Darjeeling has always fascinated me with its picturesque landscape that is featured in every platform that talks about it. Be it the internet, any magazine or even personal account, the natural beauty is so beautifully portrayed and raved about, that it took me no time to fall in love with the town.
And especially after I watched the movie ‘Mere Sapno Ki Rani’ I have always wanted to visit the place and explore and know more about it.
So this time when I got the chance to unravel this city, also fondly known as the queen of hills, I was quick enough to grab the opportunity.
It was early April, so I assumed that the weather would not be too cold. But to be on the safer side I Googled the temperature for the next 7 days and found that for an Indian April, it was actually quite a low temperature – 12 degrees to be precise.
I later found out that unless you are visiting the town in mid-summer( which is the monsoon time here and not recommended to travel), you will always experience a bit of cold in the air. So pack your woolens well to keep yourself warm.
You should also have an umbrella handy because you might have to face the light showers that are present throughout the year.
BY AIR OR TRAIN
I booked my tickets and a hotel online. Darjeeling is not connected to the rest of India by air or train. You will either have to reach New Jalpaiguri (if you are traveling by train) or Bagdogra (if you take a flight) and then take a cab to reach your final destination.
New Jalpaiguri is about 2 hours and 45 mins away from Darjeeling by road. Distance between Bagdogra and Darjeeling is somewhat the same as that from NJP.
So depending on your convenience and budget, choose your mode of transportation. Both these places are well connected to Darjeeling by taxi (private or shared) and bus.
Shared taxis will cost you somewhere around 150 INR per person. If you hire a private car the range varies depending on which car you pick. And these private cars also do not offer you a one-way service. You will have to take a package for the entire trip which includes sightseeing too.
I was with my family, so we took an Innova. For a 3 day trip, it cost us around 10,500 INR which included dropping us back at where they picked us from.
TOY TRAIN RIDE TO AND IN DARJEELING
You may even opt for a Toy train ride which was temporarily closed at the time of my visit. But if you ever visit Darjeeling and get a chance to enjoy this ride don’t miss it. They charge you somewhere about 1800 per person and will show you around the entire town. This is actually better because you get to enjoy the ride while sightseeing.
Now moving on with my trip, we left NJP at around 6 am in the morning and by 8:30 we were there in Darjeeling. I booked a hotel online via Oyo Rooms. So according to their terms, the actual check-in time was 10 am. Therefore, we planned on keeping the luggage at the lobby and walk down the street for a cup of tea.
We had traveled from Guwahati and at that time, Guwahati was experiencing a pleasant spring climate, which is why we happened not to wear too many woolens when we left.
Naturally, with our spring clothes, we started shivering the moment we stepped out of the car. The hotel manager was kind enough to not make us wait till 10 and we were given our keys right away.
SIGHTSEEING & WHAT TO EXPECT
With a lot of excitement, we set off to explore the city. Being a very small hill station, you can actually cover the entire city in a days time. We were not aware of this fact when we planned the 3 trips.
We left the hotel at about 10. Our hotel was located at the hilltop and apparently, the Kanchenjunga is visible from the rooms (which is the reason why we booked this hotel
). However, despite paying more for the view we were not lucky enough to enjoy it because of the heavy fog that persisted throughout our time in Darjeeling.
But, you might not want to be fooled by such claims that hotels make on the internet unless you are up for some climbing the steep and narrow hilly roads up and down by foot.
So we climbed down to the main street to reach Gandhi road which is a street lined by shops on each side of the road. You can read about the market in the next section. But first, let’s see what else to see in Darjeeling.
1. TIGER HILL & SUNRISE AGAINST THE KANCHENJUNGA
The Tiger Hills is the highest point of Darjeeling and is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. What makes it so popular is the panoramic view of the Mount Everest and the Kanchenjunga together.
You will find groups of tourists flock to this point very early in the morning to catch a glimpse of the Sunrise against the highest peak in India.
If you visit Darjeeling when it’s not raining too much, check out the sunrise time in Google the night before. Generally, the drivers pick you up as early as 4:00 o clock just so you can settle yourself in the right place before the viewpoint starts getting crowded.
We, however, were not lucky enough to have the opportunity of enjoying the magnificent view because of the heavy fog that stubbornly refused to lift up until late in the morning.
2. THE UPHILL TOY TRAIN LOOP IN THE BATASIA LOOP
The Batasia Loop is another point that you can visit. Although there is not much to explore here, this point is one of the listed tourist points in the places to visit in the Darjeeling handout. The Batasia Loop is located at the heart of the town and is popular for its uphill toy train track that is laid out in a spiral form.
You also get to watch the Kanchenjunga from here and the view from this loop is a beauty too. The loop also hosts a small garden and a monument dedicated to the Indian soldiers. You do not need more than 10 minutes to cover this point because its size which is not a huge one.
