How to Reach Darjeeling and What to Do There
Darjeeling is one of the dreamiest locations in India, and it has been for several decades now. It exercises a strange spell on one and all, and even if you haven’t visited it, you’ve heard enough and more stories about mesmerising it is. If you want to take a vacation in a splendid location with great climate and picturesque locales, then you should certainly head to Darjeeling this year. This article sheds some light on the place, how to get there, the fun things to do, and so on.
Most people are unaware that Darjeeling is located in the state of West Bengal. They mistakenly believe that it is located in the North East States. In fact, Darjeeling is a hill station and a city with its own municipality. Though the region has always existed as it is seen today, any recorded history about the place begins from the 19th Century, and the British’s discovery of this charming spot.
Before the British arrived in Darjeeling, the region’s history was an amalgamation of the local Nepalese, Sikkimese and Bhutanese cultures.
However, Darjeeling was originally not used as a spot for healing from nervous diseases or war injuries by the British, as has been believed by most people. The British rulers had initially set up a military depot there. However, the region’s salubrious climate and fresh mountain air drove home the point that it was an ideal spot for those recovering from many physical and nervous disorders. Thus, the British set up a sanatorium there. After this, they set about building houses for higher officials, followed by summer homes for military officials posted in the country with their families.
The famous tea of Darjeeling was also to see the light of day during this time. Sensing the richness of the soil and how it would be useful (and economical) to cultivate tea locally rather than have it shipped from England, the rulers of the day created the first tea plantations in Darjeeling. The rest, as they say, is history – Darjeeling has one of the foremost tea industries in the world, and its tea produce ranks in the top 10 every year. Green, black and hybrid tea is cultivated here, and also exported in large quantities.
Apart from setting up summer retreat houses and the country’s first tea plantations here, the British also established the region’s first boarding and private day schools in Darjeeling. Today, this hill station continues to be known for its private schools with a prominently British bent of education.
In the last century, Darjeeling faced some upheaval during the Gurkhaland Movement of 1980s, and later in the summer of 2017. However, the region is largely peaceful today and tourism is booming as always.
Often, your vacation either turns out to be a big success or a spectacular dud depending on how you time it. If you go to a certain place during the ‘wrong’ season, you might fall ill or have to stay indoors. But getting the season right ensures a pleasant holiday for you and your companions. Keeping this in mind, we compiled a short guide about when to visit Darjeeling on a season-wise schedule:
* Visiting Darjeeling in the summer: The summer months in this hill station span from the month of March to June. This is often considered the right time to visit Darjeeling because of pleasant day and night temperatures. The day time temperatures rise as high as 28⁰C in May, so you can move about comfortably and not have to wear winter clothing. However, do carry a light jacket for the nights, because the temperature might drop sharply after sunset. The summer is a pleasing season also because there are less mists and fogs in the valley, and visibility is much better for driving from one spot to another. You and your loved ones will love exploring the place since the days are longer, so you can stay out more in the evening hours as well. Do note that this is peak tourist season in this hill station, so book your Darjeeling resort and travel tickets well in time before your departure.
* Visiting Darjeeling in the monsoon season: The monsoon season is quite intense in these parts. Being at a higher elevation, Darjeeling experiences cold and misty rainfall in heavy bursts. The rainfall is not constant and daily, but it is quite intense at times. It is not recommended that you go sightseeing or driving far during this time, because the roads become quite slick. Since this is not considered the right time to visit Darjeeling, there are not many tourists around and hence, not many tour guides as well. You don’t want to be caught in a sudden downpour with no transport options in sight, so take stock of the day’s weather on suitable apps before venturing out. On the upside, if you don’t mind the rainfall and if you don’t have a packed sightseeing itinerary to begin with, then you will actually love this season in Darjeeling. Just be sure to carry lots of mosquito repellent and appropriate rain gear to stay protected.
* Visiting Darjeeling in the winter: Though the winter season is bitterly cold in these parts, especially in the months between December and February, there are many who prefer to visit this hill station during this time. If you like cold temperatures and the prospect of imminent snowfall, then this could be the ideal time to visit Darjeeling. Snowfall is typically seen in the last week of December on till middle of January – you can celebrate a white Christmas and a snowy New Year in Darjeeling!
The hills and mountain ranges are powdered with snow during this time, so the place looks white and beautiful. The upside is that you will get the best deals on tickets and accommodation in Darjeeling during the winter season, since because tourist footfalls are quite low. But do steer clear of this spot in the winter if you suffer from arthritis, rheumatism or any bone-related aches and pains, because the cold will exacerbate your condition. Also, the roads can become frosty and slippery to walk on, so exercise due caution when you are out and about.
Now that you have got some information on when to visit Darjeeling, let’s take stock of how to reach Darjeeling. There are three modes of transport:
* By Air: You can take a flight to Darjeeling but the hill station does not have its own airport. Instead, you must alight at Bagdogra, also located in West Bengal but about 95 km away from Darjeeling. You can catch a direct flight to Bagdogra from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Guwahati, and proceed to Darjeeling via hired private taxi or the car that your resort sends to take you back to the accommodation.
