is that you should start your journey at 4 am; otherwise you will miss the magic of sunrise. Although you can book a lounge for watching sunrise, but the bliss and satisfaction of watching the panoramic view of Kanchenjunga from the open space are unmatched and supreme. Spending some time amidst forest in the bungalow of very old Tiger Hill Tourist Lodge or tent colony, at a distance of two and half km from Tiger hill by the lines of far trees, away from city life will definitely add some spice in your life. Walking down to Jorbangla or Ghum from tiger hill will be a blissful experience for the enthusiastic nature lovers.
Sinchal Lake, the water reservoir, is the resource of drinking water for the entire city of Darjeeling. The region around Senchal Lake near Ghum railway station is a preferred and beloved picnic spot for loads of tourists, arguably the highest picnic spot. The charming exquisiteness of the neighboring areas makes the Lake a great place to spend the day with your family and friends. There is also a tourist lodge for them who have a plan for a night stay in Senchal Lake area. In the middle of a thick bower of greenery, encircled by the snow covered mountains, this is truly a place to bask in the breathtaking magnificence of the nature. You can also enjoy golf course higher up on the hill in which the Senchal Lake is nestled. Most likely this is the highest golf course in the world. The sinchal Game Sanctuary in the middle of Oak, Kapasi, Katus and Kaola trees will add a different taste of relaxation.
Ghum Buddha monastery, Gelug Tibetan Buddhist monastery (2550 meters), Yiga Cholling Monastery which is famous for 5 meters tall Buddha idol, new Ghum Monastery and Sonada Monastery are the other sought after spots near to the Ghum railway station. Apart from these places, spots like Race course, about 8 km away from Mall, Observatory point, Lloyd Botanical garden spreading over an area of 16 hectors having 2500 species of trees along with more than 50 species of orchids, Victoria Falls, and Gorkha stadium are the other renowned visiting places of Darjeeling.
Observatory hill is the oldest site in Darjeeling. The vistas of Kanchenjunga along with the view of Darjeeling from the observatory hill make this place really very special to the tourists of Darjeeling. In a clear evening the delightful view of Kalimpong is a pleasing sight. One of the important attractions of the observatory hill is the Mahakal cave. It is said that a Red Hat Buddhist Monastery stood at this very spot. Nepalese destroyed this monastery in the 19th century and now it has turned into a temple of Shiva. You can observe different kinds of dead animals and creatures in the Natural History Museum, built in 1903. The Zoological garden should not be missed, as one can see the rare Siberian tiger and other mountain cats here. There is a modern tourist park and Shiva temple just on the hill above the zoo, and can be just walked into.
The latest and possibly the best attraction of Darjeeling are the rock gardens and the Ganga Maya Park. You have to arrange private to and fro communication to these places, which lies side by side. Enjoy the gurgling waters amongst pebbles of all sizes, and check out the fishes playing in it, all in beautifully manicured gardens amongst the most beautiful nature in the background. You can also do Boating at the park.
Step Aside, about 3 minutes away from Mall, is now the health centre for children and their mothers. Long back Michael Madhusudan Dutta died in Step Aside while he came here to spend few days. Roy Bhila, a nearby house, had witnessed the last breath of Sister Nivedita. You can see and buy the handicrafts by Tibetan in Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre, built in 1959. The way to Bhutia Monastery, about 30 minutes away from Refugee centre, is really beautiful. The monastery depicts the Tibetan and Nepali architectural excellences.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, built by Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, is one of the most visited spot in Darjeeling. Late Tenzing Norgay was the teacher of the institute. He was a Sherpa who climbed the Mount Everest on 29th of May 1953 with Sir Edmund Hillary. All the equipments used in that climb are still a highlight in that institute. A collection of lifeless animals and trees are also kept and maintained here. The name is now changed to Tenjing Norgey Mountaineering Institute in 1954. You can watch Kanchenjunga by the telescope which was gifted by Adolf Hitler. Siberian tiger, Himalayan Black Beer, Red Panda, Deer, Panther and leopard are the wild life animals present in the zoo called Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park near to the Institute.
Abha art gallery with a collection of different pictures, Happy valley tea estate, Dhirdham hindu temple built on the lines of Pashupati Nath temple, Rock gardens, Chunnu summer falls, and Ganga Maya Park ( about two and half km away from rock garden) are places of Darjeeling which deserve a visit. If you have time then you can visit Pasupatinagar of Nepal.
Arguably, Chattakpur is even more beautiful than tiger hill with its scenic charm. Durpin, the observatory point and Sandah are two of the places in proximity which are very famous for their supernatural splendor. Surel Dak bungalow near to Sandah is linked with Rabindra Nath Tagore as he wrote a lot of his poems when he stayed here in the bungalow.
How to reach: Darjeeling (80 km from Siliguri) is connected to Siliguri by bus and by toy train. Siliguri is also connected to Kolkata both by road transports and by railways. Siliguri is 606 km away from Kolkata. You can also fly to Bagdogra airport near Siliguri and drive up to Darjeeling in three and half hours.
Where to stay: Darjeeling tourist lodge, Annexe lodge, Maple tourist lodge, Hotel Mount Everest and Hotel Sinclairs. Check our Hotel booking link below.
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