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Top Five Things to Do in Darjeeling, India

  • Pravin Tamang
  • 27 June 2011

Surrounded by the snow-capped ridges of the Himalayas and gorgeously blanketed by a patchwork of beautiful rural tea plantations, old-world temples and monasteries, stunning Darjeeling, India, is an internationally renowned tourist destination for good reason. This hilly refuge boasts an incredible variety of outdoor attractions and must-see sights.

To get to the bottom (or top) of the best, though, takes a local with intimate knowledge of the place. Fortunately, the founding staff and I at Tathagata Journeys were born and bred in Darjeeling. Together we have decades of experience arranging meaningful tours and activities for travellers in and around town, from treks and mountain biking to cooking classes and urban walking tours.

Sandakphu, Darjeeling, India

The Sandakphu Trek route passes through beautiful terrain and forests. This is a springtime photograph showing the red of prolific rhododendrons. The forest of Beekay Bhanjang (poisonous pass) is visible here; it was named after an infamous plant – poisonous aconite – found in the area. Photo courtesy of Tathagata Journeys

Here, therefore, is a list of the Top Five things to do in Darjeeling, courtesy of the travel experts at Tathagata Journeys, your whl.travel local connection.

Trek at Sandakphu

First and foremost, lovers of the outdoors should not miss the many spectacular highlights of trekking at Sandakphu. The Sandakphu trek follows the Singalila Range, which is our kind of route: full of scenic nature and modest village dwellings. The trek to Sandakphu starts from a small village called Manebhanjang, inhabited by Buddhist Sherpas. From there, I like contemplating the entire trek route, imagining  the effort of the near-vertical climb at the end toward distant but visible Sandakphu.

It takes me eight or nine days to finish the entire trek route, but the initial panoramic view filled with the colours of magnolias, rhododendrons, primulas and silver fir forest recovering from fire, not to mention the close-ups of the entire Himalayan Belt, stays enduringly in my mind. Four of the world’s five highest peaks – Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu and Lhotse – are all visible on this trek. No wonder the Sandakphu Trek is called the ‘paradise of trekkers.’

Toy Train, Darjeeling, India

The idea of a joy train ride chugging up through hilly terrain is so romantic that the Darjeeling toy train has been featured in many famous Bollywood songs. The picture above is taken at the Batasia Loop, where the train follows a 360-degree turn. Within the loop, a war memorial dedicated to Gorkha soldiers further enhances the beauty of the location. Photo courtesy of Tathagata Journeys

Take the Joy Train Ride

Second on our Top Five list is definitely the Joy Train Ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. Also fondly called the ‘Toy Train,’ it is Darjeeling’s pride and joy. It’s mine too! I love that a World Heritage Site belongs to my hometown and I take the ‘joy ride’ as often as I can. The best parts of the trip are the steam engine and the slow speed that gives one ample chance to appreciate nature and enjoy the journey. Of particular fame is the Batasia Loop, where the train completes a steep full circle, but from this point I particularly like the marvellous view of Darjeeling nestled below the majestic Himalayan Range.

Fortunately, travellers like me who get restless on long slow train rides need not skip the full journey from JNP to Darjeeling altogether. Instead, I take the short joy ride from Darjeeling to Ghoom or vice versa, an enjoyable distance that allows you to appreciate every bit of the journey without growing tired of it.

Darjeeling Tea, Darjeeling, India

Real 'Darjeeling Black Tea' is preferred by local tea connoisseurs. Darjeeling Tea doesn't need to steep for long, as the colour and flavour are readily absorbed by the hot water, which then emits the most fragrant aroma. Photo courtesy of Tathagata Journeys

Sip Some Darjeeling Tea

Darjeeling has a huge and vital tea culture, so drinking tea is definitely on our list. Back when I was still a kid, I remember my mother making Darjeeling tea in huge vessels early in the morning and reserving it in flasks for all-day drinking. I am still in the habit of drinking tea all day long, and, after having tasted so much Darjeeling tea, I don’t think any other tea in the world can match its flavour and the aroma. Just as there is nothing like the champagne of France, so too can nothing compare to Darjeeling tea.

