Darjeeling

Darjeeling is a City and Hill Station in the Northern part of West Bengal, India.

Understand

Tea gardens of Darjeeling

Originally just a cluster of villages that was administered intermittently by Nepal and Sikkim, Darjeeling grew in prominence during the mid 19th century when, because of its climate, the British first established a hill station there after leasing it from the Chogyal of Sikkim and later discovered that the area was particularly well suited for tea plantations. In 1849, the British annexed the area and Darjeeling became a part of British India. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was opened in 1881 (it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the town became the de-facto summer capital of India during the days when the Raj was governed from Calcutta.

Because it was a popular hill station during the days of the Raj, a lovely Victorian town was built among the Himalayan foothills, the remnants of which are still visible around the Chowrasta and Darjeeling remains a popular summer and fall resort for the natives of Kolkata today. For foreign tourists, the main attractions are the cultural diversity (many Tibetan refugees moved here after Tibet was annexed by China and they co-exist with the descendants of the many Nepali and Bihari laborers brought to work in the tea plantations), the beautiful views (including the wonderful vista view of Kanchenjunga), a variety of trekking options, and the opportunity to cool down after a stint in the plains. The town is also a jumping off point for travelers heading to Sikkim.

There has been intermittent political action from Gorkha groups demanding an independent state (Gorkhaland). In June 2008 a strike paralyzed the area, with closed hotels, restaurants and shops, and the accompanying protests even turned violent a couple of times. Though inconvenient, tourists generally are not at risk, but recently they do check the status before going there.

Get in

By plane

The nearest airport is Bagdogra, near Siliguri, 96 km from Darjeeling.

Air India (formerly Indian Airlines), India's largest airline, has flights from:

Jet Airways, a private airline, has flights from:

Spice Jet also operates flights from Kolkata & Delhi.

Indigo has also started direct/indirect flights to & from Delhi and Guwahati since April, 2009 end.

All other cities major cities can be accessed by taking a flight to Delhi/Kolkata and connecting.

Getting to and from Nepal can be tricky, despite their close proximity. One can catch a share jeep to Siliguri and a bus to the Nepalese border, changing buses in Nepal. An alternative is that Juniper Tours and Travels - located just next to the clock tower in Darjeeling offer a service where a driver can take you across the border and drop you at the Bhadrapur airport in Nepal for your connecting flight to Kathmandu. It is more expensive than organising your own transport but they make a concerted effort to look after you and will help you out if the situation becomes dicey (particularly with strikes in Nepal), they cannot be recommended highly enough and this is unusual for India.

By taxi/shared jeep

Siliguri is the nearest town connected to the mainline rail network. Ample transport is available to Darjeeling from here. The most popular modes of transport are taxi (usually shared by three to four passengers), shared jeep (ten passengers) @ ₹150/ to ₹200/ depends on time.

Shared jeeps depart regularly, from several locations around town. They leave when full, and are a cheap, fast and reasonably comfortable way to get to Darjeeling.

If you have arrived by train at New Jalpaiguri, you can take a taxi or shared jeep to reach Darjeeling from the booking counter at the taxi stand in front of the railway station. There is also a prepaid taxi stand in front of the train station. Note that if you arrive too late for the jeep to make a return journey from Darjeeling, you may end up paying more, e.g. ₹200 per person. The prepaid counter will tell you that no jeeps are available, so you'll have to find one via a fixer or by negotiating directly with drivers.

Tourists often opt to buy an extra seat or two to have more space for the 3-hour journey up to Darjeeling! Luggage is carried for free on the roof. Jeeps may stop for a snack and toilet break on the way up (normally a few km short of Kurseong).

Reserve cars are available from Kings Travels,dial: 098304-28401/ 093319-39486 for tour purpose in Darjeeling.

By bus

There is a regular bus service from Silguri to Darjeeling. However, buses are quite slow due to the steep, twisty and extremely narrow climb up to Darjeeling. The option of shared jeeps is available and it is very cheap and faster. But you have to wait for some time as your jeep cannot depart unless it is full of passengers.

While going to Darjeeling from New Jalpaiguri try to hire a taxi/Jeep/Sumo with overhead carrier. This will be a much cheaper option if you hire a vehicle that is going directly from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling.

