Surrounded by sprawling tea estates and a backdrop of the Himalayas, Darjeeling is a small hill town (with an elevation of 6,700 ft (2,042.2 m), located in the West Bengal state of India. With its charming Himalayan toy train, colonial-era architecture, stunning Buddhist monasteries and vibrant street markets, this hill town offers many alluring experiences to all kinds of travelers.
Here is a brief guide of some of the places to visit on your Darjeeling tour.
Ride the Himalayan Mountain Railway Toy Train
Riding the Himalayan Mountain train also known as the Toy Train is an absolute must.
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a narrow gauge railway that runs spectacularly alongside and across Darjeeling town. The two foot narrow gauge railway about 55 miles long was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1999 making it only the second railway in the world to have this honor. This train has a definite rustic flavor, distinctly depicting a bygone era. The sound of this steam locomotives has been heard in this hills for well over a century having been running since the 4th of July 1881.
Get to ride on the train and feel the excitement as the jugging steam engine huffs and puffs, clanking and screeching conspicuously while winding its way down, surrounded by sweeping views of the valleys and mountains all around.
Hotels & Restaurants
There are numerous hotels in Darjeeling to choose from, offering all sorts of accommodation. From basic accommodation for those on a shoestring budget, to mid-priced hotels with great facilities and top-notch hotels and resorts offering the ultimate luxury. Regardless of your preference and budget, Darjeeling has something for all.
When it comes to food, there are numerous food joints dotted around this charming town. The Darjeeling’s food scene is an amalgamation of various cultures, offering an eclectic mix of dishes from International cuisines to Tibetan cuisine, to Indian, Chinese and Nepali dishes. From high end restaurants to street joints that occupy every nook and corner of the town you are guaranteed to find culinary treats with a wide range of prices to suit all.
Some of the popular options include Tibetan and Nepali cuisine such as the Nepali thali, Tibetan wanton soup also known as momos and Churpi – a kind of chewing bar that is slightly sweet but with a distinct taste and is particularly popular during the winter months as it is believed to be packed with energy.
The weather permitting, come prepared to experience an ethereal display of the sunrise at Tiger Hill – the highest point in Darjeeling. Hordes of visitors congregate at this point to watch the sun rising over the horizon as it spreads its blaze of rapidly changing colors on the snow clad eastern Himalayan peaks and the colossal Kanchenjunga – which at 8598m is the world’s third highest mountain.
Tiger Hill not only offers great views during sunrise, it’s a place where you can soak the sweeping backdrop of Himalayan splendor anytime during the day. It is said you actually see the Everest on a good day.
Tour the Tea Gardens
Darjeeling is home to numerous tea estates and any trip there would not be complete without visiting one of them.
Established in 1854, the Happy Valley Tea Estate is the oldest tea estate in Darjeeling and is situated only 3 kms from the town center making it the most accessible. Get to start your day by wandering endlessly through the vast stretch of tea plantation on a misty morning surrounded by tea bushes blooming under the sun.
A guided tour of the factory offers visitors a glimpse of the fascinating process of manufacturing tea. Usually there is an employee who will take you on a tour of the tea estate, where you will get to experience the entire process from the tea picking to the rolling, fermenting and drying, explaining the nuances between green, black and white teas to finally the packaging.
At the end of the tour you will be taken to the factory outlet where you can sample and taste various types of tea from the wide range of flavors produced in the estate.
The Mall Road
The Darjeeling Mall road runs through the town center. This tree shaded meandering road, is dotted with important historical buildings dating back to the British Raj era and also consists of shops, book stores, restaurants and cafes. The stretch of road is a beehive of activity throughout the day and is frequented by both locals and travelers. This is the perfect place for people-watching and also shopping for those woolen souvenirs the region is famed for such as shawls, scarves, caps and sweaters. Other items include Tibetan masks, carpets, handicrafts, souvenirs, local accessories and much more. This is a great destination for the bargain hunter and if you are really shrewd, you are guaranteed to get some rare items at a great deal.
Image by voglstefanie
Have you been to Darjeeling or a mountain town like it? What was your experience like? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.