Darjeeling- A reality check
Darjeeling is located at 6710ft in West Bengal. It is known as the Queen of the Hills, and is one of the most popular hill stations in the country.
How beautiful is Darjeeling, really?-the perils of over tourism
Precisely because of that, I felt Darjeeling was crowded, dirty, and quite literally a waste dump.
Even the train tracks and the route that the tour train takes, which is supposed to be a beautiful ride, is strewn with trash.
It was quite an underwhelming experience for me, visiting the Queen of the hills, but millions of people still go there every year, dump their waste everywhere /anywhere as they please, and the municipality is turning a blind eye to it.
How to Get there
-Nearest airport is Bagdogra from where you can hire a cab, take a shared taxi to Darjeeling. (3 hours)
-New Jalpaiguri (NJP) is the nearest railway station.
-Bus from Siliguri station
-Toy train from Siliguri or NJP to Darjeeling. 7 hour journey
1. Happy Valley Tea Estate
It is the second oldest tea estate in the country, and was established in 1854. They conduct regular tours of the plantation, and have tea tasting sessions at the end of the tour.
2. Toy train Darjeeling
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, also known as the Toy Train is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in the 1881 and is still functional. Book a train ride on a Diesel/ Steam engine train to experience travel like it was during the colonial era. The Joy ride on the Diesel train is Rs.1000 & Steam Engine train is Rs.1600 for a trip from Darjeeling- Ghum-Darjeeling.
How to Book a Joy ride
-Online on Indian Railways website
-From any ticketing counter at any station
-OR from the station at Darjeeling
The arrival of the steam engine is one to look out for, the platform is filled with smoke/steam quite like the railway scenes from movies from that era.
The platform as well is maintained to keep the look that it had during the colonial period, and is unlike any regular train stations in the country. It looks like a small town train station somewhere in Scotland!
3. Mall Road or Chowrasta
This is the town centre with all the shops and restaurants jam packed into one street, with the mountains in the background. The roads that run parallel to it have shops as well, and wandering around them give you a better insight into local life in Darjeeling. Also, these smaller roads are not crowded at all, so if you want to walk about without bumping into people, just take a detour and wander around.
4. Tiger Hill Observatory
If you are lucky to be in Darjeeling on a clear day, you should make plans to get to Tiger Hill for sunrise! It was raining when I was there, so I didn’t bother going to the observatory, because I knew I would be waking up so early in the morning for absolutely no reason at all.
On a clear day this view point will grant you expansive views of the snow capped Himalayas, and is definitely a sight to wake up for. But if it is raining, or cloudy/foggy, the visibility will be really low, so don’t bother going all the way there in the morning.
5. Ghum Monastery
The Old Ghum Monastery was established in 1850 by a Mongolian Astrologer, and is known for its 15ft tall Buddha Statue. The facade of the monastery is vibrant and beautiful, and definitely worth a quick visit.
6. Peace Pagoda
A monument built in the pursuit of unity & world peace, under the guidance of Nichidatsu Fujii, a Buddhist monk from Japan.
7. Darjeeling at night
I know it is cold at night, but Darjeeling lit up is a stunning view that you shouldn’t miss. Get out for a quick stroll, get to any view point, it doesn’t have to be an official ‘view point’, walk down the road until you can see the lit up city from a vantage point, and just stand there. At night, Darjeeling is peaceful, the crowds have disappeared, it is quiet, and the air feels clean, and you can’t see the trash that’s everywhere :P. That’s the perfect time to enjoy the beauty of this town.
Where to Eat in Darjeeling
1. Kunga Restaurant
I was quite disappointed with my trip to Darjeeling, until I ate here! Kunga is a small restaurant, and can very easily be missed even when you are walking right past it. I stopped here only because it was highly recommended by a friend of mine. I had a dumpling soup that was OUT OF THIS WORLD! I wish I could have eaten there more than once, but I didn’t have the time. So if you find yourself in Darjeeling at some point, make it a point to go here.
Address: 51 Gandhi Road, Chauk Bazaar, Darjeeling.
Keventer’s now has its milkshake outlets all over the country, and though I’m not a fan of their milkshakes, I did try their sausages & bacon (which were really good! )at their infamous restaurant in Darjeeling. I had to wait for 45 minutes to get a table, and ended up sharing the table with a few others as it is a fairly small restaurant, with outdoor seating which was unusable due to the rains.
Address: Shop No. 1 Club Side, Nehru Road, Darjeeling
3. Glenary’s Bakery & Cafe
Glenary’s has been in existence since the time of the British, and is always crowded. I did have a couple of their desserts which were nice, but more than the food, it is the vibe that I liked.
Address: Nehru Road, near clocktower, Chauk Bazaar, Darjeeling.
What to buy
This seems like a no-brainer, but it might be harder than you think. There are shops selling tea everywhere in Darjeeling, and they all look so tempting. There are tea experience stores where you can smell the leaves, try a cup, and then buy.
I would suggest walk around enquiring the price, they are more or less the same everywhere, but it helps you make an informed decision. Rest assured, you are not going to make a mistake- I bought teas from multiple brands, and they were all good.
Hope you liked my quick guide-leave me a comment below to let me know your thoughts.