Darjeeling: The Quintessential Hill Town of West Bengal
In December 2013, I quit my corporate job, withdrew all the savings I had, bought a rucksack, a pair of walking-running shoes, set up a travel blog, and told my mother I wanted to travel – Solo! In India, not many are in acceptable terms with this concept, especially if it comes to women. Of course, we have women travelers and bloggers, but you won’t find too many of them doing it alone. I think they wouldn’t be allowed even if they wanted to. I consider myself extremely lucky that my family had no problems agreeing to such a dream however outrageous it may feel.
I have travelled quite a bit in India and wrote about one part of my journey in my previous post about my time in Varanasi and promised (in my own mind) that I will also write about the experience I had during my trip to Darjeeling. Thus, this one is dedicated to Darjeeling, my time in this small hill town tucked away in the lap of nature, and a mini-guide on what not to miss if you are planning a trip to this picturesque town.
Miles and miles of greenery and Tea plantations and, the clouds occasionally bending over to kiss you on the cheeks, Darjeeling is one of the most beautiful cities in India, or may be the world.
When you are not frozen by the beauty of the city and the view of Khangchendzonga, you can walk around the city and explore everything that the small city has to offer.
Travelers and tourists (especially the backpacker kinds) mostly prefer to stay near the Mall road also known as the Nehru Road. There are plenty of guesthouses/dorms/hotels to choose from and most offer food and lodging at affordable prized. Another plus point of staying close to the Mall is its proximity to the tourist attractions. Almost all the attractions can be reached on foot.
Now, since this is sort of a mini guide (more of a walking guide) and I am very poor with names and kilometers, I am going to give ‘directions’ in my style.
So, first you have to find the Police post (easily located) which is right at the middle of the street towards the Mall. Second, stand facing the taxi stand. Now read about the following places as per my directions:
1. Japanese Peace Pagoda: Located at the end of AJC Bose Road, this Pagoda is one of the many series of Japanese Peace Pagodas (Shanti Stupa) erected in various parts of the world. Travelers and visitors are allowed to click photos except for the prayer sessions which take place every day 4:30-7:00 am and 4:30-6:30 pm. You can pick one of the hand drums kept at the corner of the room (or arranged on the floor) and join in the chanting.
Distance from Mall – 20-30 minutes gentle walk.
Direction: If you are standing exactly the way I asked, then start walking left.
2. Observatory Hill & Mahakal Temple: Approximately 300 m from Chowrasta (The Mall) towards Bhanu Bhakta Sarani, Observatory Hill is sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus since this was the site of the original Dorje Ling monastery after which the city is named. Mahakal Temple, located on the Observatory Hill, is built out of a small cave and is a one of its kind temple for it’s visited by both Buddhist and Hindu worshippers. There are more monkeys than human beings in and around the temple though the monkeys here are well-behaved and not dangerous (Well! Most of them).
Direction: If you are standing exactly the way I asked, then start walking right. You will reach the Mall. Go straight and take the path going right. (Or, just ask someone)
3. Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park: One of India’s best, this zoo houses some of the most dangerous (tigers) to some of the cutest (red panda) wildlife. It is also attached to a snow leopard breeding center (unfortunately not open for tourists) and is home to the world’s largest single captive population of snow leopards.
Distance from Mall – 20 minutes downhill walk along Jawahar Rd West.
Direction: If you are standing exactly the way I asked, then start walking right. You will reach the Mall. Go straight and take the path going left. (Or, just ask someone)
4. Himalayan Mountaineering Institute: A must visit for mountain lovers or those who are passionate about trekking, the Mountaineering institute built on the land adjacent to the zoo and just about 5-10 minutes from the zoo, also has a museum which showcases some of the rarest artifacts from the Tenzing Norgay’s Everest expedition. The museum also stores old and rugged clothes and gears from many other historical expeditions and their team members.
There are a lot of other places to see in and around Darjeeling like the Tiger Hill (famous for sunrise views), tea estates, Rangit Valley Ropeway, Ghum, Batasia Loop, and the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help center, but they aren’t so close so you may need to hire a cab or hop on a shared taxi that leaves from the taxi stand I asked you to stand facing towards ..