Finally after a long gap, got a chance to visit Darjeeling, situated around 630 kms from the Kolkata city in West Bengal. Purchased tickets a day before and boarded the overnight train from Sealdah station, Kolkata.
The preceding morning when I woke up,all I could see from my window were beautiful water inundated paddy fields. A layer of fog few feet above the horizon and the birds flipping above and below that foggy layer. It was 5:30 in the morning and from my window this was rural Bengal, which is not unusual from the rest of the rural India as far as scene from the window of the train is concerned. Otherwise there is much more diversity in language, culture as you travel across from east to west or from north to south and vice-versa.
The train was about to reach New Jalpaiguri Station where I have to get down to catch taxi for Darjeeling.
Darjeeling can be reached by taxi in about three hours from Jalpaiguri Railway Station as well as Bagdogra Airport. I took a shared taxi from New Jalpaiguri Station ,which is much cheaper (Rs. 200/ only) and more convenient for a solo traveller. Reached Darjeeling by noon.
Darjeeling is world famous for the presence of narrow gauge railway system and the Steam engine Toy Train for which it has been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Site in 1999 for being ” an outstanding example of the influence of an innovative transport system on social and economic development of multicultural region”, which was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world, becoming only second railway in the world to have such honour.
About a kilometer from the Darjeeling station is Chaurasta or The Mall where all the hotels and eating places are located.
The two important economic activities in Darjeeling are Tourism and Tea Industry. The Darjeeling tea is famous world over for its distinct liquor.
I inquired form the local shopkeeper and came to know that one of the tea garden is at a walking distance of about 20 minutes, so I went there in curiosity. Interestingly, that tea garden in Darjeeling conducts tours inside their estate (on a nominal fee of Rupees 100/) and one can actually see the whole process of tea processing right from plucking of tea leaves up to final packaging of the product inside the factory. They also give chance to taste different types of tea they are producing in their premises. It was a nice experience if someone is visiting the tea estate for the first time. I also came to know that there are tea estates which provide home-stay facility on a reasonable price. One has the option of spending night at a tea estate by staying there overnight.
Next day in the morning after breakfast at one of the eating joints at The Mall, I started walking towards The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
Later I came to know that the Museum and the zoo are in the same campus of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute . After about half an hour of pleasant walk I reached the spot. I purchased the ticket from the gate and entered the campus. On both side of the road inside the campus were animal enclosures and most of the animals were resting lazily in the mild sunlight of the hills.
At the end of the road was the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
Established in 1954 in the leadership of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru and the interest created by the first ascent of the Mount Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953. The Museum of the institute was worth visiting due to its historical importance.
The Zoo in the same campus in addition to all the regular animal species also inhabited the Red Panda.
The next day I decided to visit the much hyped Tiger Hill. I gad to wake up and be ready at 4:00 in the morning. On reaching the Tiger Hill which was 40 kms from Darjeeling mall, the sunrise point was too much crowded but people told me that the view is worth visit if the weather is fine and not clouded.
The Himalayan Range visible from Darjeeling
It was worth visiting Tiger Hill for the sunrise although it was overcrowded and there were clouds too. Returning from Tiger Hill in a shared taxi, the driver stopped at a monastery and gave us half an hour to explore the spot.
Memorial at Batasia Loop, Darjeeling Railways
The most memorable was a joy ride on the Toy Train (Rupees 1100/ for a return trip of two hours including a visit to railway museum at Ghum station). The train was passing through all the road side markets and the main road was criss-crossed many times before reaching the Ghum station.
Best time to visit Darjeeling is from October to March.