Nicknamed as “Queen of the Hills”, Darjeeling certainly lives up to its name as an exciting place for any tourist to visit. It is one of the most visited areas in Western India, and with this guide, you’ll be able to see just why that is. You’ll find ancient monasteries, awe inspiring mountains, and much more on your trip.
Darjeeling is located in the far north west of India, nestled between Nepal and Bangladesh. Because of its key strategic position in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, it was fought over for many years by warring countries, until the British Raj took it over and it was incorporated into India. Although few might be able to point it out on a map, the name Darjeeling is now famous worldwide as one of the most popular types of tea, thanks to its association with the British Empire.
From the moment you set foot in the town of Darjeeling, you’ll see just why its name is linked with tea across the world. There are many magnificent tea gardens to see here, offering many places to relax and unwind while enjoying a refreshing cup of tea. You’ll also be able to see many awe inspiring mountain peaks which surround the town, and give it its unique feeling of being close to the heavens. At an elevation of over two thousand meters, Darjeeling truly is a region amongst the clouds.
While walking around, you should bear in mind just how hilly this part of the world can be. Situated as it is in the Himalayas, you should remember that what looks like a short distance on paper can feel a lot further because of the gradient of many of the streets. If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking while on vacation, then it might be a good idea to prepare yourself before you leave, to make sure you’re up to the challenge!
That being said, hiking in the region offers some stunning views and amazing experiences. You can almost feel the history as you walk across these ancient mountains, in a region which still retains many elements of its unique past. Hiking here allows you to see many vast plains and tea plantations, a further aspect of Darjeeling’s past which is still going strong today.
Places to visit in Darjeeling and things to do
With so much on offer here in Darjeeling, you’ll want to make the most of your time here and see the essentials. We’ve put together this handy list, so that you can get the lowdown on the very best things to see and do while you’re here.
Bengal Natural History Museum
First begun in 1903 as a way of cataloging the regions birds and butterflies, this museum has grown to an impressive size, housing a wide variety of animal specimens from mammals, to birds, to even fish. Everything here is a real animal that has been carefully preserved, so you can actually experience close up all the wildlife that Darjeeling has to offer- without fear of being eaten! The museum is easy to get to, being located just a few minutes away from the Chowrasta Mall.
The highest point in the region, Tiger Hill is well known for its amazing views of the whole eastern Himalayas, as well as offering a spectacular place to watch the sun come up over the Kanchenjunga. With the right weather, you’re even able to see Mount Everest. Tiger Hill is around 11km from Darjeeling, so is a relatively short trip by road.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI)
Built in honour of Tenzing Norgay, after he climbed Everest along with Sir Edmund Hilary in 1953 for the first time, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute has become a place visited by climbing enthusiasts from all over the world. Its museum features many different displays about mountaineering, in testament to this incredible region that is close by to many of the highest peaks in the world. There is also a boarding school for students of mountaineering, allowing people the chance to tackle these peaks themselves with dedicated training. The Institute is located just a short distance from Mall Road, so it’s easily accessible for you to visit any time during your trip.
Observatory Hill and Mahakal Temple
Rising up behind the Mall, Observatory Hill is a great place to take in a complete view of Darjeeling and beautiful area around it, including many nearby mountain peaks. The hill is also the site of the Mahakal Temple, the central place of worship for everyone in the town. It is located on the original site of the Dorjeling Buddhist Monastery, which gave the town its name, so it is also a great place to soak up some of the local history.
Take part in one of the local festivals
Darjeeling is a very vibrant place with a strong sense of culture, and there is no better time to experience this than during one of the many local festivals which take place here throughout the year. From Loshar, the Tibetan New Year, when traditional songs and dances are used to usher in the New Year, to Diwali, the colourful five day “festival of lights”, you should ideally time your trip around one of these spectacular occasions. Be sure to check what’s going on before you book, so you don’t miss out on one of these once in a lifetime experiences.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Whatever you get up to, you must take a train ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway also known as the Toy Train that runs between runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling and Ghum station. It’s good fun! The tickets will also include entry to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Museums at Dhum. You can find out more and buy tickets here.
Accommodation in Darjeeling
Thanks to its fabulous reputation as a place for tourists from all over the world to visit, you’ll find plenty of hotels in Darjeeling, to suit any budget. From backpacking hostels to magnificent, five star hotels, there really is something for everyone here. It pays to do your research beforehand; through any of the many price comparison sites that have sprung up in recent years, to be sure that you’re getting the best deal on what you’re looking for. You should also aim to book your accommodation well in advance, preferably as soon as you’ve picked a date to go, so that you can take advantage of the discounts that many hotels will offer for advance bookings.
When you’re looking for someone to stay, you’re probably best with looking within the town of Darjeeling itself. With its central location, you’ll easily be able to explore the region from your base here, and there’s plenty to do in the town itself.
How to get to Darjeeling
Unfortunately, it is hard for the international traveler to get a direct flight into the region, but luckily it’s not hard to fly into India, and then get a local flight. Cities such as Delhi and Guwahati offer direct flights to the nearest airport, Bagdogra, and then it’s simple to get a taxi for the 3 hour journey into the town itself. Alternatively, you can make the journey by train from other major cities such as Delhi and Mumbai to the nearest station, New Jalpaiguri, and then take a cab from there.