I have travelled so many places around the India and abroad but for some reason or the other I have never managed to travel to Darjeeling. I still remember when I was around eight (1988) a big family vacation was planned for Darjeeling but it was cancelled the very day we were supposed to board the train as there was travel restriction imposed due to the ongoing Gorkhaland agitation. Reluctantly we had to change our plans to the sea beaches of Puri.
This time, however, I was sure not given Darjeeling a miss thus cut short my stay at Kolakham and proceeded to Darjeeling. We wanted to start early so that we can reach Darjeeling as early as possible and enjoy our stay. We started our journey from Kolakham at around 4 AM and after travelling through Lava – Rishop – Riksum – Lamahata – Kalingpong we finally reached Darjeeling.
The journey was equally picturesque as the places through which we just passed are all tourist spots and each have their own unique beauty. Unfortunately, we were not able to stop but we did stop at Lamahata for a quick cup of tea and some momos.
By the time we reached Darjeeling it was around 10.30 AM and the town looked picture perfect. The hotel that we booked was right at the Mall area and vehicles are not permitted within 100 meters of the Mall so the last stretch we had to trek with our luggage.
And Which One Is Our Hotel?
Our hotel was booked by our travel agent and I was informed over the phone that I need to go to Bellevue Hotel. When I reached the spot I noticed that there was two hotel with the same name Bellevue Hotel and New Bellevue Hotel. Not knowing which one I called my travel agent and he confidently confirmed that both of them are the same hotel and the one with the “New” tag is their new extension.
So with confidence, I walk into Bellevue Hotel and go straight to the reception and told my name so that the receptionist could assign the room. The receptionist went through his booking chart and could not find my name, after such a long journey all of us were really tiered and obviously were bit agitated. I confidently demanded the receptionist to at once speak to the owner of the hotel as my bookings were confirmed by my travel agent who also happens to be the owner’s good friend.
The receptionist apologised and gave us the room key and the bell buy started taking the luggage to our designated room. We were served a hot cup of tea while all the check in formalities were done. It was by chance that the owner of the hotel walked in and shook his hand thanking him for confirming the booking over the phone. The owner was bit perplexed and even after repeated reminders could not remember confirming the booking neither did he know my travel agent.
The owner was a true gentleman and asked me to once check out my bookings at New Bellevue Hotel and in the meantime my family cold rest in his hotel. I immediately rush next door to New Bellevue Hotel and sheepishly return confirming that our actual booking was at the other hotel (New Bellevue Hotel) and not at Bellevue Hotel.
According to the owner, it seems that this is a regular confusion and they are all used to it and do not mind, apparently both the hotels did have a single owner until the brothers decided to split.
We took our luggage next door and finally settled down. This hotel was one of the best hotel in Darjeeling commanding a grand view of Mall.
Sightseeing at Darjeeling
Our travel agent had already booked a local transport for a local sightseeing and after a quick brunch at Glenary’s we set out to explore Darjeeling. If you are visiting Darjeeling then not dining at Glenary’s would be a crime. This place has the most awesome collection of cakes, cookies, bread, coffee and teas. Enjoy the food with a sip of fresh Darjeeling tea and enjoy the panoramic view of the town with occasional glimpses of Kanchenjunga.
The first stop on our itinerary was Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park (Darjeeling Zoo) and Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI). These are right next to each other thus needs to be visited together. Darjeeling Zoo is a cute little zoo thus don’t expect a big one like you have in other cities but its occupants are really unique to this region. You will get to see Himalayan (Red) Panda, Snow Leopards, Tibetan Wolf, Yak etc. Even though it’s small but the scenery with green coniferous trees and occasional clouds make it much romantic.
Right up ahead is the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI), even though I had no wish to join their short mountaineering courses but I was definitely interested to see the memorial of Tenzing Norgay. Incidentally Tenzing Norgay was also the first director and chief instructor of this institute.
Our next stop was Tenzing Rock, if you are interested in a short course in rock climbing this is the place. Guided rock climbing can be done here but I had no interest in it since considering my weight I had doubts that the safety ropes would be able to sustain me dangling.
