Darjiling Information

The name, 'Darjeeling' is a combination of the Tibetan words, Dorje (thunderbolt) and ling (place), translating to 'The land of the thunderbolt.' Darjeeling is internationally famous for its tea industry.  It has several public schools of British style, which attract students from many parts of India and the neighboring countries.

Darjeeling, “Land of the Celestial Thunderbolt,” was given to the British as a “gift” from the once-independent kingdom of Sikkim. Lying in the Himalayan foothills and entirely surrounded by snowcapped vistas, Darjeeling soon became the favorite summer resort of the British Raj during the heyday of Calcutta—when Mark Twain visited, he exclaimed it was “the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once by even a glimpse would not give that glimpse for the shows of the rest of the world combined.” Today, the incredible view of the world’s third-highest mountain, Mount Kanchenjunga (8,598m/27,400 ft.), is undoubtedly Darjeeling’s best-loved attraction, though the town has also acquired a global reputation for producing the “champagne of teas,” and retains some of its haunting Gothic Victorian ambience. Most visitors are here to pick up a permit and get acclimatized for hikes through the mountainous state of Sikkim. It’s worth noting that if you want a sleepy colonial hill-station environment, with splendid flower-filled walks, this is not it. Head instead for nearby Kalimpong, which offers a number of charming old-world accommodations. Two nights in Darjeeling should be more than enough, particularly if you’re moving on to other Himalayan foothill towns. As with most hill stations, Darjeeling involves a considerable amount of climbing, and you’ll do well to avoid the ugly mess of lower Darjeeling, which is typically congested, with suspicious odors, confusing back alleys, and a jumble of paths and stairways. Stick to The Mall and Chowrasta (crossroads) in upper Darjeeling, where life proceeds at a polite pace, and you can enjoy leisurely walks, stopping for a cup of tea or to browse shops stuffed full of trinkets and artifacts.

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Darjeeling is the type of place where you might easily find yourself wanting to do very little other than drink in the restorative climate and tea. There are over 70 different tea plantations in the area, and a typical tour (Happy Valley Tea Estate will usually accommodate visitors) demonstrates everything from harvesting to how different varieties of tea are sorted and prepared for export around the globe. For the finest selection of organic and non-organic teas—20 to 30 plantations are represented—pay a visit to Nathmulls a family business that’s been selling tea since 1931. For a good vantage point, climb Observatory Hill, held sacred by Hindus and Buddhists. A Kali shrine is guarded by foul-tempered monkeys that play on the colorful Buddhist prayer flags strung between the pine trees. Darjeeling has a sizeable Tibetan presence and a number of Buddhist monasteries you can visit. Set against the backdrop of Kanchenjunga, colorful Bhutia Busty Gompa, near Chowrasta, is famous for the contents of its upstairs Buddhist library— one of the texts kept there is the original Tibetan Book of the Dead. On Tenzing Norgay Road, you may be able to buy Tibetan and Sikkimese handicrafts at Aloobari Monastery. An hour’s walk from town is Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park, where you can give the animals a miss and head straight for the secluded Snow Leopard and Red Panda Breeding Programme, the only successful breeding program of these endangered species in the world. Sit patiently and watch snow leopards in their cages or a red panda in the trees, or chat with Kiran Motane, the program’s dedicated zoologist.

A GLORIOUS SUNRISE

Watching the sun rise from Tiger Hill, near the sleepy town of Ghoom, is one of the best things to do in the area (11km/7 miles from Darjeeling; private taxi costs Rs 450/$10 round-trip): The sight of the first rays of dawn carving a dramatic, golden silhouette around the not-too-distant eastern Himalayan peaks is brilliant. Occasionally, Mount Everest is also visible, just 225km (140 miles) away. Come armed with spare film and warm clothing—at an altitude of 2,550m (8,160 ft.), predawn Tiger Hill is bone-jarringly cold, and if you want to join the crowds who flock here each morning, you have to be up before dawn. The entry fee is Rs 5 (10¢), but you can pay a little extra for VIP treatment inside a special observation tower (Rs 40/90¢), where heating is accompanied by soothing Darjeeling tea. On the way back, visit Ghoom (Liga Choling) Gompa; possibly the best-known Buddhist monastery around Darjeeling, it was founded in the late 1800s and enshrines a 5m-high (16-ft.) clay statue of the Maitreya Buddha. In the early morning light, the colorfully painted figures over the facade and rooftops—intended to scare away evil spirits—are radiant. Along the exterior walls are prayer wheels that are spun in order to send countless prayers to the heavens, while inside, butter lamps are lit in offering to the deity.

Darjiling General Information

Location

Darjeeling is a town in the Indian state of West Bengal.  It Is the third highest peak in the world, and is the headquarter of the Darjeeling district, I the Shiwalik Hills on the lower range of the Himalayas.

Climate

Darjeeling's climate has five distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter, and the monsoons.  Summers (lasting from May to June) are mild, with maximum temperatures rarely crossing 25°C.  The monsoon season is from June to September, and is characterized by intense torrential rains often causing landslides.  In winter, the average temperature is around 5°C to 7°C.  Occasionally, the temperatures drop below the freezing point, but snowfalls are rare.  The annual mean temperature is 12°C.

