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So fancying a trip to Darjeeling? You must be lured by the dazzling snow peaks of Kanchenjunga that overlook the hill town, the beautiful tea gardens on the slopes of rolling hills, the waterfalls, orchids, pines & rhododendrons, the cute Himalayan toy train negotiating its way through the mountains.... and you want to combine all that with great sightseeing tours, food, shopping and other exciting activities. Right?
Yes, it's all possible in Darjeeling, a gem of a place which is known for its youthful vibe with modern as well as colonial charm. Excited? Well, there are couple of things you should ensure in order to fulfil your expectations. First, get all your information from the right source, and second, design your vacation yourself. Why? There are too many booking agencies these days who can easily spoil the party. Most will sell you a typical low-rated tour package or a hotel that only makes good business sense for themselves. And you may come back regretting and blaming it on the wrong reasons.
Kanchenjunga From Darjeeling
Design your own vacation in Darjeeling and book directly
I have been exploring Darjeeling for decades, initially as a vacationer and then as a travel writer. Over time I have looked into many aspects of Darjeeling at great depths and can perhaps claim that I know almost every nook & corner of the place and a lot about its life, people & culture. This website is all about sharing those findings and experiences so that you can yourself easily design a great vacation in Darjeeling and its surrounding areas, and directly do the bookings yourself. It not only helps cutting out unnecessary costs, you can shape it exactly the way you want it to be.
If you follow this website and go through the sections below, I can promise that you won't need any agency or a tour package to help you with your vacation in Darjeeling. You can easily do it on your own and eliminate dependence on someone else's interest & choices, be it transports, sightseeing tours, hotel, food, or adventures.
And I have a good news for you! In order to facilitate self designed vacation, I have brought together many small & large hotels, transporters, tour operators, restaurants and shops of Darjeeling & nearby areas who are among the best. And they all offer great discounts if you have a Darjeeling Tourism Card. So apart from shaping your own vacation or holiday plan, you will also get the double benefit of great discounts!
So excited to design your own vacation in Darjeeling? Then read on...
What can you expect out of this website?
While my main focus has been on the tourism aspects of Darjeeling, over time I have gone deeper trying to uncover its life as an insider. So my findings have evolved with time and includes not only my experience of Darjeeling Tourism but also many insider stories, reviews and finer aspects of the hill life. Along with tourist attractions, activities, guided & self guided tours, hotels and restaurants, my stories are also about its people & culture, fascinating history & heritage, unique flora & fauna, weather, tea gardens and everything this gem of a hill town offers to the world.
Just to give you a head start about the place, Darjeeling hill town is located at an altitude of 6,710 ft in north east India and is part of the West Bengal state. The nearest airport is Bagdogra and the nearest railway head is New Jalpaiguri. It takes about 3.5 hours to reach Darjeeling from both these locations by car. Although the area of Darjeeling hill town itself is small (about 4 square miles), Darjeeling is also a district and spans over a large area of about 1,200 square miles.
The hill town was originally set up as a sanitarium or health resort by the British in mid 1800s. But over the years, it earned its name for its world famous aromatic tea and then with opening up of roads and Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, for tourism. No wonder you will see numerous sprawling tea estates in Darjeeling that produce world's best tea, as well as the amazing narrow gauge Toy Train which is considered an engineering marvel that overcame such steep gradients and curves of the mountains.
Residents are mostly immigrant Nepalese (predominantly Gorkhas), Tibetans, as well as some Lepchas and Bhutias from Sikkim. Nepalese are mostly Hindus while Tibetans follow Buddhism. When you compare them with the people of lower plains, they look so different both in structure and culture. It's an amazing world out there.
Over the past few decades Darjeeling lacked proper developmental support and had seen random & thoughtless constructions and overcrowding which it hardly deserved. Despite that the charming, sincere and friendly people of the place have continued to strive hard and successfully preserved pride of the 'Queen of the Hills' as one of the best places for tourism even today.
The town center of Darjeeling is known as Mall or Chowrasta, which is like a flat open promenade, a pedestrian only zone free of vehicular traffic and surrounded by colorful stores with backdrop of mountains and valleys. Most tourists try to stay near the Mall area to be close to hub of all activities, restaurants and shops. So due to high demand, hotel rates are comparatively higher in the Mall area. Alternatively you can stay a bit away, enjoy better rates, nature & views, and a location relatively free of crowd.
During spring, summer and autumn, the weather in Darjeeling is perfect for city dwellers who flock in volumes during such time. Many come to enjoy the rains in monsoon and chill in the winter as well. And when such visits are combined with wonderful views of snow peaks and valleys, tea gardens, forests & flowering plantations, amazing sightseeing tours & activities, great food & stays, and all at affordable prices .... won't you love a vacation like that?
So ready to further explore Darjeeling tourism and all its treasures? Let's start...
Unless you visit some of the great tourist attractions and sightseeing places, your experience of Darjeeling hills is likely to be incomplete. There are countless tourist places here including great viewpoints, monasteries & religious shrines, rolling tea estates on mountain slopes, museums, art galleries, parks & gardens, waterfalls and lot more. Take a look at the ones that we love to visit.
