The Charm of Darjeeling - Through the Eyes of a Kolkatan

Don’t let all the political hullabaloo surrounding Darjeeling take anything away from this quaint little hill station known fondly as the “Queen of Hills’”. With a magnetic and charming personality of its own, Darjeeling was developed by the Britishers as a getaway from Kolkata’s scorching summer heat. Almost every Kolkatan you come across has a fond, faded memory of their childhood among the verdure of Darjeeling. To put things into perspective, what Lonavala is to a Mumbaikar, Darjeeling is to a Kolkatan. So, in 2014, just after my Class 10 boards, when my friends were all set for new destination trips, my father decided to refresh our caches by taking us to Darjeeling again for a short family vacation.

Reaching New Jalpaiguri Railway Station around 11 AM, Sunday, a man in a white uniform greeted us amicably and asked us to be absolutely comfortable in his car as the journey would take almost 3 hours. It was April when Kolkata settles into a sultry summer season, and we didn’t even bother to give a hoot to Darjeeling’s temperature. Gradually when the car rode up the hills, Darjeeling’s chilly weather welcomed us by tingling our cheeks.

Riding up the hills

We quickly checked into our hotel and rushed to the room to change into warmer apparel. After a hectic journey up, we decided upon relaxing and chilling in Darjeeling’s vibrant mall road. And when in mall road Shangri-la’s Thukpa is a must-try. So, after relishing it and pretending to be a big-name food blogger, we decided to trek to Mahakal Temple by the right side road of Chowrasta. The road is an ideal place for perfect Instagram photos!! And if you are a dog cuddler, then you are in for a treat as you will be greeted by fluffy Himalayan dogs.

Trekking to Mahakal Temple

While returning from our temple visit, we gave no thought and directly entered the Chowk Bazaar for shopping. This place offers a unique collection of woollen clothes, sweatshirts and many other warm dresses without burning a hole in your pocket. There are two other markets-as well Mahakal Market and Dragon Market, from there you can take back some exclusive memorabilia for your dear ones. Pony ride on Mall Road, under the evening twilight was a delightful way to end our first day.

After having sumptuous momos for dinner, we headed back to our hotel room and mentally mapped our next day’s itinerary. We ended our day under warm blankets, sipping hot Darjeeling tea and discussing life.

Sunrise from Tiger Hills

The next morning we got up as early as 3:00 AM, pumped with adrenaline, packed dry food and water for the journey up to Tiger Hill to witness the sunrise over Kanchenjunga. To remind you, it was ‘Bengali Poila Baishak’, and for a few days, Kanchenjunga was covered by an envelope of fog. But we were lucky to get the breathtaking view of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain as well as a slight peak of Mount Everest. Imagine the scene, sunrise over Kanchenjunga from Tiger Hills!!!

Reflection of sun ray on Kanchenjunga

Eye soothing view from Tiger Hills

From there, we made a quick stopover at a Monastery which is on the way to Tiger Hills to seek blessings and listen to monks pray. Then we had breakfast at a small cafe on the premises of the monastery which offers coffee, tea, biscuits and vegetarian snacks.

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”- Buddha

The next destination was Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park. This zoo is among the best zoos in the world. Here, you can see many endangered high altitude Himalayan wildlife like Red Panda, Snow Leopards etc. Only a few steps away from there is the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI). HMI has a museum which preserves old expeditions of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, the first to stamp their feet on the highest point of Mount Everest.

Himalayan Wildlife in Darjeeling Zoo

"Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace" - Buddha. 

The last destination for the day was a Japanese Temple. Amidst the hustle-bustle of urban life, after a hectic day, this place is a perfect destination for some peace of mind. The white colour of the building and golden lions at the entrance is an eye-soothing view. But it was hard for lazy log like me, as to reach the temple we had to climb Swarg ki Seedhi!!

 Japanese Temple Swarg Ki Seedhi!

Back in our car to the hotel, we decided to end the trip on a light note. Thus, we got up the next day amongst the hills of Darjeeling and made it a point to have our breakfast at famous Glenary’s rooftop. Even in that chilliness, if one returns without relishing on a Keventers’ softy, then Darjeeling trip is undoubtedly incomplete!!

Keventers' softy

When in Darjeeling, how one can miss the sprawling tea gardens. Wandering and scuttling among the tea gardens is an out of the world experience which city life can never offer. Engaging in a conversation with the gardeners reveal so much about their lifestyle, culture and struggles. Hence, while returning back from there pack some tea leaves for home to kick start your busy days in your veranda!!!

15 year old me wandering among the tea gardens!!

There are many other places in Darjeeling to visit, such as Batasia Loop, Rock Garden. But all the above places provide Darjeeling with its unparalleled serenity.

Batasia Loop

     Traveler’s Take away:

  1. Wandering among the tea gardens is a must and striking up conversation with the gardeners can reveal so much about their lifestyle.
  2. Take some time out and travel around in iconic Darjeeling’s Toy Train.
  3. Breakfast in Glenary’s, Keventers’ softy and shopping in Chowk Market and chilling around Mall Road. Sounds amusing right?
  4. Sunrise over Kanchenjunga from Tiger Hill. 
  5. If you are a gastronome then try out different types of momos, and Thukpas.

This post was published by Raima Kayal

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