“the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once - by even a glimpse - would not give that glimpse for the shows of the rest of the world combined." -Mark Twain once said of Darjeeling.
Darjeeling town is arguably the most famous tourist destination in Eastern India. The place was a summer sojourn for the British soldiers in pre-independence India. Today Darjeeling attracts tourists of varied background.
Darjeeling is the Headquarter of the district by the same name. It is situated on a long spur, projecting northward from the Senchal-Singalila range, which rises abruptly from Ghoom to a height of 7886 feet at Katapahar and then descends to 7520 feet at Jalapahar and to 7002 feet at the Chaurasta or Mal. Rising again to 7163 feet at the Observatory Hill of Darjeeling, dividing itself into two, Lebong spur and the Takvar spur, which descend to the valley of the Great Rangit at an elevation of 3000 feet from sea-level.
Darjeeling town contains the usual Government Establishment and a number of hotels catering to the needs of the heavy tourist traffic frequenting to this "Queen of Hill Stations".
Darjeeling is about 85 kms from Bagdogra Airport and New Jalpaiguri (NJP) rail station is also at a similar distance. Small vehicles ply between Darjeeling town and these arrival points on a regular basis and it takes about 2.5 hours to reach Darjeeling from here. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, popularly known as the Toy train, also connects Darjeeling with the Siliguri town around which the Airport and the Rail stations are located. However train transfer takes much longer and also service is not very regular. The best way to travel to Darjeeling is to arrive at NJP or Bagdogra and travel by a small vehicle.
Tibetan Self-Help Refugee Centre
The Tibetan self-help refugee centre is located at a distance of 3 kms from the city centre on the Lebong Road. It was established in 1955. Spread over an area of 4 acres and financed by several international philanthropic institutions the centre houses many Tibetan refugees who fled their country when china occupied Tibet.
It is the most important handicraft centre in Darjeeling providing training to a large number of persons for making different traditional handicraft items like carpets, shoes, wooden and metal articles etc.
Perhaps the most favoured tourist spot in Darjeeling is the Tiger Hill. Situated at an altitude of 8163ft on top of the Senchal Hill just 11kms from Darjeeling and 3 kms from Ghum, Tiger Hill has attained worldwide fame for offering magnificent view of sunrise over the snowy Himalayan Peaks.
The summit at Tiger Hill also commands a fine view of the vast plains of North Bengal, the mountain ridges slowly descending to the plains, several courses of majore rivers of North Bengal like Tista, Mahananda and Balasan along with dense forest covers of Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary.
The road to Tiger Hill winds through the moist forest of Rhododendron, Oaks and Magnolia. There is a massive watch tower-cum restaurant for the tourists overlooking the grandeur of Kunchenjungha. On a clear day all important snow peaks of Kunchanjungha massif stretching across the horizon can be viewed. The tent-shaped Mt. Karbo (24000ft), Graceful Mt. Kumbhakarno (25,300ft) Sharp conical Mt. Pundim (22,020ft) and Mt. Norsing along with the snow ranges of Nepal and Bhutan are very prominent from Tiger Hill.
Most tourists visit Tiger hill as part of an early morning “3 point” tour. The tour covers Tiger Hill, Batasia loop and Ghum Monastery. The tours start from your hotel about one and half hours before sunrise so that you can reach Tiger hill before sunrise. After watching the sunrise while returning visitors are taken to Batasia loop and Ghum monastery to return to hotel before breakfast. Most of our Darjeeling tour packages include this 3 point tour.
Himalayan Zoological Park
The Himalayan Zoological Park is located on the natural environment of Birch Hill 2 kms from the Darjeeling Mall. The Zoo retains some of the original sylvan beauty of the hills covered with huge age-old mossy trees. The Zoo, acting as a centre of preservation and propagation of rare fauna of the temperate and Alpine region, is also one of the prime attractions for tourists.
The Zoological Park is the first one in the world to breed rare Red Panda successfully in captivity. The zoo official has released few pandas in the Sandakphu area after breeding. The captive breeding of snow leopard is another ambitious project taken by the Zoo authority. It has a collection of some of the endangered species of the higher Himalayas.
