Ensconced in the foothills of the Himalayas, the district of Darjeeling is the crowning glory of the state of West Bengal. The hills rise from the Tarai and Doors region and are elevated to an altitude of more than 12,000 feet. The misty mountains, verdant gardens, bevies of clouds playing hide and seek with the Kanchenjunga (or Kanchendzonga) rising steadily at a distance and a cool, comfortable climate have helped Darjeeling to earn the sobriquet, “Queen of Hills”.
The name Darjeeling is perhaps derived from the Tibetan word “Dorjee Lin” meaning land of the thunderbolts. In 1835, the king of Sikkim gifted Darjeeling to the then Governor General of British India, Lord Bentinck, though the present Darjeeling we see today has little similarity with the 138 square miles long land that was handed over to the East India Company.
Once you start your journey towards Darjeeling from the NJP (New Jalpaiguri) station, the scenic beauty changes rapidly with sloping coniferous forests and lush green terraced tea gardens. While you can hire a car to reach Darjeeling, it would be an out of the world experience to avail the joy ride of the toy-train, operated by the Darjeeling-Himalayan Railway (DHR). It is a narrow gauge track leading its way through some of the most beautiful mountain routes in the world. The slow moving train, the musical sound of the wheels moving through numerous loops and zigzag lines traversing the mountains, the vintage look of the coach- an exotic experience in itself. Since 1999, it has been recongnized as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Darjeeling-Himalayan Railway, Toy Train
Apart from enjoying the legendary sunrise from the Tiger Hill, you can take the ride to the 13 km long Darjeeling Rangeet valley Ropeway. There is the Peace Pagoda, Rock Garden, Yiga-Choeling Ghoom Monastery, the Mahakala Temple, Botanical Garden, Ava Art Gallery, among the other prime attractions. Don’t forget to pamper your taste buds at the Glenary’s (for the best pastries and cakes) and Keventers (I like the hot chocolate and chicken cutlet most). There are numerous hotels in Darjeeling, but it’s better to book in prior.
But only an early morning or evening stroll through the hilly roads can help you to get in the essence of this hilly town. The low clouds will wave at you with an occasional drizzle followed by the sunshine immediately. The charm of Darjeeling is inexhaustible; the more you see, the more you want to breathe in.
Yiga-Choeling Ghoom Monastery
I have visited Darjeeling quite a number of times since my childhood. The hill-station has never failed to enchant me. There is a smell that is typical to Darjeeling; a heady mixture of raw tea leaves, pine cones, fog and numbers of unknown flowers. The olfactory receptors register memories in a better and customized manner, we all know, and, this smell will remain with you forever once you visit Darjeeling.
Best time to Visit: March- May and September-December. It’s better to avoid the monsoon from June-August, but if you want to feel the chilly wind, you can even travel during January or February.
How to Reach: The nearest airport Bagdogra is 74 km from Darjeeling and has regular flights from Kolkata, Guwahati and Delhi. The nearest railhead is at Siliguri, NJP station. Quite a number of trains are available on a daily basis from Kolkata and other parts of India.