The Land of Thunderbolt – Darjeeling
After spending a complete weekend in Kolkata, I still wasn’t satisfied and wanted to explore more of the region. Since childhood, I have been hearing stories of friends visiting the hills of ‘Darjeeling’ during the summer vacations. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to explore it since I was already in West Bengal.
I enquired for the tickets and was fortunate enough to procure a confirmed ticket in Shatabdi that runs from Howrah railway station to New Jalpaiguri railway station. To reach Darjeeling via train one needs to travel to the twin cities of Siliguri and Jalpaiguri. New Jalpaiguri is like the gateway to the North Eastern states and is the railway station where the maximum amount of trains passes. I reached around 10:30 pm.
Things to note when you are exploring that part of the country. Their day starts early around 4 am and invariably ends by 8:30 pm.
Darjeeling has a turbulent history. It would require a separate post if we completely want to indulge in the history of Darjeeling. All I can see, keeping it brief, that for long Darjeeling was a part of the Sikkim Kingdom. It also became a part of Nepal as well as Bhutan for short periods during the British Era before finally becoming a part of the current state of West Bengal. It has seen its share of violence and war as well which keeps simmering every now and then for various reasons.
ABOUT THE CITY
Darjeeling is known as the ‘Land of Thunderbolt’. It gets its name from the Tibetan words ‘Dorje’, which is the thunderbolt scepter of the Hindu deity Indra, and ling, which means ‘a place’ or ‘land’.
The nearest airport is Bagdogra airport, which is about 15 km from Siliguri. From there one can take a shared taxi to Darjeeling directly or can come down till Darjeeling More, Siliguri and board the same.
To reach Darjeeling one can take the scenic and iconic Unesco world heritage Darjeeling Toy Train, but please make sure that you have got the tickets in advance because of the limited availability. It is also the most expensive option to reach Darjeeling unless you are hiring a private taxi only for yourself.
The best option is to take a shared taxi usually a Tata Sumo from the ‘Darjeeling more’. It will cost you only Rs. 150 (updated May 2018) and will take about three hours to Darjeeling.
It was late in the night by the time I de-boarded the train. I decided to spend the night in Siliguri and then leave for Darjeeling the next morning.
Note: Finding public transport in the night in New Jalpaiguri is pretty difficult. It is best advisable to ask the hotel to arrange a pickup. I wasn’t that lucky, hence I took a shared e-rick, which will charge as much as they want.
The next morning after breakfast I left for Darjeeling by taking a shared taxi. Just like Kolkata, Darjeeling too greeted me with rain. From the drop off point, I walked in the rain for about 1 km before I finally got a decent option to stay at a reasonable price. It was only 10 mins walking distance from Mall Road as well as the city center.
It was past lunchtime and I inquired at the hotel reception what all places I can cover now. The receptionist informed me that all the shared taxi options had left for the day and it was best that I would either take a personal cab or rent a bike. Given the hilly terrain and the rain, I went with a personal cab.
The driver was a young boy in his teens and was very friendly. He said if I cover the places without wasting much time he could take me to 3-4 places before the sunset.
I started with the Darjeeling Zoo.
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
The Darjeeling Zoo is a unique zoo. It is also known as Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park named after the daughter of Sarojini Naidu. The zoo is known internationally for its breeding and conservation programs and also includes an off-display breeding center for snow leopards and red pandas.
Must-See: Siberian Tiger, Red pandas, Himalayan bears, clouded leopards, and Tibetan wolves.
Opening hours: 8:30 am to 4 pm
Entry fee: INR 20 for domestic and INR 50 for others
Inside the same complex walking further down, there is the famous HMI.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is recognized as one of the best mountaineering institutes in the world and one of the oldest in the country established in 1954. Anyone who is interested in learning the craft of mountain climbing this is the best place to be in. It has and had some world-renowned faculties like the great Tenzing Norway. There is also a mountaineering museum inside it which is of primary attraction.
Entry Fee: INR 40 for adults, INR 10 for camera
Timings: 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM & 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM, Closed on Tuesdays.