Moving on our next stop was at the Tea Garden View Point. This is just a viewpoint from where you can see the famous slopes of Darjeeling where the much prized Darjeeling Tea is grown. You will also find many tea sellers trying to sell packets claiming to be authentic Darjeeling Tea but you need to restrain yourself as most of these are fake.
Our next stop was Japanese Temple and Peace Pagoda. These are also right next to each other thus plan accordingly. If you are truly seeking some private moment with yourself while the Buddhist monks chant mantras then this is the place to be. Built in 1972 this temple is also known by its traditional name Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple. Go to the first floor and get enchanted by the chants and spend some time reflecting.
A little ahead is the Peace Pagoda, built by the same Japanese Buddhist sect this pagoda was built in the 70’s. From the top of the pagoda, you get a good clear panoramic view of the surroundings.
The next destination Rock Garden & Ganga Maya Park was bit far from the rest and takes some time to reach. This is a park which has been developed around a waterfall locally known as Chunnu Summer Falls. It’s basically a terraced garden where you can spend some time enjoying the waterfall and climbing the stone walkways.
By now it was evening and it was time for us to head back to our hotel. Darjeeling being a hill town does not have a night life as such and by 7 PM the shutters are down at most places only some eateries remain open thus plan your dinner accordingly. We had our train back to Kolkata the next day evening thus we wanted to visit few more places in the morning before our departure.
Next day our first target was to take the Toy Train for a joy ride, these rides take you around for a short trip on the toy train line and stops for some time at Batasia Loop for people to see around. It is to be noted that these joy ride trains have a diesel powered engine and not the traditional coal powered engine. The coal powered engines are only used for the commuter version. Alternately to the joy ride you can just take the train from Darjeeling to Ghoom station and ask the car to wait for you at that station.
Unfortunately, for us, we could not take the Joy Ride at the scheduled time would not suit our day’s plan. This did not hamper the opportunity for my daughter to enjoy the toy trains, there are plenty of coaches and engines and she happily hopped from one to another.
The first stop for the day was Tiger Hill, apparently from this place you get to see Kanchenjunga at its best and grandest, unfortunately, the chances of actually seeing the Kanchenjunga is quite remote as most of the time it’s covered in heavy clouds. Whatever it may be the journey from Darjeeling to Tiger Hill is fantastic, the trees that line the roads on both sides makes you actually feel you are in the Swiss Alps.
People mostly go to Tiger Hill to watch sunrise thus the time we went there had less crowd but if you are lucky you will get a view that makes your best friend jealous of you.
Our next stop for the day was Batasia Loop, this place was actually created for the toy train to loop slowly up towards Darjeeling instead of making a sudden steep climb. A Gorkha War Memorial was constructed at the centre which is a major point of attraction. It was by luck that when we were about to enter this place the very same time the Toy Train joy ride was also entering thus I could manage to click some wonderful photographs.
A distance away near Ghum station we will find Ghum Monastery or Yiga Choeling Monastery. You need to visit this place to see the statue of Maitreya Buddha which is nearly fifteen feet high and the golden colour makes it look stunning.
Right outside the monastery, you will find a small market selling woollen clothes and other traditional items, this is the best place for you to buy some semi-authentic Tibetan, Bhutia and Nepali mementoes. The reason I am saying the word “semi” as some of the items sold here is actually Chinese made.
Last but not the least if you are in Darjeeling you have to spend some quality time at the Mall locality. Just buy a cup of tea and settle down in the numerous benches and watch the majestic Himalayan ranges in front of you.
We left Darjeeling post lunch and returned back to the plains of Siliguri to catch our train back to Kolkata. This trip was remarkable since originally we had only plans to travel to Kolakham but we managed to add on Darjeeling making this a trip of a lifetime.
Hope you have enjoyed going through my blog see you in my next destination of Lachen – Lachung (North Sikkim).
Title Clipart Courtesy – Vecteezy, Clipartoons & Welovesolo