3. BUDDHIST STATUE IN THE GHOOM MONASTERY
Ghoom Monastery is 1850 built Buddhist monastery that houses a grand 15 feet tall statue of Buddha. It is one of the oldest monasteries in Darjeeling. This monastery is open all days a week and you can visit it anytime past 12 o’clock in the afternoon.
4. THE HIMALAYAN ZOOLOGICAL PARK
If you are an animal lover or someone traveling with kids, this place will be a great attraction for you. Stretched across 68 acres of land this zoological park is the house of hundreds of endangered Himalayan species.
From the Royal Bengal Tiger to Red Pandas, Rhinos, even Snow Leopards you will find everything here. The place has been very well maintained and the entrance even has a few moment shops that exhibit beautiful souvenirs for the visitors.
5. PEACE PAGODA
Of all the places in Darjeeling, I liked this one the best. This is the perfect place to spend some time in the tranquil Buddhist stupa surrounded by tall pine trees. This is a great place for enjoying the view from the top that looks stunning during the day.
The temple stone was laid sometime around1970s and it took almost 36 months for the construction to complete. The temple has a height of 94 feet and a diameter of 75 feet.
6. TENZING ROCK
I was not very flattered by this tourist point. Dedicated to Tenzing Norway this rock lies just opposite to the Gombhu rock which is a few km away from the main town. The Tenzing rock is a pair of natural rocks that are open for people who wants to practice rock climbing.
Now if you are expecting a huge mountain, you might be disappointed here. It’s a stand along rock (not very huge or tall) where people gather for climbing sessions. They have trained climbers on the spot who help people learn how to climb and support them with ropes for the sessions.
7. ROCK GARDEN OR THE GANGAMAYA PARK
The next place is the rock garden which is located several km away from the main town. On your way to the park, you will cross several beautiful tea gardens that are spread across vast acres of land.
When the driver told us about the park, we were really excited and hoped it would be a park with a lot of work done with stones. However, the reality was completely different. It is just a normal park that is very well maintained for the tourists and has a number of shops and tea stalls selling different stuff.
The only attraction here is the waterfall that can be seen without even entering the garden. Other than that it’s a very regular garden where you might want to talk a quick walk.
8. TEA ESTATE & TEA TASTING
Wait! Don’t be flattered by the name. It’s nothing like a fancy wine tasting festival that you might have attended. We were told that we will be taken to a tea garden and we can attend the tea tasting session after which we can buy the famous Darjeeling tea if we want.
With a lot of excitement and expectation, we set off. But to our disappointment, we were taken to this tiny little tea garden which had a number of tea stalls lined up near the entrance. We have seen bigger tea gardens on our way back to NJP via Mirik and within the town as well.
The worse thing was the tea tasting part. These stalls will sell you the best tea they can ever serve just so you buy it from them. But when we came home the tea was not the one they served us. We were completely fooled by the ladies who sold the tea.
From my experience, I would suggest you not to be fooled by these vendors. If you really want to buy some good Darjeeling tea, go to one of the shops selling authentic tea leaves in the main market.
9. DARJEELING ROPEWAY
The ropeway ride can be one of the things in Darjeeling and you might love this experience. The cable car here was the 1st one to operate in India in the year 1968. It takes you for a quick ride and lets you enjoy the ariel view of the lush green tea estate down below.
If you walk for about a minute a little down the road from the ropeway gate, you will find a gorgeous school on your right. The buildings of the school built in the Victorian style and the pine trees around the campus makes it look even more stunning.
Well, that’s pretty much it. There is not much to explore in Darjeeling. So a day or two is more than enough for your stay. But if you want to spend some more time enjoying the weather out there, you can definitely do it.
MARKET IN DARJEELING – WHAT TO EXPECT
TIPS FOR DARJEELING TEA SHOPPING
You can take a stroll in the market and check out the amazing stuff at the display for the tourists. You might want to buy some warm clothes which are available in abundant. Although the market is a bit overpriced, you might find some good things here to take back home.
The shopkeepers do not bargain a lot, so if you are someone who loves bargaining, Darjeeling is not the best place for the practise. You will also find fancy shops putting up a variety of tea for sale.
I went to a place called Chai Chaun. It sold all kinds of tea beautifully packed in cute pink and transparent jars that looks like the perfect present for a dear one at home.
Other than that, what caught my attention in this market are the shops selling cute cutleries for serving tea. As you all know how popular the Darjeeling tea is across the world, it was not a surprise for me to find the rich tea culture there.
If you are someone who loves collecting teapots here is your chance. I have not seen another place in India that hosts so many big and small boutiques dedicated solely to teapots, cups, and saucer. And you won’t find a single set that’s not appealing to your eyes. Among all other things in the market these cute teapots truly stole my heart.
After walking for a few minutes we saw a very cutely built bakery by the name Gleneray’s. It’s a 2 storied white colonial building that hosts a bakery on the ground floor and a restaurant on the first. You will love hanging out in this place that offers a beautiful view of the city below. Here’s a picture of the place from outside.
