Darjeeling is a town in India’s West Bengal state, in the Himalayan foothills. Once a summer resort for the British Raj elite, it remains the terminus of the narrow-gauge Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, or “Toy Train,” completed in 1881. It’s famed for the distinctive black tea grown on plantations that dot its surrounding slopes. Its backdrop is Mt. Kanchenjunga, among the world’s highest peaks.
Originally just a cluster of villages that was administered intermittently by Nepal and Sikkim, Darjeeling grew in prominence during the mid 19th century when, because of its climate, the British first established a hill station there after leasing it from the Chogyal of Sikkim and later discovered that the area was particularly well suited for tea plantations. In 1849, the British annexed the area and Darjeeling became a part of British India. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was opened in 1881 (it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the town became the de-facto summer capital of India during the days when the Raj was governed from Calcutta.
Because it was a popular hill station during the days of the Raj, a lovely Victorian town was built among the Himalayan foothills, the remnants of which are still visible around the Chowrasta and Darjeeling remains a popular summer and fall resort for the natives of Kolkata today. For foreign tourists, the main attractions are the cultural diversity (many Tibetan refugees moved here after Tibet was annexed by China and they co-exist with the descendants of the many Nepali and Bihari laborers brought to work in the tea plantations), the beautiful views (including the wonderful vista view of Kanchenjunga), a variety of trekking options, and the opportunity to cool down after a stint in the plains. The town is also a jumping off point for travelers heading to Sikkim. 4 Days Queen of Hills Sightseeing in Darjeeling.
There has been intermittent political action from Gorkha groups demanding an independent state (Gorkhaland). In June 2008 a strike paralyzed the area, with closed hotels, restaurants and shops, and the accompanying protests even turned violent a couple of times. Though inconvenient, tourists generally are not at risk, but recently they do check the status before going there.
How to reach
The nearest airport is Bagdogra, near Siliguri, 96 km from Darjeeling. Bagdogra Airport is 2.5 hours by road from Darjeeling and two hours by air from Delhi, and 50 minutes by air from Kolkata.
Air India, India’s largest airline, has flights from:
Delhi – AI 880 (daily) and AI 879 (daily)
Guwahati – AI 879 (Mon/Fri)
Kolkata – AI 721 (Tu/Th/Sat)
Spice Jet also operates flights from Kolkata & Delhi.
Indigo has also started direct/indirect flights to and from Delhi and Guwahati since April, 2009 end.
Go Air has daily flights to and from Delhi.
All other cities major cities can be accessed by taking a flight to Delhi/Kolkata and connecting.
You can take a prepaid taxi or shared jeep from Bagdogra to Darjeeling as explained below.
Getting to and from Nepal can be tricky, despite their close proximity. One can catch a share jeep to Siliguri and a bus to the Nepalese border, changing buses in Nepal. An alternative is that Juniper Tours and Travels – located just next to the clock tower in Darjeeling offer a service where a driver can take you across the border and drop you at the Bhadrapur airport in Nepal for your connecting flight to Kathmandu. It is more expensive than organising your own transport but they make a concerted effort to look after you and will help you out if the situation becomes dicey (particularly with strikes in Nepal), they cannot be recommended highly enough and this is unusual for India.
By taxi/shared jeep
Siliguri is the nearest town connected to the mainline rail network. Ample transport is available to Darjeeling from here. The most popular modes of transport are taxi (usually shared by three to four passengers), shared jeep (ten passengers) @ Indian rupee 100-200 depending on bargaining skill.
The nearest railway station to Darjeeling is New Jalpaiguri which connects the city with all the major parts of the country. There are a number of trains from cities like Kolkata, Delhi, Guwahati, Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Bhubaneshwar and Kochi.
There is a regular bus service from Silguri to Darjeeling. However, they are quite slow due to the steep, twisty climb up to Darjeeling. Shared jeeps are faster, but cost double: 200rs vs. 100rs for the bus (2015).
Darjeeling is one of the oldest hill stations in India, and has plenty of options, both for those seeking a lazy getaway from the hot plains, as well as nature enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies. Do not get fooled by the touts trying to talk you into Rs.100/spot. Almost all the tourist attractions are located in 3-4 clusters of walking distance. Apart from sights within the town, there are plenty of trek options along the Himalayan ridges on the Indo-Nepal border near Darjeeling. The most popular one being the Singhalia Ridge Trail. Bookings for guides, porters and accommodation on the trail can be made in Darjeeling or in the nearby town of Manebhanjang, which serves as the trail-head. Be aware that from July to mid-September the Singalia park is closed, but because of the rain, clouds and fog it is less enjoyable anyway.
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