Darjeeling – Tea Gardens, Toy Train, and More

Aptly named the ‘Queen of the Hills’, the idyllic hill station of Darjeeling is situated in the Mahabharat Range or the Lesser Himalayas at an altitude of 6,710 ft or 2,050 m. It is widely known for its Darjeeling Tea and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Darjeeling has several trekking tracks going through high and low altitude areas with enthralling views of Mount Everest and Mount Kanchenjunga. The town is surrounded by dense and verdant Sal and oak evergreen forests. The semi evergreen and Sal forests at the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary shelter one-horned rhinoceroses, elephants, tigers, leopards, hog deer, Bengal floricans and herons.

Attractions

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Here are some of the major places in Darjeeling one can’t afford to miss:

1. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Popularly called the ‘Toy Train’, the UNESCO declared World Heritage Site Darjeeling Himalayan Railway connects Siliguri to Darjeeling. Powered by ancient steam locomotives, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is a 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge railway running for a distance of 86 km at altitudes ranging from 328 ft (100 m) at Siliguri to 7,218 ft (2,200 m) at Darjeeling. The ride on the train from Siliguri to Darjeeling takes one past cheerful gurgling streams, lush tea gardens and luxuriant vegetation like Sal, giant bamboos, figs, oaks, chestnuts, birches, maples, walnuts, laurels and orchids. Attractive primroses, magnolias and rhododendrons can also be seen on the way.

2. Darjeeling Carnival

The Darjeeling Carnival is a 10 day festival held every year in Darjeeling. Its highlights include tea drinking ceremonies, a Land Rover rally, music concerts poetry reading sessions, painting and photo exhibitions and ethnic food festivals.

3. Ghoom Hillock

Situated about 6 km from Darjeeling at an altitude of 2,407 m is the Ghoom Hillock. The renowned Yiga Choeling Monastery or Ghoom Gompa located on the slopes of the hillock, has a collection of age-old palm leaf and paper manuscripts written in the Tibetan script and images of Maitreya Buddha. Samdenchoeling, Sakyachoeling and the Phin Sotholing are some of the other monasteries in Ghoom.

4. The Museum of Natural History

Visit the Museum of Natural History and view several Himalayan animals, reptiles, birds and insects.

5. Lloyd’s Botanical Garden

Lloyd’s Botanical Garden is situated below the Eden Sanatorium or the Saheed Durga Mall District Hospital on an open slope. It has a wonderful selection of alpine flowers and orchids.

6. Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park

The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park is the sole breeding place for the rare snow leopards, the Ussurian or Siberian tigers, Tibetan wolves and the Himalayan black bears. It is situated on Birch Hill or Jawahar Parbhat.

7. Himalayan Mountaineering Institute

The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is close to the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park on Birch Hill (or Jawahar Parbhat) and is the oldest such institute in India. It is at an altitude of 6,900 ft. Adventure, Basic and Advanced Mountaineering courses are conducted at this institute.

8. Darjeeling-Rangit Valley Passenger Ropeway or Cable Car

The Darjeeling-Rangit Valley Ropeway offers a heart stirring ride with bewitching views of the verdant tea gardens. Situated at North Point, about 1 km from the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, it is Asia’s longest and India’s oldest ropeway.

9. Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center

Tibetan crafts like carpets, wood and leather work are found here.

10. Neora Valley National Park

Neora Valley National Park is about 30 km from Darjeeling and 132 km from New Jalpaiguri. This park features rhododendron trees, luxuriant valleys, untouched natural forests, thick bamboo groves, flowing streams and snow topped mountains.

11. Tiger Hill

Tiger Hill is about 13 km from Darjeeling at an altitude of 8,482 ft or 2,590 m. One can walk to Tiger Hill or drive there. Spellbinding views of the sunrise over Mount Kanchenjunga and the eastern Himalayan Mountains can be had from here.

12. Senchal Lake

Senchal Lake is a first rate picnic spot close to Tiger Hill and about 10 km from Darjeeling. It is situated at an altitude of 8,160 ft. There is a golf course here for golf enthusiasts.

13. Batasia Railway Loop and the War Memorial

The huge Batasia Railway Loop at a distance of 5 km from Darjeeling is the place where the Darjeeling Himlayan Railway makes a turn of 360 degrees. A War Memorial for fallen soldiers and a market selling decorative items are added attractions at this place.

14. Ava Art Gallery

Ava Art Galley is situated at a distance of about 4 km from the Market Square on the National Highway and has a fascinating collection of water, oil and thread paintings.

15. Chowrasta Mall

The heart of Darjeeling is the Chowrasta Mall with several shops and restaurants. The Brabourne Park nearby with a musical fountain casts a spell on visitors.

16. Rock Garden and Ganga Maya Park

The Rock Garden and Ganga Maya Park are lovely picnic places located about 10 km from Darjeeling. The place has pleasing natural water falls, boating facilities and eating joints for tourists.

17. Japanese Peace Pagoda

On the slopes of the Jalapahar Hill is the Japanese Peace Pagoda which is the highest standing free structure in Darjeeling. The 4 avatars of the Buddha are displayed here.

