“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” These lines from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”, remind me of the mighty snow clad Kanchenjunga (8586 m) standing tall, like a guardian, over the crowded city of Darjeeling. This is the uniqueness of Darjeeling, an Eastern Himalayan City with an old world colonial charm. It is congested yet blessed with Mother Nature’s abundance. Since 1993, I have been visiting this inspiring hill town almost every year. Yes, Darjeeling did inspire the great Satyajit Ray. So here I am sharing my Darjeeling Diary with rough sketches inspired by the ‘Queen of Hills’.
The Climb to Darjeeling
3 hours’ drive from New Jalpaiguri (NJP)Railway Station/Bagdogra Airport to Darjeeling is via Sukna Forest in the plains and then the tea gardens takeover once the road climbs uphill. Teesta River meanders by the side for some time and we arrive at the gorgeous Coronation Bridge. As we climb further up, the road slithers through sky high pines and the happy clouds and cool breeze gush in to kiss our cheeks. Our ears soothe with amazing sounds of chirping birds and crickets and our eyes relax by looking at the lush green forests and foliage. Little breaks at some momo points are great for both the soul and the stomach. We pass Ghoom Railway Station, the highest railway station in India (2258 m), and can hear the legendary tooting sound of the Toy train. Often one or two steam engines pass by. It is a narrow gauge train which is a landmark of Darjeeling, enjoying the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site Status. Little kids on the roads with their furry pets and women sitting in front of their little wooden huts decorated with colourful flowers and orchids smile and wave to welcome you to the Queen of Hills, Darjeeling. Besides them, two other magnificent things welcome us at the very entrance of the city – The Kanchenjunga at the left and the Druk Sangag Choeling Monastery or The Dali Monastery at the right. Let me now chalk out all the major attractions.
Darjeeling Mall & Around
Mall is an elevated flat land, like the city centre, located on top of Nehru Road, where people come to sit on the benches and soak in the sun and engulf in merry making. It is the heart 0f Darjeeling. The Nehru road comprises of all the major eateries/ restaurants and the shops and curios. It is a shopper’s Paradise whether you have limited or luxurious budget. You can shop warm clothes and accessories, gems and stones and Tibetan jewellery. It is a repertoire of Tibetan art and crafts. The legendary restaurants to eat are also on the Nehru Road. Check out the link https://monkatforty.com/eateries-in-darjeeling-legendary-food-with-view-brothers-birthday-special-favorite-of-foodies/
The famous Clock Tower (constructed in 1852), featured in the Bollywood movie, ‘Barfi’, is at the Laden La Road. The huge clock plays a lovely musical tone followed by the dings of the bell at every hour. The walk around the Mall is beautiful. You can indulge in a horse ride on the Mall road, around the Observatory Hill. The tranquillity soothes hearts.
A steep climb over the observatory Hill, close to the Mall, is an age old temple, built in 1765 by Lama Dorjey Rinzing. The temple is a peaceful amalgamation of Hinduism and Buddhism. Lord Shiva and Lord Buddha share the same temple site. There is also a Kali Temple. It is said that Darjeeling has derived its name from Dorjey-Ling, the Buddhist temple buit in 1765. In 1782 the 3 lingas manifested themselves and then the temple was rebuilt. The hill appears heavenly with mist and the pines and the colourful prayer flags fluttering all around.
It is a lovely garden where the hallmark Toy Train rides in a spiral to pick up speed for climbing up. Even if you are not taking the Joy Ride, you must visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site. From amidst the beautiful garden of lush green plants and lovely flowers, the clear view of the majestic Kanchenjunga is breath-taking. It is also a memorial to the Gorkha soldiers who lost their lives in India’s fight for Independence.
The visit to the Japanese Temple and the Peace Pagoda fills my heart with heavenly peace. The temple, nestled in the pine forest with four avatars of Buddha on the top is an epitome of peace and tranquillity. Continuous humming sound of the chants and the misty environment create magic.
Padmaja Naidu Zoological Garden
Darjeeling zoo is not like most other zoos in India. It is the largest high altitude zoo in India and is home to numerous endangered species like Red Panda, Tibetan Wolf, Snow Leopard, Siberian Tiger, Yak, Black Panther, Bengal Tiger and Himalayan Black Bear and numerous Himalayan birds and reptiles. It is a conservation and breeding centre for these endangered animals. For details about the zoo read https://monkatforty.com/things-to-see-at-darjeeling-zoo/
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) is in the same compound of the zoo. It is not only an institute to teach and promote mountaineering as a sport but also houses a museum, the Tenzing Memorial. Darjeeling was home to Tenzing Norgay, the first to ascent the summit of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the World. There is also a rock named after Tenzing, not inside this compound. Tourists can try rock climbing on the Tenzing Rock.
The Tiger Hill is the highest point of Darjeeling Hills, 11 kms away from Darjeeling town, most popular for viewing Sunrise from hill top. The Sunrise paints the colossal Kanchenjunga and the other snow-capped East Himalayan peaks gold. For viewing the sunrise, one needs to start at 3.30am for the Tiger Hill from Darjeeling. If you find it taxing to wake up early, a visit to the Tiger Hill during the day time is also encouraged. You will get to enjoy a goof view of the Himalayas.
Other site Seeing Spots
Darjeeling Ropeway/ Cable Car- 45 mins ride in the glass gondolas (4 persons in 1) provides breath-taking views of the lush green tea gardens and valleys below and a glimpse of Kanchenjunga too.
Rock Garden- The Rock Garden is a park situated on the hill at Chunnu Summer Falls. It is a picturesque place, very good for fun and photo sessions.
Llyod’s Botanical Garden- It is a repertoire of Himalayan flora – Ferns and conifers, alpine vegetation, unique orchiderium housing 2500 orchids of more than 50 varieties, rhododendrons and beautiful flowers. A greenhouse conservation of more than 150 species of cacti is also present. The Weeping Willow triggers flashes of Hogwart’s Whomping Willow from Harry Potter.
Happy Valley Tea Estate
When a little dot on the world map is so well known because of her tea, visiting her tea gardens is a quintessential part of the trip. Not only will the scenic beauty capture your heart but you can also gain some fascinating knowledge on tea production through a factory visit.
Tibetan Refugee Centre
It is a self-help centre where one gets a first-hand feel of Tibetan life style. Besides panoramic view and a warm welcome by the people, the centre offers tourists with a hill top shop for handmade woollens, leather jackets and accessories. They weave carpets and there are numerous handicraft items to buy. They also have a small restaurant offering mouth-watering Tibetan dishes.
Darjeeling, the Queen of Hearts
Darjeeling is a beautiful place to visit, providing different sort of charm at different seasons. From October to mid-December, the sky is clear and you have the best view of the mighty Kanchenjunga. From mid-December to January it is freezing cold and you can experience snow fall. It is generally foggy then. From February the sky clears and till April/May, it is generally clear and pleasant. You get to see lovely flowers. The mountains are beautiful even in the rains when the greens are greener and every nook and corner has little springs. However, Kanchenjunga may not be in full view during rains and it may be difficult to commute. Darjeeling is a good place for both budget tourists and lavish tourists ready to splurge. The Queen of Hills with her modernity and the old world charm is enchanting enough to be called the Queen of heart. This place has inspired me with these sketches and I had also written and illustrated a children’s story- https://monkatforty.com/bunny-and-his-darjeeling-dragon-a-hand-written-hand-illustrated-book-for-kids/
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