Once the summer capital of the British empire, the scenic hill station of Darjeeling in West Bengal is a land of picturesque sunrises, old world charms and delicious food. The cool climate combined with the views of Mt Kanchenjunga makes this hill station a must-visit destination. It has something for everybody, from paragliding to monasteries to tea plantation tours, and truckloads of charm. Here are 13 reasons why Darjeeling is one of our favourite hill stations.
The Breakfast at Keventer's
This Raj-era restaurant is known for its breakfast platters, among which the 'full English' is the one that's the most popular. Loaded with in-house sausages, bacon, salami, and fried eggs, you need more than one person to polish it off. Wash it down with a cup of their famous Darjeeling tea. The hot chocolate here is also very popular among tourists. The view from the terrace used to truly stunning once upon a time (check the black-and-white photos on the walls to get an idea). Now it's blocked by some truly ugly congrete structures, unfortunately.
The Toy Train Ride
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR) offers the best toy train experience in India. Though there is more than one route, we recommend taking the round trip from Darjeeling to Ghum and back which takes about two hours. The tickets can be booked online from the IRCTC website.
The Peace Pagoda
Inside the complex of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple is the beautiful Peace Pagoda offering panoramic views of the Himalayas and Darjeeling town. A symbol of non-violence and tranquillity propagated by the Buddha, you must go for a walk around it to see the intricate artwork carved on sandstones depicting his life.
The Batasia Loop
This place deserves a separate mention because it's said to be an engineering marvel. If you take the toy train ride from Darjeeling, you will pass this loop. Or you can do a 20-minute cab ride from Darjeeling. It has a 360-degree view of the town, and the snow-covered peaks (including the majestic Kanchenjunga). You may get to see Mt Everest on a clear day. It was commissioned in 1919 so the train could handle a steep gradient, because of the sharp fall of about 140ft that occurs just after Ghoom station. There's a manicured garden with a Gorkha War Memorial in the centre.
The Tea at Glenary’s
Running since pre-Independence days, Glenary’s is among the most popular eateries in Darjeeling. The bakery located on the ground floor is known for its cakes, breads and pastries. The restaurant on the first floor offers scenic views of the mountains through glass windows. A meal at Glenary’s is a must when you are in Darjeeling. Their speciality is Continental food though Chinese is also on the menu now. The Brit-style red telephone booth is a popular place for selfies.
Tea Garden Trails
Darjeeling tea is known as the champagne of teas and commands the highest bidding prices at auctions. Taking a tea tour at a plantation is absolutely essential when you are here. You can indulge in tea tasting sessions and even stay at some of them. The tours at Makaibari, Happy Valley and Glenburn are among the best.
Take a ride on one of the oldest ropeway systems in India. The Darjeeling Ropeway is the best way for stunning aerial views of the town and Rangeet valley. You can see the lush green hill slopes and forests, alongside the snow-covered Himalayas.
If you are into it, try paragliding in Darjeeling. Fly like a bird in the backdrop of the Himalayas spotting tiny houses in the villages beneath you. A popular place for takeoff is in Jalapahar area and another is at Jamuney. You will be accompanied by a guide all through the flight.
Trekking, hiking, river rafting and mountain biking are some of the other adventure activities you can enjoy here.
A visit to Darjeeling will remain incomplete without filling your belly with a steaming bowl of hot momos dunked in soup. Try any of the streetside stalls or hit up eateries like Kunga, Hot Stimulating Cafe, Choptix and Dekevas. All of them will satisfy your cravings for Tibetan food while you are in Darjeeling.
The Collection at Oxford Books & Stationery
A prominent landmark of Darjeeling for over 60 years, the Oxford Books & Stationery Co. has one of the best collection of books on Himalayan culture, and history. Located on Mall road, it is built along typical hill-style architectural lines with the fretwork and pitched roof. They can even arrange for book delivery all over the world.
The Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre in Darjeeling is a hub for exquisite handicrafts such as woollen carpets, coats and shawls. The products are exported to more than 30 countries. It has a training centre for the workers and a retail outlet where you can buy these items.
Darjeeling has many beautiful monasteries dating back to the 19th century where Tibetan traditions are rigorously followed. The Bhutia Busty Monastery, with beautiful murals, is the oldest in Darjeeling. The Dali Monastery has a serene atmosphere with a large open terrace while the Yiga Choeling Monastery has a Maitreya Buddha statue rising up to 15 feet.
The Red Pandas at Darjeeling Zoo
Also known as the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling Zoo houses a number of endangered species and high altitude Himalayan animals. Head to the Red Panda Conservation centre and spot the endangered animals in their natural settings. You might even see Tibetan Wolves, Snow Leopards and Himalayan Black Bears.
The Sunrise from Tiger Hill
Do not leave Darjeeling without watching the sunrise from Tiger Hill. The dazzling snow-capped peaks of Mt Kanchenjunga and Mt Everest look like picture postcards when the sun comes up. Check online for the sunrise time and plan accordingly.