Darjeeling India – Your Quick Travel Guide
In a nutshell
Darjeeling is one of Indian destinations that the British have chosen as their summer getaway place when they feel hot during the seasons with very high temperatures. It is a hill station situated above the tea plantations and surrounded by deep valleys. It provides gorgeous views of the third highest mountain in the world and it is world-renowned for its tasty tea, not to mention the UNESCO listed Darjeeling Mountain Railway.
Why visit Darjeeling
Darjeeling attracts tourists because it has lots to offer, as well as other neighbouring parts of the area. Visitors usually plan travelling to Darjeeling to get in touch with nature, enjoy the views and those who schedule a longer stay, usually also plan some trekking activities.
Among the most visited attractions of Darjeeling are tea plantations (especially the Happy Valley Estate with guided factory tours), Darjeeling Mall with the nearby Observatory Hill and Kanchenjunga View Point or Japanese Peace Pagoda. Unique Darjeeling Himalayan Railways – narrow gauge trains – attract numerous visitors who want to see the steam engines and be a part of this incredible journey.
Mountain lovers visit popular Tiger Hill from where the great views of Kanchenjunga range can be observed, usually during the sunrise. There are also a few Hindu or Buddhist temples, the Mountaineering Museum and a zoo.
When to go to Darjeeling
The best time to visit Darjeeling is in autumn or spring and it also depends on what exactly your main focus is. If you are the ones who simply cannot live without seeing Kanchenjunga, go there from October till March. The sky is clearer in winter and the views are practically guaranteed. Spring is also very good but it can be more clouded. Also do not expect to see the mountains the whole day long. Usually the clouds cover the range after 11am and you would feel there cannot possibly be the third highest mountain in the world.
If the main attraction for you is famous Darjeeling tea and you want to get a guided factory tour and see the women picking tea leaves, avoid the winter season from November to February, when the factory processes are not in operation. You get guided tours during the winter but you cannot see any production processes as this is an off season for tea. The weather up there is mostly pleasant and the days are warm or even hot but the nights can be colder between autumn and spring so take some warm clothes for evening or morning walks.
Where to stay in Darjeeling
Darjeeling is has lots of accommodation opportunities as its life is tourists. There are numerous hotels, bigger, smaller, budget, high end, and there are also some home stays. Most of the hotels are quite close to the centre, almost all of them are practically in walking distance (if you do not mind walking) but they are usually in narrow streets so there may often be traffic jams. Also mind that Darjeeling is located in a hilly area and therefore be ready for such terrain.
Many cheap hotels are located near the train station, around the Clock Tower or the Mall. Hotels usually have rooms with attached bathrooms and Wi-Fi and many hotels have also a functioning restaurant.
There are also some resorts.
Where and what to eat in Darjeeling
All around Darjeeling you can find many restaurants, coffee shops and small eating spots where you can taste Indian, Nepali, Tibetan, Chinese or continental cuisine. Most of the inhabitants are Nepali in origin and there are also many Tibetans, so the cuisine and the menus are a bit different. You should definitely taste momo dumplings – steamed or fried and filled with vegetables or chicken, thukpa – thick noodle soup originally from Tibetan cuisine or tingmo dumplings with curry.
When you want to taste a Nepali based dish then try a Nepali khana set, a platter with rice, vegetable curries, spicy chutneys and usually chicken curry. Street food often includes momo dumplings, fried noodles or fried rice.
How to get around Darjeeling
If you enjoy walking, Darjeeling is a nice place to do so, also because of a large number of vehicles transporting mostly local tourists to interesting places in Darjeeling. But believe us, walking is better and you can explore the town in a different way. You can cover all the main parts on foot – from Japanese stupa to the Clock Tower, through the Mall to Himalayan Institute and Zoo, even Happy Valley Estate and the Botanical Garden.
Public transport is basically non-existent but there are many taxis and larger vehicles to drive you around the town. For simple pick up and drop, the price will be in hundreds of Indian rupees, longer trips with waiting should be agreed upon individually.
How to get to and from Darjeeling
The closest airport to Darjeeling is Bagdodra airport, 67 km away and from there you can take a pre-paid taxi. The rate for a taxi should be around INR 4,000.
Darjeeling is easily accessible and the road is beautifully scenic. The main access point is Kolkata, from where you can reach Siliguri or New Jaipalguri by train. The train is a nice and comfortable way to spend the night. Darjeeling is in West Bengal, the same state as Kolkata, but it is very far so you need to take your time.
In front of the train station you can find taxis and larger vehicles (10 people) to take you to Darjeeling. You can get shared ones, for around INR 550 or you can have a reserved one only for you or your group. It takes about 5 hours to reach Darjeeling.
Darjeeling is also accessible by bus but we would not really recommend it because it will be very time consuming. You can take a bus from Siliguri.
Be prepared for very narrow and crooked roads and sometimes an aggressive way of driving. If you have problems with such driving, warn the driver ahead and make a request to drive carefully. They will mostly try to accept although sometimes you will have to repeat it on the way as they are used to it. But the views are great along the way, starting from the tea plantations in the valleys, accompanying you all the way up, followed by mountains and nested settlements on the hills. If you are travelling in a group then consider hiring a reserved private vehicle and maybe pay a bit more but ask the driver to stop for you during the journey where you want.
You can also reach Darjeeling from Nepal, through Kakarvitta. Before the border you can find vehicles, or you can cross the border first and then hire a car. The price from Kakarvitta to Darjeeling is slightly higher, approximately INR 700 per person. It always depends on the agreement. It takes about 4 hours to get to Darjeeling.
Is Darjeeling a safe place to visit?
Darjeeling is a very charming and safe place. You do not have to be afraid of walking around the centre even in the evenings as it is really quiet and comfortable.
There have been demonstrations recently as the people of Darjeeling want their own state but there was no danger in this.
There are medical shops available in case you need any assistance and the town itself is very friendly and quite modern so the facilities are of a good level.