Darjeeling is a busy little hillside town in northeastern West Bengal and it’s best known for its production of black tea. The majority of the population is part Sikkimese, Tibetan and Nepalese due to their bordering countries.
Many travelers love that Darjeeling offers a peaceful landscape. Even though the roads and staircases leading to busy markets and the honking of jeep taxis letting you know to jump out of the way, Darjeeling is still feels more relaxed than other parts of India.
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Best Things to Do in Darjeeling
Upper Darjeeling is the slightly more touristy part of Darjeeling, with hotels, guesthouses, cafes and shops catering a tad more to foreigners. Arriving, you’ll recognize it by its landmark Clock Tower.
Nehru Road is where the tourist and locals mingle and buzz. It’s a road that’s lined with stores and restaurants and it leads up to Chowastra Square and Bhatia Mall Market. The road is hopping both, day and night. Location: Nehru Road , Upper Bazaar. Hours: 6a-9:30p
Popular Glenary’s Bakery Restaurant and Pub is a two storied white colonial building, where you can give your sweet tooth a western fix pastries, pizza, burgers, cakes, and it has one of the best connections for wifi. It’s been a landmark since British colonial days. Basement floor holds a fine dining restaurant. Glenary’s has the reputation as the best bakery in the Darjeeling district. Location: Nehru Road
Chowastra Square is a large town square off Nehru Road, where locals hang out and enjoy nightly festivities. Explore the area from shopping to the Open Air Theater, the New Bhutia Market(aka Mall Market) or the surrounding area. The side I did not explore is said to have a temple and market.
Some evenings there are live events and community performances at the Open Air Theater.
New Bhutia Market or Mall Market
Past Chowastra Square is New Bhutia Market (aka Mall Market) is a walkway lined with vendors selling anything from hand-knit garments, hats, bags and more. Darjeeling can be a little chilly at night and this will help if you’ve not brought warm accessories. Here, you can get a funky knit cap for about 100 or 200 rupees.
At Chowastra Square, veer to the road on the right and that will lead you to Observatory Hill and Mahakal Temple. While a hindu temple with shiva lingams symbolic of Hindu gods, it was originally a Buddhist monastery. Today, it embraces both spiritualities, with prayer flags and Buddhist monks praying alongside Hindu chants. There is a sacred cave out back.
Visit a Tea Plantation
Darjeeling supplies 25% of India with it’s tea. Around 80 tea plantations reside in and around Darjeeling. The tea is known for being, floral and light colored. Best times to go are March to November. Monsoon seasons are June to September. Here’s a list of plantations you can visit.
Tea Tasting & shopping
Golden Tips is a store selling many grades of tea and tea ware. The leaves I looked at were very floral scented. Behind the tea sales shop is a tea bar, where you can sample some of the finest teas in the region. Check out their menu of teas and try not to be overwhelmed by the choices. Prices per cup start at around 80 rupees and go up. Location: Between Nehru Road and Chowastra Road.
Rangeet Valley Ropeway
If you want a panoramic photograph of rolling tea fields and tea pickers, Rangeet Valley Ropeway is a must. Located around 3km from Chowk Bazaar in Singmar, the ropeway was built in 1968 and is the first cable car in India. It’s a 15 minute ride over the sprawling field and an epic view. The ropeway stops at the small village of Tuvkar, where you can keep walking to its tea estate and visit its factory. The ropeway had an accident in 2003, with a cable car falling and killing four people. However, it reopened in 2012.
Cost: 75 Rs. Hours: 10am- 4pm (winter/monsoon); 10am – 2pm (summer and autumn). Getting there: Many travelers walk and the Zoo is along the way. But be aware, the walk will take roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour depending upon your physical condition. You can also take a taxi. Next time I will do that.
Happy Valley Tea Estate
Happy Valley Tea Estate, a tea farm rests at one of the highest elevations in Darjeeling and the estate will show you how tea is made. Established in 1854 under an English owner, the estate was later bought by a wealthy West Bengali, Tarapada Banerjee and today, most of its tea is exported and sold through Harrods in London. There are guides that will give you tours, ranging approximately 75 rupees. Hours: Tues to Sat, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Getting There: Located 3 km from Chowk Bazaar on T.P. Banerjee Road, it takes around 45 minutes to get to by car.
Himalayan Zoological Park
I’ve been removing animal attractions from my travel bucket list. However, I was curious about what animals one would find in this mountain region of Sikkim and West Bengal. The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park did not disappoint. The park is surprisingly larger than you think and mostly, it’s to give some of the animals more space so they feel safe and free in their habitat. However, in certain cases, this makes it difficult to spot them or get a good look at them. Still, this is not a deal breaker as tehre are some unique animals I’ve not seen yet in a zoo.
Cost: 100 Rs and you can access the Mountaineering Institute Website: pnhzp.gov.in
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
Founded in 1954, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is located in the same area as the Himalayan Zoo and can be visited using the same entrance ticket. It is an institute for mountaineering guides and sherpas. The school is across from it’s humble museum, which hold archived photographs and facts from expeditions, Sherpa kits, and artifacts from famous mountaineers like Tenzing Sherpa, the first man to summit Everest.
Cost: Included in the ticket for the Zoo.
Tiger Hill Mountain
Located 11km from Darjeeling is Tiger Hill Mountain, the highest popular for its sunrise view. On a clear day, it’s said you can see the snowcapped peaks of Mt. Everest and Mt.Kanchenjunga.
Viewing station prices: 20 Rs/30 Rs/ 40Rs, depending on the level of your viewing. There’s 3 levels in the building total so you may also view the sunrise from above the crowds. The first level of the building is not worth the upgraded cost, unless it’s a really cold morning. You’ll end up outside with everyone else, just for a photograph.