Siberian tigers, Himalayan Black Beer, Red Panda, Snow Leopard, Clouded leopard and several species of sheep and birds like blood pheasant, tragopan, monal etc. adorn the zoo and attracts a large number of visitor each day. The zoo opens at 9o'clock and closes at 4.30 PM. It remains closed on Thursday.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) Darjeeling
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) of Darjeeling is one of the oldest mountaineering institutes of the country. The center played a pivotal role in training mountaineers in India.
On 29th May 1953 Tenzing Norgey and Edmund Hillary climbed the peak of Mount Everest for the first time. After this successful expedition, there started a new wave of interests in mountaineering. Indian Prime Minister Late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru took the initiative of establishing this institute. With the help of local people the institute became a reality on 4th November 1954. The Chief Minister of West Bengal Mr. Bidhan Chandra Roy also played an important role in its formation. The institute under the directorship of Tenzing Norgey, was regarded as the central place for mountaineering activities in the country. HMI has been respected by mountaineers and mountain lovers across the world.
There is a mountaineering museum here that is the primary attraction to visitors. Here one can see the equipments used in past climbs as well as some latest equipments. The institutes has some historically significant photographs in its collection including some great mountaineering films which are shown on a regular basis to the visitors.
Lloyd Botanical Garden
Spread over forty acres of land below the busy market area is the Lloyd Botanical Garden. The garden is named after William Lloyd, an old resident of Darjeeling and the proprietor of Lloyd's Bank of Darjeeling, who donated the land of the garden in 1877. To visit the garden, you do not have to be a botanist, the serene environment and walk through the forested lanes is a great attraction for tourists. There is no entry fee for the Botanical garden and it is located within couple of minutes walking distance from the main taxi stand of Darjeeling.
The garden, one of the most prestigious gardens in the Himalayas, is divided into three sections. The upper section contains the flora of Eastern-Himalayas, the lower part has a collection of exotic species of many temperate countries, while the middle portion contains a large verity of alpine flora and a Orchiderium which contains more than 2500 species of plants including some rare species of Himalayas.
Lebong Race Course
Situated at an altitude of 6000ft near Darjeeling town is Lebong. It derives its name from Lepcha word 'Alibong' meaning 'the tongue shaped spur'. With its less severe climate, it was one of the foremost places in Darjeeling, which attracted early British settlers. There is a cantonment and a small race course. Although the race is not organised now the race course once attained the reputation of being the highest race course in the world.
Bengal Natural History Society & Museum, Darjeeling:
Housed in Divisional Wild Life Office the Natural History Society was established in 1915 under the supervision of Lord Carmichael, the then Governor of Bengal. The objective of the society was to promote the study of the natural history of Eastern-Himalayas. A museum was also created which contains varied and representative collection of mammals, birds, butterflies, insects and reptiles available in the region. There is small library of its own having some precious collection of books related to environment and wildlife in Darjeeling Himalayas.
One of the oldest temples in Darjeeling is the Dhirdham Temple situated near Darjeeling railstation. The temple with Pashupatinath (a form of Lord Shiva) as the main deity was established in 1938 by the Prime Minister of Nepal. It resembles the famous Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu in Nepal. The Dhirdham temple is also known for its architectural beauties.
From Mall a steep winding path through the pinewoods leads to Mahakal on top of the Observatory hill. The temple is the seat of Lord Shiva and a famous pilgrim spot in Darjeeling town even for the locals. It is a very old temple built during late 1900s. Both Hindus and Buddhists offer prayers in this temple.
Apart from the Mahakal and Dhirdham Temple there are several old temples, churches and Monasteries in Darjeeling. Bara Thakurbari, Ramkrishna temple, Gopal temple are other temples containing images of different Hindu gods and attract many visitors.
Among Monasteries the Sanga Choling Monastery at the outskirt of the town, Tamang Monastery in Judge Town, Monastery in Bhutia busti, all belonging to either Yellow Hat Or Red Hat sect of Tibetan Lamaism contain valuable collection of Images, Tibetan paintings and manuscripts.
Among the numerable churches the St. Andrew's Church belonging to the Churches of England was the oldest in the region. The foundation was laid on 1843 and the Church was built on 1870 near the present Loreto Convent School. It is a very special Church in Darjeeling as the inlaid memorial tablets in the Church gives an early account of the town.