By train

Toy Train of Darjeeling

New Jalpaiguri (NJP) near Siliguri is the nearest station on the main inter-city line. Direct trains to NJP run from Delhi (approx. 27 hours) several times a day. If you are traveling from Kolkata (Sealdah Station) the best train for you will be Darjeeling Mail (circa 12 hours) running nightly at 10:05PM. There is also a train from Howrah Station called Paharia Express, which departs Howrah Station at 21:55 and arrives New Jalpaiguri at 8:45.

From there, the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), known to all as the 'Toy Train' completes the journey to Darjeeling. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was the first, and is still the most outstanding, example of a hill passenger railway. It is now listed as a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO.

This route is very popular with tourists as it passes through some very picturesque mountain scenery and has been the subject of many romantic articles. The line has a series of zigzags and loops to gain height and runs straight up several village main streets! Trains depart New Jalpaiguri at 9AM and arrive in Darjeeling at 3:30. Now the train is diesel hauled is reasonably reliable and punctual.

NJP to Darjeeling Toy Train service is suspended after railway track damage due to recent earth-quake. The service will not be restored till June 2014. Collect enough information if you are planning to reach Darjeeling by Toy Train.

The steam 'Joy' train operates from Darjeeling to Ghoom round the famous Batasia Loop, four times a day – enquire at Darjeeling station. Costs ₹400. Website DHR:

A steam train also operates Siliguri to 'Agony Point' above Tindharia most Saturdays and Sundays. Enquire to Siliguri station. There is also a daily 'School Train' that leaves Kurseong at 06:15 arriving Darjeeling at 08:45. It leaves Darjeeling at 16:00 arriving Kurseong at 18:30. This is still hauled by a steam engine and is one of the last 'day to day'/ordinary steam trains running anywhere in the world. IR keeps changing the times for it and it is notoriously unreliable often running hours late.

Get around

Darjeeling is a small town and the salubrious climate means walks around town are an extremely enjoyable means of getting around. For longer trips, taxis are available in stands near the entrance to the Supermarket.

A great way to spend a day is to take a share-jeep to Ghoom (the next town up the ridge), visit some monasteries there and walk back to Darjeeling via some of the villages.

One can also walk to the Botanical garden and spend few pleasant hours appreciating the nature; then, there is a rock garden, which is very much at a (slightly longish) walkable distance. One can also walk to the Zoo and then to the ropeway at North Point. A walk to the Peace Pagoda and then to Jalapahar is also quite refreshing. It’s quite interesting to have a leisurely walk on the Mall road and then one can sit and relax for hours in the soothing sun at Chowrasta.

See

View of Kunchenjunga from Tiger Hill
Toy Train at Batasia Loop

Do

Darjeeling is one of the oldest hill stations in India, and has plenty of options, both for those seeking a lazy getaway from the hot plains, as well as nature enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies. Apart from sights within the town, there are plenty of trek options along the Himalayan ridges on the Indo-Nepal border near Darjeeling. The most popular one is the Singalila Ridge Trail. Bookings for guides, porters and accommodation on the trail can be made in Darjeeling or in the nearby town of Manebhanjang, which serves as the trailhead. Be aware that from July to mid-September the Singalila park is closed, but because of the rain, clouds and fog it is less enjoyable anyway.

Buy

Eat

Several eateries that dish out North Indian, Nepali, Tibetan, and continental fare dot the area around the Mall. "Momos", steamed Tibetan delicacies, are a staple food offered by almost every eating joint.

Keep in mind that everything closes pretty early in the night (The town goes to sleep before 9PM). So, do keep something in stock to eat, if you are planning to stay up late.

Drink

Sleep

Darjeeling has a large number of hotels and lodges. However, on the whole, budget accommodation is of poor value compared to elsewhere in India. Most places target groups coming in from West Bengal; backpacker-oriented accommodation is sparse and you probably won't get touts coming to pick you up at the bus stop so it pays to have a few ideas in advance.

There are several forest guesthouses in the Darjeeling area. In order to stay at any of these a special permit from West Bengal Forest Department is required.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

There is a surge of tourists visiting Darjeeling in the last few years. Earlier, there was continuous turmoil and political disturbance in the hills. But since the establishment of the new government in 2011, the political stability has been restored and life came back to normal.

But extreme suffering and poor state of business, development, jobs and infrastructure has created deep scars, which may take some more time to heal. So a note of caution is given while travelling around the city.

Take caution when walking at night, as many feral dogs roam the street once the sun goes down. If approached by an aggressive dog in the street, acting as though you are picking up a rock to throw will usually deter them.

Go next

Routes through Darjeeling

END  N  S  Kurseong Jalpaiguri


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, January 22, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.