The queen of hills: Darjeeling
Saint Augustine famously said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”. Keeping these words in my mind, I set out for a trip in search of my inner self and to be in the lap of nature and the city I chose was Darjeeling. I fell in love with the town the minute I got off there. The magnificent view of the hills, the mist, clouds and the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds. The beauty of the city cannot be described in words and one has to travel to Darjeeling to experience it. As soon as I landed in the city I realized that it was the right destination for me to drink in the scenery and be as close to nature as I could. Contrary to the belief that Darjeeling has nothing other than hills and waterfalls to see, the city offers one so much to view and take in.
The town is usually cold throughout the year. The town can be reached through Air, Road and Railway:
By Air: the nearest airport to Darjeeling is Bagdogra (95 kilometers away from the city). There are direct flights from cities like Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. It takes almost three hours to reach the city from the airport by a taxi.
By Train: the nearest railway station to Darjeeling is New Jalpaiguri which connects the city to all the major parts of the country. There are number of trains from all the major cities of the country.
By Road: Darjeeling is well connected by road to all the nearby cities like Gangtok, Kalimpong. It is also connected by road to Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal).
My trip to this wonderful city started with a breathtaking view. I parted the curtains of my hotel room and there it was! Kanchenjunga! The entire range was in front of me in full view, snowcapped and dazzling in the sun. My trip started early in the morning the next day. I woke up at 4 am and reached tiger hill at 5 to view the sunrise as the place has earned international fame for the best sunrise view. Tiger hill is situated at an altitude of 2590 meters and is 13 kilometers away from the city. Although Kanchenjunga was very much visible from the window of my hotel room but viewing it from tiger hill was a different experience altogether. It wasn’t a very cloudy day so I was lucky enough to also get a glimpse of Mount Everest. After tiger hill I found myself near Senchal Lake which is near Tiger hill and is a picnic spot. I was told that the lake supplies drinking water to the town.
Sunrise at Tiger hill
The next spot on my list was Batasia Loop near Ghum. The loop is situated 5 kilometers from the city and is a gigantic railway loop where the toy train runs and takes a 360 degree turn. It is a beautiful place with manicured garden, streams and waterfalls. While travelling on the toy train one gets a breathtaking view of Darjeeling’s scenic beauty. I would suggest the toy train only for people with lot of patience as the train travels at a speed of 15 kilometers per hour and covers 14 kilometers in three hours which might be an utter disappointment for some.
The Peace Pagoda was up next in the list. The Japanese Peace Pagoda was established as I was told by Nipponzan Myohoji (a Japanese Buddhist order). The Pagoda is situated on the slopes of Jalapahar hill. This is the highest free structure in the city and I reached there by walking. By the end of it I was catching up my breath but was content on soaking in all the beauty of the place. The Pagoda showcases four “avatars” of Buddha. The place was extremely cold and peaceful as monasteries usually are. I could feel the power of God there and so I sat there for almost an hour and it rejuvenated me like nothing else ever has. After the pagoda, I visited all the monasteries in the city which are- Sakya monastery (Ghoom), Bhutia busty monastery, Yiga- choling Buddhist monastery (ghoom). By the end of it, my soul was extremely peaceful and I was re-energized. I straight away headed on to Rock garden, situated 10 kilometers away from the city, the place is an attractive picnic spot with natural waterfalls. What can I say about the beauty of the place? It was just mesmerizing! The town at you feet and the mountains up above shrouded in clouds. The place also offers boating facilities and ample eateries are available for the visitors to enjoy local delicacies. There are various other shops as well from where I bought a few souvenirs. After the rock garden I headed on to Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, the all famous Darjeeling zoo which is the home for rare wildlife found only in this region. I got a glimpse of Siberian tigers (only ones in India), red pandas, black bears and Tibetan wolves. It was a rare and amazing experience. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is situated above the zoo which was worth a visit. It houses rare collections of mountaineering gears used by Tenzing Norway and Edmund Hillary to climb Mount Everest. It was an enriching experience.
Japanese Peace Pagoda
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
White Tiger Red Panda
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
Although I have been on many ropeways but the Rangeet Valley passengers cable car in Darjeeling was a different experience altogether. It is 3 kilometers from the town and is situated at what is known as the “north point”. It is as I was told, India’s oldest ropeway. I was awestruck at the sight that my eyes confronted from the ropeway. Lush green tea gardens, dense forests and waterfalls beneath and snow capped mountains in the background. Yes, this entire scenic beauty in one place! I also visited one of the tea gardens and shopped some tea leaves as Darjeeling is known across the world for its tea.
View from the ropeway
Any travel experience is incomplete without shopping. So I headed to the chowrasta or the mall. It is the town centre in Darjeeling where some of the old and heritage stores are lined up on one side and there is open view on the other with a number of pine trees. The pleasure of indulging in shopping at such a beautiful place was immense. I did not forget to collect a few local items as souvenirs from the place which even today makes me nostalgic about the wonderful experience of travelling to this beautiful city.
When you are in the city of Darjeeling, go trekking or just take a walk across the hills, sit in a café and enjoy some coffee with great scenic beauty in the background, drink in clean and fresh mountain air or wake up early and watch the sunrise or just sit and relax. The place has something to offer to everyone and would not disappoint you. You would be left at peace and invigorated to an all new level.