“Queen of the hills”.
Where is Darjeeling?
The town of Darjeeling is located in the Lesser Himalayas at an elevation of 2000 metres (6,700 ft) in the State of West Bengal. Renowned for its tea, the views of Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, make it one of India’s most popular tourist destinations. Reportedly it is the only location in eastern India that has large numbers of foreign tourists.
Our journey from Ilam to Darjeeling was by shared jeep and bus.
During our time in Darjeeling, we chose to stay at the Hotel Villa Everest, booked through Booking.com. The 11 understated spacious rooms have warm decor, wood furnishings, and mountain views. Each room has a TV with cable channels, a seating area from which you can enjoy the mountain view from the comfort of your room.
There is an electric kettle with tea and coffee making facilities. A private ensuite bathroom with a hot water shower. The in-house kitchen serves regional, Indian, and Chinese delicacies both in its own restaurant, or alternatively, room service is available for in-room dining comforts.
Complimentary breakfast is served in the breakfast room.
Glenary’s Bakery and Cafe
Known as “Plivas” during the time of the British Raj. Glenary’s is made up of 3 distinctly different areas. The top floor is a traditional restaurant, good for lunch and dinner. The middle floor is the confectionary and cafe, ideal for coffee, snacks, cake, and also breakfast. The balcony on this level offers nice views of Mount Kangchenjunga on clear days. And the lower floor is known as “The Buzz” where live music bands play. It is more of an evening venue with a bar serving food.
Places of interest
We got up at 4 am in the morning to visit Tiger Hill.
This was so we could witness the sweeping views of the sunrise alpenglow on the colossal snow capped peaks of the eastern Himalayan Kangchenjunga Himal. Tiger Hill is the highest point in the Darjeeling hills at an altitude of 8,482ft, it is also the best viewpoint in the area.
We needed to kit ourselves out with hats and gloves as it was damn freezing up there.
The cold paled into insignificance as the sun started to rise in the east.
Causing the alpenglow effect on the opposite horizon. Making the snow capped mountains appear reddish. Although the photos capture this, they don’t do it full justice. A very surreal moment that will stay with us forever.
Book a taxi at the Darjeeling Taxi Stand in the Chauk Bazaar on Hill Cart Road.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Also known as the Toy Train, this 2 ft (610 mm) gauge railway runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. Over its 55 mile length, the railway climbs about 2100m using zig zags and loops to do so. Diesel locomotives haul or shunt most of the scheduled services, with daily tourist trains from Darjeeling to Ghum, India’s highest railway station at an altitude of 2258m.
Before 1879 light horse drawn carriage services ran on a cart road, the present-day Hill Cart Road between Siliguri and Darjeeling. The railway originally followed Hill Cart Road, but in some areas, the steepness of the road was more than the locomotives could handle. So loops and zig-zags were added to ease the gradient. The track runs alongside the road for long stretches, crossing each other multiple times along the route.
Since the lengths of the track and road are flanked by buildings, to warn pedestrians and vehicle drivers of an approaching train. Engines are equipped with very loud horns which train drivers sound almost constantly. Thankfully the train doesn’t run at night.
We took the 2 hours round trip from Darjeeling to Ghum and back, covering a distance of 14km. The train stops at Ghum for 25 minutes, allowing a visit to Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) Museum.
The DHR Museum is located at the station premises and the entry fee is included in the ticket price. On the return journey, the train stops for 10 minutes at the Batasia Loop. This is where the train makes a loop around a wonderful manicured garden.
The view of Darjeeling town and the snow peaks of Kanchenjunga on a clear day from here are amazing. A War Memorial built in the middle of the garden is in honor of the Gorkha soldiers from the Darjeeling area who sacrificed their lives in various operations and wars after India’s independence.
Tickets for the train can be purchased at Darjeeling Railway Station. Diesel Engine train 1000 Rupees and Steam Engine train 1,600 Rupees.
Darjeeling is a small town with busy narrow roads. Walking around is generally regarded as the best way of getting around. For longer trips, taxis are available from various taxi stands.