Rightly recognised as ‘Queen of the Hills’, Darjeeling has been West Bengal’s premier attraction since a long time. With emerald green tea plantations spread out in ribbons over a steep mountain ridge, this quiet town has a lot to offer to its tourists. Here is a list of places you can visit and activities you can indulge in.
Take a jeep out to Tiger Hill and watch the dawn light break over a spectacular 250km stretch of Himalayan horizon, including Everest, Lhotse and Makalu to the far west. The skyline is dominated by Khangchendzonga, India’s highest peak and the world’s third-highest. This daily morning spectacle is a major tourist attraction, and one can find hundreds of jeeps leaving Darjeeling for Tiger Hill every morning, as early as 4am.
Sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus, this hill was the site of the original Dorje Ling monastery that lent Darjeeling its name. Today, devotees come to a temple in a small cave to honour Mahakala, a Buddhist protector deity also worshipped by Hindus. The summit is marked by several shrines, a flurry of colourful prayer flags and the ringing notes from numerous devotional bells.
Bhutia Busty Gompa
This temple originally stood on Observatory Hill, but was rebuilt in its present location by the chogyals of Sikkim in the 19th century. It houses fine murals depicting the life of Buddha, with Khangchendzonga providing a spectacular backdrop. Come for prayers at 4 pm; it’s often closed during the day.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, known affectionately as the toy train, is one of the few hill railways still operating in India. It’s even listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Besides its regular passenger service to/from Kurseong, there are steam-powered joy rides too for tourists.
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Singalila National Park
The popular Singalila Ridge Trek from Sandakphu to Phalut passes through the scenic Singalila National Park and offers fantastic views of the eastern Himalayas. It’s mandatory to travel with guides within the park and they can be hired privately through trekking agencies in Darjeeling or at the trek’s starting point in Mane Bhanjhang, 26 km from Darjeeling.
Himalayan Tibet Museum
This new museum gives a good introduction to Tibetan culture and history. Displays include fine thangkas (Tibetan cloth paintings), Buddhist Tantric implements, musical instruments and even an eagle bone used for bloodletting in traditional Tibetan medicine. It’s well done and never politically dogmatic. A photo exhibit is planned for downstairs.
Nathmull’s Tea Room
Darjeeling produces some of the world’s finest teas and Nathmull’s Tea Room is the best place to pick and choose from more than 50 varieties. There are also attractive souvenirs like teapots, strainers and cosies. To taste the teas for sale here head to Sunset Lounge.
This elegant restaurant sits atop the famous bakery and cafe by the same name and is a Darjeeling staple. Continental and Chinese dishes and the tandoori specials are noteworthy; also try the beef steak and potato or the delicious-smelling baked-cheese macaroni. The wooden floors, linen tablecloths and recently expanded window seating add to the classy atmosphere.