Darjeeling was once the summer capital of India during British colonization. Today, it is considered as one of the top hill stations in the country. In Darjeeling, you will get an excellent view of Kanchenjunga, the third largest mountain in the world, laden with snow.
Furthermore, when you see the Teesta River winding through the mountains, you can’t help but feel awed. The rolling hills covered with mist and the tiny wooden houses decorated with colorful flowers is what you would see when you first arrive in Darjeeling.
Known throughout the world for its lush tea plantations, Darjeeling is the best place for tea lovers. You not only can smell tea but also enjoy the mountainous scenery surrounding the City of Hills.
Related: Detailed trip reports from my Darjeeling Travel
Things To Do In Darjeeling
Darjeeling is a quaint town, but it has more to it than the tea and train.
A backpacker always lives on a shoestring budget. And if in this case, he/she gets a chance to do something for free then it’s a Jackpot. Before I go to any place, I search the prospects of doing something for free. Here are some FREE things you can do in Darjeeling. Check this out, and have fun for free or at a minimal price!
Window shopping is no harm because it is always free. But if you fancy something here then go ahead and shop to your heart’s content. If your hotel is along the Hill Cart Road, then take a shared auto to St Teresa Girls High School.
It is here that all the locals come for shopping. As compared to the Chowrasta Mall items are of the lower price. Take a look around and if some woolens, tea or books grab your attention then do add them to your bag.
Cost: 10 INR/50 INR
Just Right of the Sanga Choeling Monastery is the Bloomfield Road which leads to the Rock Garden of Darjeeling. It is one of the few things that you can do freely in Darjeeling. There is no entry fee whatsoever.
On the entrance of the Rock Garden widely called Barbotey Rock Garden, there are several souvenir shops. The scenic view here is unparalleled; you climb the rock bridged and go to the top where you see a waterfall making its way below.
For few chosen people the climb gets tiring, but on every level of the Rock garden are beautiful parks with sitting area for you to relax.
Cost: 10 INR
Batasia Loop, related to the famous UNESCO heritage the Darjeeling Toy Train. It is a gorgeous flowering garden, where the Toy Train takes a spiral ride and descends 140 ft below.
A toy train rides cost much but watching the Toy Train make its loop is cheap. In Batasia Loop, you sit in the flowering garden and watch the train make its astounding ride, and you just pay an entry fee of 10 INR (which is next to nothing).
Dali Monastery (free entry) is situated on the Hill Cart Road and has a Taxi stand near it. The Monastery is a specimen of Tibetan Architecture, so you enjoy the architecture as well as the stunning scenery in the background. There is no entry fee to the Dali Monastery.
Better visit the Monastery during the prayer time 5 AM- 6 AM and 5 PM- 6 PM. During this time the monks chant, and it’s a peaceful place to be in. There is also a coffee shop which serves momos(dumplings), tea, potato chips and vegetarian snacks.
Japanese Temple (free entry) is ten minutes ride away from the Darjeeling Town Center. But an uphill walk of 5 minutes takes you to the main entrance. If peace is what you seek, then the prayer starts at 4:30 AM and 4:30 PM in the Prayer Room. Sit here and soak the tranquility.
But those who desire to see the Panoramic view of Darjeeling can head to the Peace Pagoda. It is the highest standing structure in Darjeeling, hence offers a glorious view of the hilly town. There are four avatars of Buddha in the Pagoda, which you see when you take the Parikrama( a trip of the pagoda).
Tibetan Refugee Center
You can reach the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Center (free entry) by the Lebong Cart Road. This center has a purpose of providing skills to refugees, so they survive in a foreign country by making some income.
Four refugees who supported Dalai Lama escaped Tibet and settled here. They formed a committee to develop the center. Tenzing Norgay was also a member of the management committee.
There is no entry fee to the Self Help Centre. Take a tour of the Show Room where shawls, jackets, scarves and many handmade items are on display. There is a fixed price notice, so do not think of bargaining.
Happy Tea Valley Estate
Happy Tea Valley (free entry) is the nearest Tea Garden in proximity to the Darjeeling town. It is just 3 KM away from the town center. If you like trekking or walking, then walk your way here.
Even though there is no Entrance fee at the Happy Tea Valley Estate, there are guides all over the place to show you around. A guide charges you 50- 70 INR, But if you are a group, the charges become lesser per person. You get a tour of the Tea Factory if you visit from March- October and witness some of the World’s Best Tea production.
Himalayan Zoological Park
This is not a typical Zoo that you see anywhere else, but Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park specializes in the Himalayan Wildlife. Yaks, Wild Bears, Red Pandas, Snow Leopards, Tibetan Wolfs, are in abundance in the Himalayan Zoo.
Yaks are one of the vulnerable animals, so when you are here click some pictures of them. The entry fees for Indians is 20 INR, an extra of 10 INR for the camera. And for foreigners, the ticket is 50 INR + 10 INR for the camera.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
As you keep going upwards in the Darjeeling Zoo, you come across the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. The entry fee is 50 INR (for Indians) and 100 INR (for Foreigners).
Tenzing Norgay was the part of this institute as well; he was the first director of field training. It is a mecca for All hikers and climbers. And even though you are not a hiker the various mountaineering exhibits on display are worth a look.
If you go for shopping to the Mall Area then the first thing you should do is not shop, but head to the Observatory Hill. Just 100 yards far from the Chowrasta Mall is the flight of stairs that take you to the Observatory Hill and the Mahakal temple. It is free of charge, so you can take the climb and glimpse the mystical view of Darjeeling.
