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Darjeeling | © 	Piyush Tripathi / Wikimedia Commons
Darjeeling | © Piyush Tripathi / Wikimedia Commons

A Guide to Darjeeling, the Queen of Hills in India

Picture of Poonam Binayak
Updated: 9 January 2018

Nestled at an elevation of 2,042 meters in the lesser Himalayan region is a beautiful hill station of Darjeeling that has long been popular with tourists from all over the globe. With snow-clad Kanchenjunga peak overlooking the town, lush tea gardens, UNESCO World Heritage toy train, and pleasant weather year-round, the ‘Queen of Hills’ is a perfect destination that blends picturesque landscape with incredibly exhilarating experience.

What to see and do

An absolute must-visit is the Tiger Hill, situated above the summit of Ghoom, Darjeeling’s highest railway station. At 2,590 meters, the Tiger Hill provides unparalleled vistas of Mount Kanchenjunga, Mount Everest and the Greater Himalayas. The best time to witness this spectacle is at sunrise, when the light falls on the snow-clad mountains and reveals a breathtakingly beautiful palette of colours. The hill is accessible by jeep from Alubari, Jorebangla or Chowrasta, and then further requires a trek up to the summit of Ghoom. The climb is relatively easy and doesn’t take long to finish.

Tiger hill

View of Kanchenjunga peak from Tiger Hill | © A.Ostrovsky / Flickr

While coming back from the Tiger Hill, make sure to stop at the Batasia Loop, which is a spiral railway track encircled by manicured gardens. The appealing feature of this track is its unique design that allows it to move in a spiral course through a hilltop tunnel. Besides this, there are several points of interest dotting the loop, including the Eco Garden that features rare and unique species of plants; and the Gorkha War Memorial, which is a tribute to the brave soldiers of the region who sacrificed their lives in World War I and II.

Batasia Loop, West Point, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India. Monday to Sunday: 6:00am-5:00pm

Batasia Loop

War Memorial at Batasia Loop | © Malaysiaguy2010 / Wikimedia Commons

For those looking for serenity and spirituality, visit the Peace Pagoda that is nestled on the top of the Charlimont Hill. Established by Nichidatsu Fujii (a Japanese Buddhist monk), this place holds a peaceful atmosphere that is nonpareil. Spend some time here meditating and also enjoy the panoramic vistas of the town from its summit. Another must-visit site for spiritual seekers is the Ghoom Monastery, otherwise known as the Yiga Choeling Monastery. It is the oldest monastery in the region, complete with a library, prayer hall and study room. The highlight of the monastery is the 15-foot high Lord Buddha statue within the premises.

Ghoom Monastery, Ghoom, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India

Peace Pagoda

Peace Pagoda | © Sujay25 / Wikimedia Commons

Nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts, be sure to visit the Rock Garden, a man-made garden with waterfalls, bridges and an abundance of flora; as well as the Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park that is home to rare and endangered Himalayan species, including Himalayan black bears, Tibetan wolves, red pandas, and snow leopards.

Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park, Jawahar Parbat, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, +91 0354 225 3709 ; Monday to Sunday: 8:30am-5:00pm (Thursday closed)

Padmaja

Snow leopard at Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park | © flowcomm / Flickr

With the incredible scenery and landscape, it should come as no surprise that Darjeeling is a great place for indulging in some outdoor action. Adventurers can go for white water rafting in the Teesta River that is teeming with grade I to IV rapids, which makes it perfect for both novice and pro rafters alike; or go trekking to Sandakphu, which is the highest point in the state at an altitude of 3,636 meters. The trek is challenging, which culminates in the unbeatable vistas of the Kanchenjunga peak and Mt. Everest.

Rafting Darjeeling

White water rafting in River Teesta | © Davedharmendra / Wikimedia Commons

One of the best ways to experience the beauty of the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’ is from up in the air rather than the ground. You can do just that by taking the Darjeeling Ropeway that offers an experience as beautiful as it is exhilarating. It starts from an altitude of 2,134 meters and goes all the way down to 244 meters, with last stop at Singla Bazaar. Riding the cable car offers spectacular views of the lush tea gardens, forests, rivers, waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains.

A trip to Darjeeling is incomplete without wandering through the sprawling tea estates nestled amidst the lush hill slopes. Some of the must-visits include Happy Valley Tea Estate, Glenburn Tea Estate and the Makaibari Tea Estate. And, don’t forget to sample the world-famous Darjeeling tea.

Tea Plantations Darjeeling

Tea plantation in Darjeeling | © Yoghya / Wikimedia Commons

Also make sure to ride the Darjeeling Himalayan Toy Train, a UNESCO World Heritage site that connects New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, and treats passengers to beautiful views of the surrounding hills and lush greenery along the way.

Darjeeling Toy Train | © Joe Gratz / Flickr

One of the other spots not to be missed is the Darjeeling Chowrasta, the cultural and social hub of the town, teeming with stunning views of the valleys and mountains set against the multi-hued sky. You can pick up attractive souvenirs from one of the many shops dotting the area, or treat your tastebuds with regional delicacies at the restaurants or foot joints scattered around.

Where to stay and eat

There are a range of accommodation options available, from luxury to budget. For budget-travellers, the best options include Magnolia Residency, Dekeling Hotel, Swiss Hotel and Shangrila Regency, to name a few.

Magnolia Residency, Dr Zakir Hussain Road, The Mall , Below S.P. Cottage Chowrasta, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, +91 0354 225 2532

Dekeling Hotel, 51, Gandhi Road, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, +91 0354 225 4159

Swiss Hotel, 15/9A, Gandhi Road, Near Circuit House, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, +91 0354 225 8079

Shangrila Regency, 21,Opp. Bethany Primary School, Gandhi Road, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, +91 097345 31202

For those looking for a more lavish stay, check out Windamere Hotel, the Elgin, or the Hotel Viceroy. Those who wish to gain insight into the local life and culture, opt for homestay. Some of the best ones include Samir’s Homestay, Himalayan Inn, Happy Valley Homestay and Pahari Soul Homestay, all are budget-friendly.

Windamere Hotel, Observatory Hill, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, +91 0354 225 4041

The Elgin, 18, H.D Lama Road, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, +91 0354 225 7227

Hotel Viceroy, 17, Gandhi Raod, Near Clock Tower, The mall, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, +91 0354 225 6165

As for dining, there is a range of restaurants in Darjeeling, serving everything from local delicacies to Continental, Chinese, Thai, Tibetan, Nepali, South Indian cuisines and more. Some of the best restaurants where you can relish these delights include Glenary’s Restaurant for Continental, Indian and Chinese cuisine; Shangri-La restaurant for Tibetan, Chinese and Indian food; Park restaurant for Thai cuisine; Penang restaurant for Asian cuisine; and Keventer’s for English breakfast. And, don’t leave without trying the local favourites, Momos and Thukpa.

Should you wish to enjoy the night on the tiles, head to Gatty’s Cafe, where live bands play every evening, or check out Joey’s Pub, a British-style, where you can enjoy a drink or two while watching a match of your choice on TV.

How to get there

The nearest airport is Bagdogra Airport, approximately 42 miles away, and the nearest railway station is the New Jalpaiguri, approximately 46 miles from Darjeeling – you can take a taxi, bus or shared jeep the rest of the way. Alternatively, you can also take a toy train ride from New Jalpaiguri or Silguri, passing through the picture-perfect hamlets and spectacular scenery encompassing mountains, valleys and waterfalls; it takes around seven hours to reach Darjeeling.