Sipping Darjeeling tea whilst in Darjeeling is therefore an experience in itself. Make sure to ask for ‘Black Darjeeling Tea’. These days, Darjeeling also produces white and green tea, but for me, Darjeeling black tea is the real local tea and not to be missed.

On an especially great morning, consider booking a tour of the beautiful tea gardens. I often go with the intent of capturing some of my favourite photographs: shots of  local tea pluckers picking fresh tea leaves in the huge green garden with the mountains in the background. We are very proud to share that Darjeeling produces 10,000 tons of tea yearly and is now protected by Geographical Indication, meaning that only tea that is produced in Darjeeling can be termed Darjeeling Tea.

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI)

If it weren’t for Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI), I would probably never have discovered the mountaineer in me. I was inclined to climbing and travelling from a very early age and got my start with an adventure-based outdoor training program taught by HMI. I eventually even managed to scale a few lesser-known peaks. It was all the start of my passion for travel, since I began guiding in the mountains of Nepal and later led cultural tours throughout India.

HMI continues to provide a great deal of information on mountaineering, as well as provide basic and advanced mountaineering, adventure and survival courses. I often take my like-minded friends to the HMI Museum, where I marvel all over again at the mountaineering equipment used by great climbers like Tenzing Sherpa. I become humbled by the magnitude of the mountains and their height.

Breakfast at Keventers

Last but not the least on our Darjeeling highlights list is definitely breakfast at Keventers Restaurant. Like all the locals of Darjeeling who never tire of dining at Keventers, my grandfather, my father and I all love paying a visit. Located on Nehru Road, Keventers is very easy to find and I have met many travellers who make it a point to eat there every time they are in Darjeeling.

Keventers Restaurant, Darjeeling, India

In Darjeeling, Keventers is the place for great breakfast indulgence, especially non-vegetarian fare. Keventers specialises in delicious ham, bacon and sausages; these items are even sold in packages at the counter. While not a fancy restaurant, it is a decent place to hang out and enjoy good food. Photo courtesy of Tathagata Journeys

My favourite dish is the non-vegetarian delight; it consists of mouth-watering sausages, ham, bacon, eggs and toast. Others relish the restaurant’s juicy hog dogs and tasty hot chocolate. The upstairs area of Keventers has open-air seating, where diners can bask in the warm sun. Enjoying delicious food while watching the mountains is an activity that we absolutely love.

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Pravin Tamang

Pravin Tamang is the Ground Operation Manager at Intrepid Travel-India. He discovered his passion for travel quite early and has travelled immensely in India as both a tour leader and a traveller. He says India is so diverse and rich that every region is a different experience altogether. He founded Tathagata Journeys (your whl.travel local connection to Darjeeling) and aims to enrich travellers with incredible local experiences.
Pravin Tamang
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adventure travel, architecture & landmarks, Asia, cities, food & drink, India, local knowledge, mountains, personal experience, South-Central Asia, top five, whl.travel, world heritage,

4 Responses to “Top Five Things to Do in Darjeeling, India”

  1. Sujata says:

    Hey Antony,
    How are you…hope your Christmas was fine and good…and hoping your New Year also will be great and happening.
    Dear,my Homestay is not ready yet..as soon as we get it done will surely inform you..

    stay safe & take care…
    Sujata

    for more info pls go thru our page…
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/LASSO-Darjeeling/452141204819093?ref=ts&fref=ts

  2. Antony says:

    hello Sujata ,
    is your home stay is ready..? I will be visiting Darjeeling next month with family.. would like to have a nice place to stay for 4 days..! could u pls help me in this regard.
    thanks
    Antony – [email protected]

  3. Sujata Tamang says:

    Hi Dear,
    I am Sujata Tamang from siliguri.I am opening a new Homestay at Darjeeling.Need ur suggestions or any help would be kind.
    Thanks

  4. organic tea says:

    I would love to visit Darjeeling.

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