18. Nightingale Park

Also called the Shrubbery Park, Nightingale Park is about 5 km from Darjeeling Railway Station. Visitors can enjoy daily cultural activities in the tourist season. An imposing statue of Lord Shiva and a temple are also present here.

19. Observatory Hill & Mahakal Temple

Observatory Hill also called ‘Holy Hill’ is located on the highest ridge of Darjeeling and can be reached by walking for a few minutes from Chowrasta Mall. The Mahakal temple on the top is noteworthy in having a Hindu priest and a Buddhist monk performing their duties on the same premises.

20. Dhirdham Temple

A minute’s walk away from the Darjeeling Railway Station is the Dhirdham Temple. The architecture of the temple is an imitation of the acclaimed Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu.

21. Happy Valley Tea Garden

Situated about 1 km from Darjeeling on 18 Lebong Cart Road and very near to the District Magistrate’s Office is Happy Valley Tea Garden. The lush and verdant tea garden is a great place to visit for peace and quiet far away from the hustle and bustle of urban cities.

22. Raj Bhawan

Raj Bhawan, the Governors’ summer residence is a beautiful mansion with trimmed lawns, verdant gardens, dense forests and British era bungalows.

23. Step Aside

Step Aside is the house in which the Indian freedom fighter Deshbandhu Chittranjan Das died. It is a few minutes walk from the Chowrasta Mall. The personal effects of Chiitaranjan Das are found on the first floor of this house. There is a maternity clinic named after him on the ground floor.

24. The Mag-Dhog Yolmowa Buddhist Monastery

The Mag-Dhog Yolmowa Buddhist Monastery is on the Old Military Road or the Aloobari road. It has captivating statues of Lord Buddha in different forms and the statue of Padma Sambhave. There is also a charming wall painting here.

Places Around Darjeeling

1. Kalimpong

Situated at a distance of 51 km from Darjeeling on a ridge overlooking River Teesta is the charming hill station of Kalimpong at an altitude of 1,250 m. The widely accepted Lepcha meaning of the word Kalimpong is ‘The Ridge Where We Play’. Kalimpong can also mean ‘Black Spur’. Mac Farlane Church, a school called Dr. Graham’s Homes, Durpin Dara lookout and monasteries like the Pedong monastery, the Thongsha Gompa and the Tharpa Choling Monastery are some of the places worth visiting in Kalimpong. Situated 4 km from Kalimpong is the prominent Swiss Welfare Dairy. Delicious dairy products like cheese and butter can be obtained here. The 2 bazaars of Kalimpong must be visited for their colorful atmosphere.

2. Mirik

The enchanting hill station of Mirik is located at a distance of 50 km from Darjeeling, at an altitude of 1,967 m. The captivating Sumendu Lake with boating facilities is at the bottom of Mirik Spur. The hill station is surrounded by delightful tea gardens, cardamom plantations & orange orchards. The picturesque lookouts of Rameetay Dara and Deosi Dara with bewitching views of the plains and hills, the perfect picnickers’ paradise of Rai Dhap and the holy Hindu temple of Debi Sthan are some of the places to visit.

Quick Facts

Location: Darjeeling is located in the Mahabharat Range or the Lesser Himalayas in the state of West Bengal in India.

Altitude: Darjeeling is located at an altitude of 6,710 ft or 2,050 m.

Temperature: Average temperature of Darjeeling ranges from 9?C to 15°C or 48°F to 59°F.

Best time to travel: Best time to travel Darjeeling is March to May or September to November.

Accommodation: Hotels, International youth hostels, resorts and old villas and estates converted into hotels are available.

Getting There

By Flight: Bagdogra is the nearest airport to Darjeeling at a distance of 88 km and has good flight connections with the major cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai and Guwahati. The drive time from Bagdogra to Darjeeling is around 3-1/2 hours. Seat sharing or for hire vehicles are available near the airport to get to Darjeeling.

By Train: The nearest railhead to Darjeeling is New Jalpaiguri (NJP) at a distance of 88 km. NJP has a good rail network with major cities in India like Calcutta, Mumbai, Guwahati, Chennai, Lucknow and Delhi. Several trains heading towards the north eastern states have a halt here. One can take the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway or the ‘Toy Train’ from New Jalpaiguri Railway Station to reach Darjeeling which takes about 8 hours. Seat sharing or for hire vehicles are available near the railway station to get to Darjeeling.

By Road: The town of Siliguri which is about 80 km from Darjeeling has buses plying to Darjeeling, Mirik and Kalimpong from Tenzing Norgay Bus Terminus. Seat sharing or for hire vehicles are also available near the bus terminus. The journey from Siliguri to Darjeeling takes about 3-1/2 hours.

The distance from Darjeeling to Siliguri is 80 km, New Jalpaiguri Railway Station 88 km, Bagdogra Airport 88 km, Guwahati 590 km, Kalimpong 51 km, Kolkata 665 km and Delhi 1389 km. Other important distances include Gangtok in Sikkim at 115 km, Kathmandu in Nepal at 677 km, Pashupati in Nepal (Note: only Indian and Nepali citizens are allowed to enter from here) at 27 km and Phuntsoling in Bhutan at 233 km.

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