A sojourn in Darjeeling
The small town of Darjeeling located at the Eastern Himalayan Range at a height of 6710ft. is a perfect summer retreat far away from the bustling city life. Breath-taking sunrise with perfect scenic valleys, amazing weather, the walk through the old colonial structure and the aroma of the freshly brewed tea, all a perfect reason to visit Darjeeling.
We planned the trip to Darjeeling during the third week of June mostly to get away from the prolonged summer in Mumbai. When we landed at Bagdogra, the temperature was similar to that of Mumbai. But as we started our journey uphill passing through the Rohini Tea Garden and the beautiful little villages the weather was very pleasant and the view was out of the world.
After checking in at The Central Heritage Hotel we decided on exploring the places that can be covered by walk. The Chowrasta at the Mall Road in Darjeeling is an integral part of the town where the locals and tourists gather for entertainment. Every evening the locals perform various acts in the open arena, whereby encouraging local talent. While some tourists enjoy the horse ride around Chowrasta, others stroll around the Mahakal market and the Mall market. The Mall Road also has some great restaurants and cafes where you can grab a quick meal or shop some Tibetan Souvenirs from any of the Arts and Crafts shops.
We walked around the Mahakal market, Observation deck (one of the many vantage points where you can see Mt. Kanchenjunga on a clear day) and the Mahakal Temple. The Mahakal Temple is located on top of the Observatory Hill and the climb to the top is slightly tiring but nevertheless worth it. The temple premise is decorated with colorful flags and has a very serene atmosphere. The Hindu priest and a Buddhist monk are seated at the main cave offering their prayers and thus signifying harmony between the two religions.
Continuing our walk along the Mall road, we came across the St. Andrews Church one of the oldest churches built in 1843. However we were quite disappointed when reached the church main entrance only to learn that it is open only on Sundays for the mass.
At a distance of about 2km. from the Mall Road, The Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park is located which also has the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI). The main attractions of the zoo are the endangered species of the Himalayan Region like the Snow Leopard, Red Panda, Himalayan Wolf and other high altitude animals. At the top of the hill is the HMI, which consists of a Mountaineering Training Center and a museum. The HMI museum gives detailed information on the Himalayan expedition history and it’s fascinating to learn about the journey of the Himalayan climbers. The entry to the zoo and the HMI is about Rs. 40 and you will be charged Rs. 100 extra per camera. Close to the zoo is the Shrubbery park, which is a small park offering cosy seating and beautiful scenery.
Right behind the zoo is the Darjeeling–Rangit valley ropeway, the first cable car system of India. The 40 minutes ride in this cable car will take you through the beautiful tea gardens of the Tukvar village, water falls, forests and breathe taking view of the mountains. However, due to the interminable rain and thick fog we were able catch tiny glimpses of just the tea gardens.
Trip to Darjeeling is incomplete if you haven’t visited the famous Darjeeling Tea gardens. We sisters along with our new travel friend Arya, stopped over at the Puttabong Tea gardens and enjoyed a quick stroll through the estate. The vast stretch of the lush greens with clouds hiding them partly was a sight to behold. The place doesn’t offer much in terms of tea production tour but if you just wish to have a look at the estate and click pictures we would suggest you to visit the place. (For a guided tour on tea production one can visit Happy Valley tea estate). The Roy Villa (place where Sister Niveditha took her last breath), Tenzing Rock, Gorkha Stadium can also be covered with the tea estate tour as they all are few minutes away.
The Observatory Hill in the Mall Road originally had a Buddhist Monastery: the Bhutia Busty Gompa, which was one of the first monasteries built in 1765. However, after it was demolished in 1815, the monastery was rebuilt at a new location in 1861. This Gompa is now located at 1.5kilometres from the Chowrasta, a steep downhill walk through the CR Das Road. It is comparatively smaller than the other Gompas but presents a more peaceful atmosphere with great view of the mountains nestled far from the busy town.
Apart from these places one can also visit the Roy Villa where Sister Nivedita spent her last few days of her life, the Gorkha stadium and the Tenzing rock.
This quaint little town of Darjeeling is a perfect place to relax and rejuvenate your senses, with its serene monasteries, Himalayan valleys, friendly people and the amazing varieties of tea. We only wish that more concern be shown towards the hygiene and the cleanliness be maintained in the city.
We would also suggest a day visit to nearby places like Mirik, Kalimpong, Kurseong a nd Singalila National Park or a four-day trek to Sundakphu range.