“Did you get to see Kanchenjunga today?” This is a hot topic of discussion amongst all travelers to Darjeeling, the Queen of the Hills. Kanchenjunga is the Third highest peak of Himalayas and a very moody beast when it comes to sightings. Picture this, tourists who come here often have a higher rate of success seeing a tiger in the wild than the elusive mountain range. The cloud covered horizon, the misty and slightly chilly air as well as the narrow winding roads full of mysteries offer much to keep you coming back for more.
A trip to Darjeeling is incomplete without the customary ride on the Himalayan Heritage Railways, popularly called the “Toy Train” now offering joy rides to a nearby station called Ghoom through the Batasia loop offering magnificent views of the snow-capped mountains on a clear day. Tickets for this ride in peak season are often as elusive as the mountain sightings with bookings for the limited seats always filled in advance. We’ve personally found the very similar train ride in Ooty, another Hill station in south India, more comfortable and visually pleasing. Remnants of the British legacy are seen all throughout right from the structures of the buildings to adopted names of places of interest and local hotels.
Food choice is iffy at best but do not miss the tarts and the eclairs at Glenary’s, a bakery cum restaurant on Mall road in Darjeeling, they are amongst the best we’ve had in Darjeeling or for that matter anywhere. Even with the plethora of restaurants opening up, the ever prominent Keventers right on the Chowrasta, the Town center, remains a favorite for breakfast options and shakes is a must do for anyone visiting for the first time (or their twentieth). Lunar is a good choice for vegetarians like us happening to look for good Indian food (North Indian & South Indian) in the hilly city of Darjeeling.
There are enough touristy things to do in the city right from the ever popular rock garden to the rope-way which offers plenty of scenic views of the valley and the tea estates below which can be explored if one gets off at the lower station. We would however recommend staying put and taking the same car up to avoid the big lines in the tourist season. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) and the Darjeeling zoo are in the same premises and offer enough to keep both the young and aged excited. The HMI museum is well stocked and the zoo, housing rare high altitude animals like the Tibetan Wolf, Snow Leopard and Red Pandas can be a real treat. There are plenty of things to do for a couple but not much beats a stroll down a tea estate in the early rains. Tandem paragliding would come close but is generally unavailable during the rains. In that scenario if you have a little time at hand, head down the slopes for a quick jaunt of river rafting. With water to fill up the swells, the experience will definitely be more adventurous. For romantic non adventurous couples however there are benches on the path winding down from the Windamere hotel and leading up to the Kanchenjunga view point which offer spectacular views while offering a wee bit of privacy, a rare combination in Darjeeling. If you add in a bit of magical mist and a chill in the air it could become the recipe for the most romantic few moments you’ve spent, that is until a bike comes honking at full speed round the bend. All this has to be followed by a customary very early morning ride to Tiger Hill to measure your luck in the bone biting cold to see the sunrise over the Kanchenjunga range.
If you’re like us you will want a complete immersive experience. If you can expand your budget (or have a bigger one to begin with) stay at the Glenburn Tea Estate a little beyond Darjeeling city. Staying at a tea estate is an experience like none other and you will definitely be thanking us later (You can always thank us by suggesting where to stay at your favorite destination in the comments below 🙂 )
The most important takeaway from this trip weren’t the photos clicked or the memories built or even the shopping hastily done (do not miss taking back some shawls for yourself) but the fact that this beautiful hill station has so much more to offer and that we will be coming back again for sure if nothing else to catch the sun rising over the mountains, an urban legend which we hope to see ourselves.
- Darjeeling is 3 hours by road from New Jalpaiguri and about 7 hours by the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway popularly known as the Toy Train. The nearest flight connection is Bagdogra airport which is about 90 Km or 3 hours away.
- The best season to visit differs by personal preferences though summers are the peak tourist season for Darjeeling. October to November & Feb – April remains a good season to catch sight of the Kanchenjunga range and beat the tourists.
- To do the local sightseeing by Darjeeling Toy train it is usually recommended to book online in advance especially during tourist seasons as the tickets are usually sold out a few months in advance.
- We stayed at the Glenburn Tea Estate which provides for an immersive experience of staying within a tea estate and offers its guests a culinary bonanza and options for a number of adventure activities if they so like.