Darjeeling, one of India's famous hill stations is called the Queen of Hill Stations and is situated in West Bengal. The King of Sikkim gifted Darjeeling to the East India Company in 1835. In order to escape from the sweltering heat of the plains, the British chose this place and converted it into a popular resort.
Darjeeling is famous for Darjeeling Tea which is produced here. It is considered as one of the world's best teas. A World Heritage Site, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway operates from here having Darjeeling as its base. The best season to visit Darjeeling is April to mid-June and mid September to November. September to December offers the best view of the mountains.
There are a wide variety of activities in Darjeeling that any visitor can choose from relaxing scenic walks to more arduous activities like trekking and river rafting. Both children and elders enjoy the toy train which comes from Siliguri A distance of 82 km is covered in about seven hours and because of its slow speed the journey provides you ample opportunity to view and appreciate Nature's beauty. Passing through forests, deep valleys and waterfalls and through tunnels and mountains, the journey is an experience in itself.From Calcutta which is about 665 km, you can reach Darjeeling by road or by rail. The Tenzing Norgay Road connects Darjeeling to Siliguri which is the main city in the plains.
From Calcutta Bagdogra which is the airport for Darjeeling hills can be reached in about 45 minutes. There are direct flights from New Delhi, Calcutta and Guwahati to Darjeeling. There are frequent bus services between Siliguri and Darjeeling. Private taxis also run between these places.
Darjeeling is about 80 km from Siliguri and can be reached in about 4 hours by bus or taxi. The journey by the popular Toy Train takes about seven hours. There are direct railway connections with Calcutta, Mumbai, Guwahati, Chennai, Lucknow and Delhi from Jalpaiguri or Siliguri Junction at the base of Darjeeling Hills.
Darjeeling sights and sounds
The Mall is in the heart of the city and boasts of a variety of shops, hotels and restaurants. Kurseong, a small town situated between Darjeeling and Siliguri has many educational institutions and churches. Sandakphu and Phalut are the two favorite places for trekking enthusiasts. The four of the five highest mountain peaks in the world viz. Everest, Lhotse, Kanchanjunga can be seen from Sandakphu. There are several tourist spots in Darjeeling.
- Tiger Hills is one among them. The highest point in the region is situated in Tiger Hills. The most exotic view of the Kanchanjunga peaks can be seen from here. This place is around 11 km from the town and is 2590 mts above sea level. Sunrise over Mount Kanchanjunga is a beautiful sight to watch and visitors throng the place before dawn. The sight of Mount Everest enthralls visitors and you can also see some of the other peaks of the Eastern Himalayas from this place.
- Various stages of Lord Buddha's life are depicted in the Japanese Peace Pagoda. The passenger ropeway which connects North Point to Singla Bazaar is yet another attraction being the nation's oldest ropeway.
- The highest railway station in the world is located in Ghoom, a town which is two kilometers from Darjeeling. It also is home to a monastery.
- Those who do not want to take the slow train ride can travel via the Batasia loop which is an engineering marvel, on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park is situated adjacent to the Tenzing Norgay Himalayan Mountaineering Institute which trains mountaineers. There is a small museum inside this campus. The zoological park is open from 8am to 4 pm. The wild life park located at high altitude has Siberian Tiger, Himalayan Black Deer, Deer Panda, Llama and birds.
- Another attraction is the Lloyd's botanical gardens. Jawahar Parbat and the Observatory Hill are two popular view points from where one can have spectacular views of the Himalayan ranges.
- Near the railway station there is the Dhirdham temple. It is built following the style of Pashupatinath temple in Katmandu. This temple adds to the diverse religious architectural styles of Darjeeling.
- Senchal Lake provides water supply to Darjeeling town. This is a much sought after picnic spot which is located about 10 km from Darjeeling town.
Trekking in Darjeeling
Sandakphu Trek: Visitors can enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the Eastern Himalayas by trekking in the Darjeeling area through the many trekking routes that have been opened here. Sandakphu on the well-known Singalia ridge is a summit at an altitude of 12,000 ft where the trekking adventure concludes.
Elderly trekkers who are not able to walk for the stipulated five or ten days can use a jeep or Land Rover to trek upon Sandakphu. Starting off from an altitude of 5,000 ft (1,524 mts) the trekkers have to gradually climb up through forests of rhododendron, spruce, magnolias and other trees and 600 different varieties of orchids for trekking into Sandakphu.
The months of April and May are the right time for the trek for those who love to see the flora, while for those who like to enjoy the stunning view of the snow-capped mountains, autumn is the best period to have an unsurpassed view from Sandakphu.
Phalut or the Denuded Peak: There are no forests on the top of the mountain and hence it is named Phalut. You can get the best view of Kanchanjunga which is only 48 km away from here. The Phalut Ridge is a stopover for nearly all treks. To make the treks more interesting, the Government has plans to improve communication between Sandakphu and Phalut through the aerial ropeway and forest roads. The possibility of conducting winter sports also exists.
There are other treks which involve shorter duration. A trip to the following places either by trekking or as excursion will be enjoyable. Besides Sandakphu and Phalut, Takdlas, Mirik, Kurseong and Kalimpong are some of the places one must see.