Happy Valley Tea Estate
It would be criminal of anyone if they visit Darjeeling and don’t pay a visit to the Happy Valley Tea Estate. It is the second oldest tea estate in over 80 tea estates in Darjeeling. My driver agreed to take good snaps of me on the promise of me purchasing some fresh Darjeeling tea from his sister’s shop. Being a tea lover I couldn’t resist trying a couple of flavors right there.
There is no better feeling than the aroma of tea in the hills, the chilly wind, Kanchenjunga peak in the background and mesmerizing sight as far as one can see.
Timings: March – November: 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Entry Fee: No Entry Fee
Guided Tour: INR 100 per person
It was getting dark and we headed in the opposite direction of the city to visit the Buddhist Temple and Peace Pagoda.
Peace Pagoda and Buddhist Temple
No amount of words can describe the amazing soothing and scenic experience of the Peace Pagoda. The pagoda stands as the symbol of spirituality and peace. Peace Pagoda reflects four avatars of Lord Buddha depicted through four statues of Buddha in gold polish and is located adjacent to Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple.
Don’t miss the panoramic view of Darjeeling, the valley, the mountains and Kanchenjunga in the backdrop from the summit.
Opening hours: 4:30 am to 7 pm
Entry fee: Free
The driver dropped me near mall road where I headed for dinner. I went to bed early, as I had to wake up around 4 am to leave for the tiger hill. The hotel at a nominal charge for around Rs 200 can easily arrange the shared taxi.
The moment I woke up, my heart sank after noticing the weather. It was already drizzling with dark clouds covering the sky.
Tiger Hill is most famous for its splendid sights of sunrise from where you can see the peaks of Kanchenjunga illuminate before the sun is seen at lower elevations. On a clear day, the entire Himalayan range can be seen. At sunrise, the peaks of Kanchenjunga are illuminated before the sun is seen anywhere else in the city. Do remember to try the super fresh Darjeeling tea, which the hawkers would be selling there at a meager price of Rs 10 each.
On the way back to the city the driver will take you to Batasia Loop and Ghoom Monastery.
The Batasia Loop is a lush green toy train pathway that is meant to minimize the elevation of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Right at the center of the garden, a War Memorial was created in honor of the Gorkha soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the many wars post-Indian Independence.
Timings: 5:00 AM to 8:00 PM
Entry Fee: INR 15
The Yiga Choeling or old Ghoom Monastery is the oldest Tibetan Buddhist Monastery of Darjeeling. Established in 1850 by Lama Sherab Gyatso, this shrine is part of the Yellow Hat sect known as Gelupka who worship the ‘Coming Buddha’ or ‘Maitreya Buddha’. In front of the Maitreya Buddha statue hang two huge oil lamps which keep burning throughout the year.
Do not forget to taste the awesome breakfast, momo, and thukpa just outside the monastery.
Timings: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM Entry Fee: No Entry Fee,
Still camera: INR 10,
Video shot: INR 50
After spending a decent amount of time in the monastery and a wonderful breakfast we headed back to the city.
The sun was out now and I wanted to use the half-day I still had at hand. I decided to visit one of the best picturesque locations in Darjeeling – the Rock Garden.
The Rock Garden or the Barbotey Garden as its commonly known is located a little far from the city around ~10 km away. It is a man-made rocky garden enriched with flora, waterfalls, and bridges. The pleasing view from the hills provides you with just the thing you were looking for when you planned your trip to Darjeeling. The tea gardens all over the hills, beautiful flower gardens and beautiful waterfalls make the place a heavenly location.
Timings: All days of the week: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM Entry Fee: INR 10 per person for Indians, INR 50 per person for foreign tourists
FOOD and STAY
Darjeeling being a popular hill station there is no shortage of places to stay. There are options available which cater to every class of tourists and travelers.
The Deveka’s Restaurant: Must try their momos and Thukpa. Awesome Tibetian food options.
Kunga Restaurant: It is very close to Deveka’s. The best way to reach both places is to locate the Hotel Lunar board which is visible from a distance. Both the restaurants are just located beneath the board on Gandhi Road. Thenthuk and Bhagthuk soups are a must try. You will fall in love with them.
For all those who love tea,
For all those who love hill stations,
For all those who love toy trains,
For all those who love the Land of Thunderbolt…
It’s not a goodbye,
But it’s a GOOD BYE.
Manas ‘Sameer’ Mukul.
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