* By Road: You can reach Darjeeling from other cities like Kalimpong and Gangtok. The drive is scenic and quite easily completed in a few hours – Kalimpong is 51 km away, while Gangtok is 100 km away from Darjeeling. Driving from Kolkata will take much longer, since the distance is about 650 km.
* By Railway: Darjeeling has several regular trains arriving at New Jalpaiguri, which is the nearest rail head. It is well connected with other parts of the country. Look up train timings and ticket prices for trains arriving from Guwahati, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bhubaneshwar – there are regular trains from these places.
General Tips to Take On Board
Whichever season you visit Darjeeling in, it is always better to carry some winter clothing so that you are not caught unawares. Even in summer, the evening and night time temperatures might drop suddenly, and you should have a protective shawl or jacket to keep you warm. During seasons like the monsoon or winter season, layer up well with thermal innerwear, sweaters, stoles and jackets.
The air is often dry in Darjeeling. You must carry moisturiser to keep dry skin at bay. Also carry extra tubes of sunscreen lotion (SPF of 30 or above) and apply it every four hours when outdoors. Sip on water to keep hydrated during sightseeing and adventure activities.
Look up all the roads and railway routes beforehand to plan your route to the hill station better, as also your itinerary. There are many wonderful tourist sites all over this dreamy hill station, so you must plan your itinerary well. Book your travel and accommodation well in advance of your departure date. Also, confirm your bookings with the resort in writing before you leave, and ask them to send transport to pick you and your family from the airport or railway station.
* Catch the sunrise at Tiger Hill. The Indian metros and cities are normally so polluted that blue, clear skies are a rarity in most of them. If you have not watched a spectacular sunrise in several months, then you must surely correct this mistake and head to Tiger Hill pronto. Go out while it’s still dark and buy a cup of tea or coffee from a vendor while you wait for the first rays of the Sun. When the Sun finally begins to rise, you will realise that you are holding your breath and not even blinking lest you miss any of the spectacular colours of the sky! It is one of the most romantic things to do here, and is not to be missed for the world.
* Take the Ghoom toy train. Young children and adults alike will love this popular activity in Darjeeling: taking the toy train ride from Ghoom right up to the famous Kurseong Point. The views along the route are breath-taking, to say the least. Alight at Kurseong and have a hearty meal at any of the restaurants in Darjeeling’s famous food district. The food district has come up here in the last 20 years and serves up authentic local fare at good prices. Imagine tucking into a plate of noodles or a bowl of thukpa with the majestic mountains to look at as you eat.
* Tour a tea plantation. You cannot visit Darjeeling without experiencing its world famous and award-winning tea. Apart from drinking the famous brews here, you can also visit a tea plantation to understand how the tea leaves are grown and harvested, the processing and manufacturing, packing of the tea leaves, etc. You can tour the famous tea gardens here and walking among the rows of tea bushes, and even sip on the tea made at some of the bigger plantations.
* Pay your respects to brave Gorkha soldiers. Any Darjeeling tourism guidebook you glance through mentions the Batasia Loop point. For the uninitiated, it is a scenic and historically iconic spot for the local region. It was conceived as two attractions in one: The Loop is a railway track looped around the scenic Tiger Hill. The second attraction is the revered and stunning Gorkha War Memorial erected a few paces away. The memorial was erected in memory of the Gorkha soldiers who perished as part of the British armed forces fighting in the two World Wars.
* Enjoy the local food. Darjeeling’s authentic local food is the stuff of legend. Made with freshly ground herbs and spices and using local produce, the food is hearty and comforting. You can have it any of the famous restaurants in Darjeeling. We recommend beef or chicken thukpa, fried or steamed momos, and rice noodles with a tangy tamarind and tomato sauce cooked in garlic.
Now that your Darjeeling holiday is on track to becoming a reality, it is time to pick the right resort to stay in. We recommend the Club Mahindra Darjeeling Resort in West Bengal.
This premium resort property is located opposite a sprawling tea estate, with magnificent views of the surrounding mountain ranges from every room. The 4-star resort is located away from the noise of the markets and tourists milling about there. Wake up to the sights of Kanchenjunga mountains, sip on tea in the balcony and proceed to the on-site restaurant for a sumptuous breakfast. If you would rather like to mill about the property, you can explore to your heart’s content and even visit the nearby tea estates. This resort promises the best rooms, warm service, recreation for you and the young ones, and the most enjoyable stay.
About Mahindra Holidays
Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Limited (MHRIL), India’s leading player in the leisure hospitality industry, offers quality family holidays as also stated by Club Mahindra Resort Reviews, primarily through vacation ownership memberships. While Club Mahindra Membership Fees gives you opportunity to explore your holidays across world, the other brands offered by the company are – Club Mahindra Resorts Fundays and Svaastha Spa. As on Mar 31, 2019, MHRIL has 61+ resorts across India and abroad and its subsidiary, Holiday Club Resorts Oy, Finland, a leading vacation ownership company in Europe has 33 resorts across Finland, Sweden and Spain. Visit us at www.clubmahindra.com