St Luke's Church in Jalaphar was first built on 1867 and then replaced by the present one. The Chapel near Darjeeling St Paul's School and Darjeeling Govt. collage are some of other beautiful Churches in Darjeeling. The church of Immaculate Conception and St. Michael's Church are other important local churches in Darjeeling Town.
Surrounding the observatory hill, the highest spot in Darjeeling town, the narrow walking path known as observatory road and Victoria Park at the base of the hill is perhaps the most prominent place in the town. Popularly known as Mall or Chourasta in local language, it is the favoured spot for tourists to take a stroll or pass one's leisure in company of friends. Overlooking the layers of mountain ridges with Kunchanjungha rising from behind the undisturbed Mall Road or Observatory Road is shaded by age-old trees and there several wooden benches where tourist can enjoy a reading in scenic and tranquil environment. No motor vehicle is allowed to ply in this road. However, one can hire a pony from Mall to enjoy a ride along the road.
For most people around the world the Darjeeling word is associated with a beverage rather than anything else. Today the Darjeeling tea is exported across the world and is a delight for the connoisseurs of tea who call it 'the champagne of tea'.
The specialty of Darjeeling tea is in its aroma. When brewed it produces a distinctive, naturally occurring aroma and taste with light tea liquor. Currently there are about 86 tea gardens producing the Darjeeling Tea in the hilly areas of Darjeeling district at an altitude between 750 to 2000 meter. Total annual production of Darjeeling tea is close to 10 million kg a year. The low yield is due to adherence towards high quality.
The flavour of Darjeeling tea varies from season to season and garden to garden. The Easter Flush is produced from the leafs plucked during March - April. The leaves are tender and very light green in appearance. The Spring Flush plucked in May - June is famed for its prominent quality. Summer Flush ( July - September) produces tea with stronger quality, yet retains the unique character of Darjeeling tea. The Autumn Flush ( October - November) tea have a delicate character. The winter months are dormant period with no production.
The history of the Darjeeling Tea, which now is a global brand, dates back 150 years when Dr. Campbell, a civil surgeon who as an experiment planted the tea seeds in his garden at Beechwood at Darjeeling. The results of the experiment stunned him and many others. Soon after he decided to start plantation in larger scale with the assistance from the British Government. The pioneers in tea plantation set up gardens like Tukvar, Steinthal and Aloobari. Today the Darjeeling hills are covered with innumerable tea gardens producing some of the best tea in the world.
Darjeeling was a hill resort for the British army as well as the rich native Bengalis. There was a dearth of workers to work in the labour intensive tea gardens. Soon people started migrating from adjoining hill areas including Nepal for work at the gardens.
Schools in Darjeeling
In Darjeeling educational institutions in the form of primary schools began to be established around 1870s. In 1873 there were only 2 high schools in the Hill town. These were used exclusively for Europeans. Apart from this 25 primary schools were the centers for study for at least 650 students till 1890s. there was a steady increase in the schools for both primary and higher secondary schools after 1940s.
Some of the early European and Anglo-Indian schools managed by Christian missions were first to impart secondary school in Darjeeling town. Here is a list of some majore educational institutions in Darjeeling:
The earliest of the European schools in Darjeeling was Loreto Convent. It was founded in 1843. The school was managed by Loreto Nuns of Irish Roman Catholic Loreto order. They have their mother institution in Rathfarnham, Dublin. The original building of the school was at Sun Hill. The teaching continued here till 1892 and then replaced by a more specious building. There is a large concert hall, a hospital, a class-room building and a skating rink in the school complex.
St Paul's School
Bishop Cotton had been advocating the establishment of hill schools for Europeans. He collected a sum of Rs. 1,12,300/- from different contributors and invested in establishing the St Paul's School in 1868. The St Paul's School became the first collage in the district in 1881 after receiving the affiliation from the University of Kolkata. The school comprises a number of buildings, housing, laboratory, a couple of housing and chapels. Situated 500ft above the town the extensive school campus commands a fine view of the snow ridges.
St Joseph's Collage
St Joseph's Collage at North Point in Darjeeling was established in 1892 by the Roman Catholic Society of Jesuits. It was affiliated to the University of Kolkata in 1897.