History

Years ago the mountain spurs, on the slops of which the hill station of Darjeeling now stands, formed a part of the independent kingdom of Sikkim, and was covered with dense forest.  The two officers, Dr. Campbell and Lieutenant, founded the little town.  Napier of the British government in 1935.  The British government grew its influence very rapidly.  The natives of the surrounding country were quick to avail themselves of the blessings of life under the aegis of the Pax Britannica, and within ten years, between1839 and 1849, the population rose chiefly by immigration from 100 to about 10,000 persons.  The British established experimental tea plantations in Darjeeling in 1841.  The success of  these experiments led to the development of tea estates all around the town in the second half of the 19th century.

Darjiling Tourism Information

Batasia Loop

Batasia Loop is about five kilometers from Darjeeling and thre kilometers from Ghoom, and the meter-gauge, toy train winds its way over this brilliant piece of engineering delight.  It is a pleasant and delightful descent from Ghoom the highest railway station in the world.

Ghoom (8km)

It is well known for the railway station at highest altitude in the country.  The Tibetan Buddhist Monastery here enshrines a 4.8m statue of the Maitreya Buddha and is  famous for the Tibetan New Year celebrations (February to March).  The 30.5 high Ghoom Rock offers a fine view and is a popular tourist site.

Kalingpang (52km)

This charming hill resort has some of the best flower and orchid producing nurseries in the country.  There are also three Buddhist monasteries, Mangal Dhaam, a recently constructed temple in the memory of late Guru Shree 108 Mangal Dasji and St. Theresa’s Church.  Kalimpong is also a shopper’s paradise, Tibetan craft items can be picked up as souvenirs.

Kurseong (32km)

The picturesque town located between Darjiling and Siliguri is referred as the ‘Land of the White Orchid’.  It is dotted with several churches and good schools.  There is also a Forest Museum, Deer park, mini amusement park and a lovely water reservoir.  The Eagle’s Crag, command a panoramic view of the undulating plains below.

Mirik (49km)

The beautiful hill resort surrounded by tea estates, orange orchards, cardamom plantations and lush woods full of oak, maple and chestnut trees is famous for the Sumendu Lake. Boating and angling facilities are available here.

Senchal (10km)

The three artificial lakes on a 2487m high hill supply water to Darjiling and is also a popular picnic spot.  The golf course here is one of the highest in the world.  There is also the Senchal sanctuary, the home to barking deer, wild boar and black bear etc.

Shilinguri (87km)

Scenic Shiliguri set amidst tea gardens and sal forests is the main transit point for Darjiling, Kalimpang and the exotic north-eastern states.  It is indeed a centre of commercial and communication networks of north-east India.

Tiger Hill (13km)

The 2,585m high hill affords the best view of Kanchenjunga, especially at sunrise.  One can enjoy an awe-inspiring view of the Himalayas from a viewing tower here.

The Darjiling Himalayan Railway (DHR)

The famous Toy Train of Darjiling is listed among the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO and is a loving reminder of the 19thcentury Darjiling.  It runs between Shiliguri and Darjiling, covering a distance of 83km on a 610mm gauge.  The mini train is a marvel of rail engineering and weaves a magical spell as it passes through the beautiful landscape teeming with tea gardens, serpentine streams and excellent view points.  The Ghoom railway station on this track is located at the highest altitude in the country.
One should at least take a joy ride on this magnificent train from Darjiling to Ghoom.

Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park

Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park is the only centre in India for the breeding of the rare snow leopard.  The Ussurian tigers and the Himalayan black bears are also among its attractions.  The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute which was established in 1954 by the then Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, is the place where one can get all the information and details of the conquest of Mount Everest.  Tenzing Norgay, one of the first climbers of Everest was the Founder Director and Advisor till his demise.  Darjeeling-Ranjit Valley ropeway is another attraction which is very near to this place.  The Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre is the place where the excellent Tibetan crafts like carpets, wood and leatherwork are displayed for the visitors.

Dr. Graham's Home school

Dr. Graham's Homes school that was founded by Dr. John Anderson Graham in 1900 is one of the main attractions of Kalimpong.  This has been built on the slopes of Delo Hill, approximately three kilometers away from the town.  Visitors who want witness a bird's eye view of the picturesque place have to go to Durpin Dara, an observatory point at the hill top, from where one can get an overall view of the mighty Himalayan ranges.  There are a number of monasteries in this area, among which the Pedong Monastery and the Thongsha Gompa are the oldest and widely known.  Another monastery is the Tharpa Choling Monastery, which has been constructed in 1937 by the Yellow Hat Sect, situated at Tirpai Hill at a distance of around two kilometers from Kalimpong.

Festivals

New Years Day

New Years Day is always a special day celebration for the hill people.  They spend the night mostly on local nightclubs like Purple or with a live band at the glenarys.  Some spend it by drinking and merry making.

Maghe Sankranti

Around the middle of the month of January, the Nepalis celebrate Maghe Sankrati (the first day of Nepali month, Magh) by eating, drinking, etc.  Besides this, Buddha is also celebrated at Buddhist Monasteries with Lamas (Tibetan monks) taking out procession on the streets.