Other than that, you will find regular stuff that is available in any other market but at a higher price. By the time, we strolled through the market it was time for lunch.
FOOD IN DARJEELING
Now if you are visiting Darjeeling for the first time, you should definitely try out the local food here. Although there is not much that is different from mainland India, you can surely find out the popular local food there by talking to people around. If you are traveling from the northern part of India, you might find the food a little blend.
I personally did not have a very good experience with the food here. I would like to tell you to check the menu first and find out what they serve before you randomly walk into a restaurant.
I loved the momo they served though. If you can, do try out the local street side shops for breakfast. They serve great Indian breakfast like paranthas, puri sabji etc, which are made right in front of you upon order.
RECOMMENDED STAY IN DARJEELING
If you are looking for cheap, best and an experience type of stay, I recommend Hideout Homestay Darjeeling, rated 8.7/10 on Booking.com which is considered as fabulous.
Excellent hospitality, friendly owners, cleanliness is maintained. An opportunity to meet travelers and backpackers from across the country and overseas as well. Located in a quiet area a short walk from the hub of the Queen of the Hills
MIRIK, NEPAL, AND PASHUPATI
On the way back from Darjeeling we took the route via Mirik. The way to Mirik is breathtaking. You will see a lot of tea estates and pine forest of great heights on both sides of the road.
Go have a stroll in the 1.25 km long Mirik lake both sides of which are connected by an arch footbridge called the Indreni pull.
Mirik is very close to the Nepal border. So you can see the Nepali settlement in the distant land from the Nepal viewpoint where your driver will definitely stop the car.
This place also known as the No Man’s Land has local vendors line up their stalls. They sell all kinds of things here which is cheaper than in India or Nepal. This is because it being the no man’s land, the vendors do not have to pay taxes to the government of any of the countries.
You can stop here for a while and sip some local tea while enjoying the scenic view of Nepal in the distance. You can also catch a glimpse of the Kunchenjunga if the sky is clear. Look at the background in the picture below. With a clear sky, we could have spotted the Nepal border and the Kanchenjunga. But since it was a foggy day, we had this –
Driving for a few more km ahead you will reach the Nepal border. You can cross the border by showing your ID’s. Your names will be registered by the border security before letting you in. You do not need a visa to go to Nepal if you are an Indian.
PASHUPATI MARKET IN NEPAL
Across the border is the Pashupati market. To reach the market you have to hire a car from across the border as the entry of Indian vehicles are restricted there. You will be charged 250 INR for a car, although it’s not that far away from the border.
It’s a small market with shops lined up on both sides of the street selling cosmetics, clothes, shoes, sunglasses and other similar goods.
You can buy anything here from brands like Versace, Reebok, Nike, Channel, etc at a way cheaper rate. The vendors claim that they can afford to sell these products at a cheaper rate because they do not have to pay taxes to the government.
Do not be fooled by such claims. These are actually fake goods that you are lured to buy.
From Pashupati, you can head back to NJP or Bagdogra depending on your mode of travel(flight/train). You should definitely stop by at the Jagjit restaurant for lunch. I absolutely loved the food they served and would definitely recommend them to everyone.
OVERALL EXPERIENCE AND TIPS FOR READERS
To be truthful, I expected a lot from Darjeeling. But to some extent, I was disappointed. So here are a few tips for our readers that might help you in your journey.
My first bitter experience was my hotel. It was on the hilltop and taxis are not easily available there. So be careful while making an online booking. Do proper research and then only book your rooms. Every hotel at the hilltop will brag about the mountain view they offer.
But be careful. Because the cabs that you hire from NJP or Bagdogra does not stick around during the entire trip. They will leave as soon as the sightseeing is done, which finishes early in the evening. And you surely do not want to lock yourself in the room from the evening itself. So try booking the hotel somewhere in the main town. Check out hotels in Gandhi road, Chaura raasta, etc.
The second thing I would like to tell you is that do not plan a very long trip to Darjeeling. There is not much to see here as its not a very big place. You can head to Sikkim instead for a longer stay.
Also when you book the taxi to Darjeeling from the airport or railway station, let them know that you want them for the entire day and that they cannot leave right after the sightseeing is done.
Because as I said, your sightseeing does not take a very long time so, these drivers will leave you early and the only option you are left with is to either walk or hire another cab. But why hire another one when you have already paid for one.
Other than that the trip was okay. But if you have previously traveled to other hill stations like Manali, Bhutan or Sikkim, Darjeeling might be a big disappointment to you.
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As I have mentioned before as well, you might not have a very good time in Darjeeling if you have previously visited other fancier hill stations. So do not expect too much from it.
But if you are someone who loves roaming through the streets of a new town, meeting new people and discovering new things about the town, then this might be the place for you.
And yes, if you are deeply fond of collecting fancy teapots, then, I can definitely bet that you will not find a better option than Darjeeling.
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