Remember how ‘Mere Sapno ki Rani’ was all about Rajesh Khanna serenading Sharmila Tagore traversing through the serpentine toy train tracks of Darjeeling? Remember how Saif Ali Khan profoundly missed his lady love aboard the Toy Train to Darjeeling on ‘Kasto Maza hai Railaima’? Furthermore, movies like Main Hoon Na and Barfi patronised this delightful little hamlet. Darjeeling has been an all time favourite of the Hindi Cinemas.
The Bengali film Industry, as well as Literature, has romanced it for an eternity. Rabindranath Tagore’s relentless pursuits to forge an eternal relationship with this hamlet led him to create timeless plays, poems and literature dedicated to and inspired by Darjeeling.
What initially served as a sanatorium for the British turned out to be the perfect place to grow Tea shrubs that the British brought from China. The idyllic climatic conditions combined with perfect altitude proved to be the favourable grounds for prolific tea plantations and the consequence is the fact that Darjeeling today is synonymous to Tea worldwide.
What to see when in Darjeeling?
Darjeeling has become a hotspot for tourism and attracts a lot of travellers from far and wide. Darjeeling is breathtakingly scenic. Here’s a list of places that you must see when you visit Darjeeling.
- Tiger Hill
Your day’s itinerary in Darjeeling will essentially begin with chasing the sunrise at Tiger Hill. A mountain top that offers breathtaking views of the sun popping up out of nowhere in the sky and subsequently lighting up the Kanchenjunga range in its golden-saffron hues is something not to be missed at all. The best time to visit would be August to October for a crystal clear sunrise undisturbed by the hide and seek of the clouds.
- Batasia Loop
Batasia Loop is now a war memorial built at the centre of a railway loop that was constructed to counter the slope gradient of this region. Ghum is the highest railway station in Darjeeling and the Darjeeling railway station, on the other hand, was located at a lesser height than Ghum which led to a sharp fall in the route from Ghum to Darjeeling. To counter such a sharp fall, this loop was created to allow an easy ascent from Ghum to Darjeeling. Batasia Loop is a scenic spot where you can view the entire Himalayan range that adorns this region. Using powerful telescopes you are taken on a joyride across these mountains and various other towns that are visible from this particular spot
- Joyride on the Toy Train
The Toy Train in Darjeeling has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the main attractions of Darjeeling. The joyride will take you from Darjeeling to Ghum and around the Batasia Loop and back to Darjeeling railway station. You can opt for Diesel or Steam Engine rides as per your preference. The Diesel engines will cost you Rs 800 and the Steam Engines will cost you Rs 1300 for the first class tickets.
- Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is a centre for training in mountaineering and provides full-fledged professional courses on the sport. The great mountaineer Tenzing Norgay himself served as the Director of Field Training from 1954-1976 at the institute. The campus consists of a Museum, Library, Souvenir Shop, apart from the Hostels and other facilities for the students. For visitors it is the museum that is of interest which houses artefacts, mountaineering equipment used by mountaineers in their expeditions, books, models, paintings etc. and is a huge treasure trove of information.
- Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park is a home to many animals that are characteristic to the Himalayas. You can see Snow Leopards, Black Panther, Common Leopards, The Royal Bengal Tiger, Mountain Goats, Barking Deer and a host of other birds such as Parakeets, Red and Blue Macaw, Golden Pheasant etc.
- Happy Valley Tea Estate
The Happy Valley Tea Estate is the only organic tea estate in Darjeeling and is spread across an area of 270 acres. The tea produced here is exported to the UK, Germany and Japan and is not available for local consumption. However, you can purchase it from the boutique within the Factory. You can also take a tour of the tea garden; see the processing and take part in tea tasting at a minimal fee of Rs 100 per head.
- St. Andrew’s Church
This is an old Anglican church located near the Chowrasta on the left side of the Mall Road. It was built in the year 1843. The structure is impressive and still holds the colonial charm characteristic to Darjeeling.
Chowrasta is basically where four roads unite namely the Nehru Road, Dr Zakir Hussain Road and the Mall Road which circumscribes the Chowrasta and emerges from the other side. This is the city’s throbbing centre, busy and bustling with locals and tourists. You can sit on the numerous benches placed here or take a walk along the roads or engage in pony rides.
- Mahakal Temple and Observatory Hill
The Mahakal Temple is perched atop the Observatory Hill and is located on the right side of the Mall Road. The temple is a like a confluence of two religions Hinduism and Buddhism which is evident in the entire Temple premises decorated in Buddhist Prayer flags and the main temple proceedings being presided over by a Hindu priest as well as a Buddhist Monk.
- Japanese Temple and Peace Pagoda.
The Japanese Temple or the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple located in the backdrop of mountains is an absolutely tranquil place to visit. The Peace Pagoda adjacent to the temple is an impressive white structure commemorating the life and teachings of Buddha.
Darjeeling is abundant in natural beauty, history, culture, cuisine and experiences waiting to be explored and experienced. Growing up in the hills of Gangtok, Darjeeling was an easy weekend getaway during my childhood days and till date remains very close to my heart. Darjeeling is probably the most romantic city I have seen so far and until your wanderlust brings you to this laid back yet scenic little hill-station you will probably not realise what is so magical about Darjeeling that it is Bollywood’s muse till date.
Photographer Rahul Vats, his Facebook page is called RVChromatic