Nature in Darjeeling
The golden sunrise sneaking from behind the mighty Kanchenjunga is a majestic sight. If you wake up early enough in the morning, you can travel to Tiger Hill. From the top of the hill, you can get a great view of the sunrise behind the mountains. You will have to squeeze into an already packed taxi to reach the top, but the taxi ride will only cost 40 INR. Apart from photographing the sunrise, those girls who want a memento can dress up as locals in Rock Garden and snap some pictures. Himalaya Zoo and Singalila National Park display the unique Indian Wildlife. The national park is the best place to trek in the hill station; but, pack your warm clothes to protect you from the freezing temperatures at night.
Riding the infamous Toy Train is a staple of tourism here. The train runs from Siliguri to Darjeeling, spanning an impressive mountainous distance of 86 km. The trip is one of the most scenic routes through the mountains and is a must-do for all tourists and visitors. Mirik Lake is a beautiful place for tourists who want to do some boating. If you crave more adventure, the Darjeeling Cable Car through the mountains satiates your thirst.
When To Go
If you are touring India, then we recommend you visit in summers, that is from April- June. As the rest of Indian Peninsula is hot, Darjeeling gives you respite from the scorching heat.
Many Bengali and Indian visitors travel here in the summer. Although the summer is the best time to visit, it is also the most crowded time to visit. Even in the other seasons this hill station still retains its charm.
So, if you prefer to visit when there are fewer tourists, you will have better luck in the other months of the year. Plus, the travel costs are lower in the off-season.
How To Go
Head to Bagdogra, the nearest airport to Darjeeling. Flights from Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati and other metro cities fly into Bagdogra. Prepaid taxis from the airport to Darjeeling charge 1800 INR. If you are on tight budget, you can opt to travel in shared jeeps which cost 200-300 INR. Those who love to watch the stunning scenery from their windows should take a train to Siliguri. From Siliguri, you can take private cabs.
What To Wear
Darjeeling is always cold. A visit during summers requires light jackets, thermals and a good pair of boots. And a visit in winter needs thermals, full sleeves t-shirts, thick jackets to ward off cold. Dress up in layers so you can take the layers off when you want because you never know when the sun comes out in Darjeeling.
It may seem that Darjeeling is a part of Northeast India, but it is a part of West Bengal. People here speak in Gorkha tongue and Bengali. It is a mixture of both languages. You can easily understand their language if you are from nearby states like Odisha. But if you are from any other part of India or a foreigner then you can use Hindi and English respectively.
The currency used here is same as in the rest of India. You can use the ATMs here, to withdraw the money. Foreigners can bring a lot of cash, but if you run out of it also no need to worry, the ATMs here help you withdraw money from your account in INR.
Most of the hotels here provide free Wi-Fi. Before booking a hotel room, check the facilities. If it provides free Wi-Fi, then you have no problem with internet connection.
Darjeeling is a town in the hills; sometimes the connection is poor because of the weather. Do not panic about it. Buy an Aircel sim card before heading to Darjeeling. The connectivity of Aircel network here is fast and stays even though you drive higher in the hills.
Darjeeling is a pretty little town influenced by Tibetan culture. You come across a lot of monasteries. And the chances are high that you will meet more Buddhists as compared to Hindus. Unlike the rest of India, you can find wine shops easily, and eat Beef without being judged. Music is a much-loved art here, be open to any genre of music.
Forget about the staple Indian food here. You can get Rice and Dal in Darjeeling, but there are some specialties you must try. Momos are on the menu in each restaurant. Do not expect expensive restaurants, places here are more like shacks with delicious home –cooked food. Noodles, soup, and Thupka are other cuisines you must try while here.
Getting Around in Darjeeling
Shared four wheelers are easy to find in the Dali Taxi stand and Chowk Bazaar. If you want to go to the market, just say “Market Jana he” and the driver drops you in the Bazaar (only 1o INR). For sightseeing trips, hire a tour guide with the help of your hotel. A one-day tour of all the sites costs 3000 INR (if it is private, shared tours cost less).
Walking is a chore in Darjeeling because there are uphill roads, do it only if your legs are strong enough.
Darjeeling Trip Cost
A standard hotel room without a heater costs you 1000 INR / night. Food costs depend on the type of food you eat, but you can keep aside 500 INR (for excessive eating). And sightseeing costs 3000 INR. If you include the travel expenses (by train), then 8000- 10,000 INR is enough for a three-day trip.
How Many Days of Travel
Darjeeling is a small town, but it has so much to offer to tourists. There are more places to see here like a big tourist destination. From hill-view points to plantations there is an abundance of sites. A 4-5 day trip here is enough to cover all the tourist’s points. But if you want to just soak in its beauty then seven days is a leisure trip.
Darjeeling Road Conditions
Roads here are dangerous- not just dangerous but lethal. Many accidents occur here which are fatal. Have a talk with your driver before he drives. The drivers-cum- tourist guides have experience. But you need to tell them to drive slow if you are not accustomed to hilly roads. Do not drive here at any cost if you are not a seasoned driver.
Renting Vs Bus or Taxi
Renting a tourist cab is the best way to get around in Darjeeling. There are Tata Sumo and Bolero vehicles offering shared tours. But you can hire a private vehicle all for yourself and see places at your own time.
How Safe is Darjeeling
Darjeeling is one of the safest places in India. People here are warm and welcoming. Female travelers especially will experience care and kindness from most people here. There is less chance of robbery, but it is wise to keep your belongings close to yourself.
- Darjeeling Travel: Tales From City of Hills (Part 2)
- Darjeeling Travel: Tales From City Of Hills (Part 3)
- Darjeeling Travel: Tales From City of Hills (Part 1)
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September 21, 2017 3:45 pm
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