You will need to take a private or a shared vehicle or in some cases a walking tour to visit some of the great tourist places I mentioned above. While most tourists go for the 3-Point, 7-point or Mixed-Point sightseeing tours offered by the local taxi drivers and tour operators, there are some great tours and hikes like heritage tours, tea garden walks, village tours and others that are offered by few and are hardly known to tourists. You will find them all in the link above.
I have tried out many hotels and lodgings over the years to get different flavors of our stays. You will get all sorts of accommodations in Darjeeling including budget, mid priced and even luxury hotels & resorts. This guide will first tell you about the overall hotels scenario in Darjeeling, what to and not to expect, and then take you through a list of accommodations on different categories. You will find links that will provide detailed reviews and insights into the hotels along with pictures.
When it comes to food, Darjeeling can offer great many options. Starting from Thai and Tibetan cuisine, to Indian, Chinese, Continental and Nepali dishes. There are real good food for all. Some of my favorites include the Nepali thali, Tibetan wanton soup also known as momos in soup, and a Naga dish that is prepared with dried bamboo shoots with meat. While there are food of all types, there are also wide price ranges that would suit all. In fact, there are some tin shack eateries that are really great and offer excellent food. We just love them.
Starting from handmade crafts & jewelry to many different types of curios, woolen clothes, jackets and kashminas, Darjeeling can be a shoppers paradise. There are some shops that are known for collections of some of the greatest pictures of Darjeeling's life and landscapes. And what about taking back home the "Champaign of Tea" from the place where it is produced? During the peak season, most of the shops in Darjeeling remain open until 8pm.
The fun and entertainment in this mesmerizing hill town can continue through the evening if you have the will to pursue. There are some great pubs and bars in Darjeeling where many locals and tourists gather in the late evenings. Some of the pub owners are now my great friends.
If you plan to explore Darjeeling and want know where is what, you need a good map. Unfortunately there aren't many good maps of Darjeeling available, because in mountainous terrain where places are located at different altitudes, it's not easy to draw up maps. But I could finally solve the puzzle. Here is a map that I use extensively to uncover all the treasures in the hills.
If you love to trek and enjoy the nature, don't miss out on one of the many unbelievable treks in Darjeeling hills. There are routes offering stunning views of the mountains, forests and wildlife. There can be light treks over few days with 4-5 hours of walk a day that even casual walkers can undertake, or heavier treks for several days over mountain landscapes that offer fabulous experience. Where else in the world can you get a vista of four out of five highest peaks of the world in one stretch of snow, or get to see exotic rare animals like Red Panda, or view flowering plants like rhododendrons, magnolia, carpets of primula and over 600 varieties of orchids? I have been to such fascinating treks and shared my experience in the link above.
When should you visit Darjeeling? Depends on what and how you want to enjoy. Most visitors target the view of Kanchenjunga in a temperate weather. Many others like to feel the winter in the hills and the occasional snow. Others love even the monsoon and play of the mist. And there are some who just want to feel the hills when there are no tourists and Darjeeling is at its serene best. This section will guide you through the weather conditions in Darjeeling in different seasons, and let you know what can you expect and what you can't.
The Toy Train as it is fondly called, has been the romantic heart of Darjeeling that has touched everybody who has been to this hill paradise. It was introduced in 1881 by the British connecting Siliguri with Darjeeling with a narrow gauge line. It helped cut down the enormous time it took to transport passengers by bullock cart and horse carriages along the Hill Cart Road. It also allowed the less affluent Europeans living at the lower plains to visit the health resort.
No discussion of Darjeeling is complete without a discussion on its Tea. After all this is what had originally placed Darjeeling into the world map. During my numerous trips, I have been to many tea gardens and estates in Darjeeling, seen the tea production processes, and had tasted tea at their outlets. Depending on the quality, Darjeeling Tea can range from Rs. 700/- a kg for regular black tea to well over 50,000/- a kg for white organic tea. I've been lucky to have seen even samples that broke the world record in tea pricing during a tea auction.
There are much more to Darjeeling than just a few days of fun and frolic. Won't you like to know why the name Darjeeling in the first place? It's location, how the area is laid out & its altitude, about its rich British history, how a land that once had only 10 people living in it became a world known vacation destination??? And what about the people of the area, where did they come from, their religion, culture and language? How about the flora and fauna in the region? A little knowledge of all this will add a special flavor to your visit to this wonderland.
It's all yours now...
Before I leave you to start exploring this website and grab all my findings and experiences, like to say one thing though... wherever you are in the world, do pursue a visit to Darjeeling. It has all the greatest ingredients to make a perfect vacation. You will come back again. I have been coming back repeatedly for the past three decades.
Mark Twain said about Darjeeling: "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". Well honestly, Darjeeling then and now are quite different, because time takes its toll. But if you come with passionate eyes and mind to look for the beauty, Darjeeling is still as amazing as it had always been.
And after your visit, share your Darjeeling Travel Reviews & Stories so that we all get to know about your own experience as well. Experience and findings are after all the pillars of this website. And do keep coming back to this website. I continue to post my latest findings and experience here. There are far more pages in this website than what you may think. Take a look at the left menu bar and explore the links.
And finally, if you like my website, I'll appreciate if you share it with your friends through facebook, google+ or whatever. That'll greatly support the cause of this website, and that is to let Darjeeling be known the way it actually is.
May Darj make your day...
By Raj Bhattacharya
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