Note: The viewing station can get very crowded: arrive early if you want a good spot. You’ll need to leave by 3:30am to arrive at the viewing station around 4am. Cost: 200Rs to hire a shared taxi.
On the way back from Tiger Hill, a popular stop is Ghoom Monastery. My taxi said said he could drop me there but I’d need to find my way back to Darjeeling. I had a cold and feeling like I should just return. Instead, I stopped by Dali Monastery, along the way and it became my best substitute. As the name suggests, the artwork at this temple is wild with painted murals, buddhas on display in pagodas and a row of prayer wheels. Highly worthwhile!
Batasia Loop and War Memorial
Batasia means ‘a windy place’ and its name says it all. Batasia Loop is a garden and one of the scenic routes for the Toy Train . The valley views from this park are stunning. In the park there is a war memorial dedicated to a Gurkha soldier. Albeit a little windy, there’s a lovely view of the valley. You’ll also find hawkers lined up along part of the inner perimeter, selling souvenirs.
Getting There: This is not far from Tiger Hill Mountain and the temple. Admission: 15 Rs
Upper Darjeeling is the more local epicenter of town, with access to shopping and markets and the bus station (aka shared jeep station).
Busy, busy, busy is Chowk Bazaar, where locals come to eat, market and shop! lower market area known as the Chowk Bazaar. Tourist won’t find much to shop here, but being in this bubble of activity lets you know what Darjeeling-ites are about. You can find some old shops which are landmark gems to the city and being on the Hill Cart Road, you’ll also find jeep taxis and bus stands loading passengers for their journey onwards. The place is also extremely busy with passing motor traffic. If you hear a honk, be sure to get out of the road.
The toy train are famed in Darjeeling, as famous UNESCO hill station locomotive trains (one is a steam engine and the other runs on diesell. It runs both, from New Jalgaipuri station and from Darjeeling to Ghoom (a 2 hour journey, making a 10 minute stop at Batasia Loop and 30 minutes at Ghoom Museum).
Hours: 7:40am to 4:20pm. Fares from Darjeeling RT to Ghoom: 800 rupee diesel engine/1300 rupee steam engine. For more information about booking the train, check the tourism site here.
What and Where to Eat
Darjeeling has a small range of options to choose from for tourists. There’s local roadside shops along the road climbing to upper Darjeeling, and occasional street food vendors on Gandhi and Nehru Road. The dish to try in Darjeeling aside from tea is momos, Tibetan dumplings. You can have them steamed, fried, or in soup.
Kunga Restaurant was my fave restaurant with Tibetan food. It’s on Gandhi Road above Nehru Road, not far from Hotel Capital. They make a veg momo soup filled with a lot of veggies.
Hasty Tasty is an all vegetarian food restaurant with dishes from different regions in India. They also have Chinese and Italian dishes. Service can be a bit standoffish.
Keventers is a known for their English breakfast, burgers, milkshakes, and their outdoor patio view overlooking Darjeeling.
Hotel Capital Restaurant is a vegetarian restaurant at the base of the hotel. It serves Tibetan and Indian dishes at inexpensive prices.
Other Things to Know
Foreigners Registration Office in Darjeeling
Those going onward into Sikkim will need a permit. Due to the fact Sikkim is close to the China border, foreigners will need to acquire a Restricted Access Permit/ILP. Indians don’t require a permit. The permit is free and easy to get. Just take your passport and visa to the Foreigners Registration Office on Chauk Bazaar and they will issue it to you. You may need to get it further authorized at another governmental building in Darjeeling. For me to get to West Sikkim, I would need to go to a Police checkpoint in Meilli to get further authorized. If you’re doing a trek in Sikkim, you’d need to request another type of permit. Read more here.
Where to Stay in Darjeeling
You’ll find a wealth of accommodations in Darjeeling. The only issue is how willing you are to walk to it on foot… up or down steep hills and stairs. The taxis and buses will drop you at the town center. Gandhi Road houses a lot of hotels and taxis can enter that road. Other areas which you’ll find some resorts at will require you to call upon a porter to take your luggage to the hotel. Darjeeling’s streets can run on an incline and accommodations alongside the hill will almost certainly have a steep staircase which will make you want to bitch about how much luggage you packed. Here’s a map of hotels in the area. Be aware that most hotels charge taxes.
Hotel Capital, Gandhi Road, Darjeeling, Email: [email protected] . I stayed 6 days at Hotel Capital at 900Rs. Perched centrally, overlooking the bus/taxi drop off Nehru Road and the Clock Tower, the hotel is a family-run business. Facilities are bit old and no wifi, but the trade-off is getting a spacious room with a balcony to an awesome view. I got a single queen sized bed with bathroom (hot water- 24 hours) ensuite. Darjeeling can get cold at night. My room was warm, had enough blankets. There is a restaurant with local prices and good food. Rinzing Bhutia, the owner, used to live in New York and is super helpful in giving recommendations and help.
Dekeling Hotel, Gandhi Road- Further down from Hotel Capital is Dekeling Hotel, a charming mid-budget heritage hotel with free wifi. Great location and service but many stairs to get to lobby. But such can be the case with Darjeeling.
Hotel Mayfair. The Mall, Opposite Governor House. – A four star oasis of a resort on the size of the hill near below The Mall. It’s part of a reputable hotel chain in Sikkim. Call ahead to coordinate a porter upon your arrival as taxis may not be allowed to enter the road.
How to Get to Darjeeling
There are two stations which will get you to Darjeeling- New Jalpaiguri Station (NJP) and Siliguri Station. I took an overnight train from Kolkata. Read more and the route I took.