WINE & DINE
Tiger Hill Darjeeling
While we always talk about the sweeping views of sunrise from Tiger Hill and the view of the colossal Kanchenjunga with many other snow clad eastern Himalayan peaks from here, but we hardly talk about the summit of Tiger Hill itself. True that the blaze of rapidly changing colors of the snow peaks as the sun strikes is an awesome view, but Tiger Hill is great even otherwise. It's a destination by itself offering not just great views during sunrise, it's a place where you can soak yourself with Himalayan serenity anytime during the day.
While I have been to Tiger Hill many times to experience the sunrise, I have also been there several times during the day and enjoyed as much. Tiger Hill is located 11km (6.8 miles) from Darjeeling town and above Ghoom. It's the highest point in the Darjeeling area at an altitude of 8482 feet (or 2590 meters). The best season to see the dazzling snow covered peaks as the sun rises is between Mid October to December. March to April is also a good time.
For sunrise, you will need to start by 3:30am in the morning so that you reach by 4.15am. Some taxi drivers will insist that you start even earlier. There is a reason why. As you reach close to the summit, particularly during the high season there would be a huge queue of cars lined up. Hundreds of tourists come here everyday for the sunrise view during this time. As a result, you may have to walk uphill quite a bit as your vehicle may be parked much below the top. And if the tower-house from where people watch the sunrise gets full by the time you reach, then you will probably need to watch the sunrise standing on a meadow little below the summit.
Remember, Darjeeling's weather can change anytime. The fog and the mist play a mystical game here all the time. They can come from nowhere and put a white blanket all around. You can't predict that. In fact, looking at the weather and the sky from Darjeeling Town is almost no indication of how the weather may be at Tiger Hill. Cloud and fog in this area lie at various levels of the mountains, some times they may be above you, other times you may be above them. So no one can guarantee a perfect sunrise view from the Tiger Hill.
In many occasions, tourists are able to see the sun after it has risen quite a bit in the sky and not when they want to see it rising over the horizon and spreading its multicolor hue on the snow capped peaks. So, be prepared to experience the magical play of the sunrise the way the nature offers you.
Now having set your expectation, let me start the journey and take you to Tiger Hill through my own eyes. From Darjeeling Town as you take the Hill Cart Road towards Ghoom, there is a narrow road that goes up on the right few minutes before you reach the Ghoom station. This is the steep Senchal Road that leads to the top of the Tiger Hill.
Kanchenjunga From Tiger Hill, Darjeeling
As you start the climb, you will see the Ghoom Jorebanglow Degree College on your right. You will then come to an abandoned toll booth. This was apparently setup few years back to take an entree fee of Rs. 200/- per vehicle. However the taxi union resisted the move and finally even after construction of the booth and printing of the tickets, the initiative fell through.
As you drive up along the steep incline, there is a natural tree-lined hedge that runs up along the right unfortunately blocking some part of the view. On your left is the cliff that rises sharply. Tiger Hill area is now a part of a nature reserve and maintained by the GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, erstwhile DGHC). However as you drive along, you would probably not see much signs of maintenance. The last time I visited, I found the roads weren't repaired probably for several years. With battering of torrential rains and harsh weather every year, you can imagine what may be the road conditions here having had no repairs over so many years. But the views all around and the thrill compensates for all that.
Sunrise from Tiger Hill, Darjeeling
After a few minutes if you look to your left, you will see a lovely meadow. This is from where many tourists view the sunrise if it gets too crowded on the top. In fact cars get lined up from here up to the summit during the high season.
There used to be a tourist lodge here. You can still see a chimney like structure on the left that belonged to the abandoned tourist lodge. It was built during the British days as a VIP guest house when many eminent personalities came and watched the sunrise from here. It was later converted into a tourist lodge and was called the Dak Bunglow. In 1988 during a commotion in the hill area, the lodge was burnt and destroyed. It's lying abandoned since then.
As you move along, there is a spot on the right side of the road from where you can get a view of the Senchal Lake down below which is part of a sanctuary. It's better to view it on your return as then it would be on your left. You can easily combine a visit to the lake or even a day's picnic there following a visit to Tiger Hill.
As you drive up, you will see a temple on the left and another one on the right. The one on the left is that of Durga devi (known as Sincheal Singh Devi Dham) and the one on the right is of Lord Shanker. On your return, you can spend some time here in the tranquil temple environment and ring the hanging bells before you start your descent back to the hill town.
Sincheal Singh Devi Sthyan, Darjeeling
Soon after this point as you move towards the top of Tiger Hill, you will see another toll booth. This is where a nominal fee (Rs. 10) per vehicle is charged as entree fee to the summit. You will also need to buy a ticket if you like to watch the sunrise from the view-tower. You can also see the sunrise from the viewing area around the tower and that's free of cost. During winter it can be very cold outside but the view is unabated and much better. The tower remains closed during the daytime after the early morning viewers have left.
There are different ticket rates at the tower depending on the level. The ground level ticket rate is Rs. 20/- per person, the 1st floor is Rs. 30/- and the top floor which has comfort seating with better views is Rs. 40/-. There are chairs arranged in rows in the other floors as well. Note that the rates are only indicative and may change with time.
Tiger Hill View Tower
Within minutes you will reach the view tower. And then the Tiger Hill is all yours. You are on top of Darjeeling. From here you will get almost 360 degree view of the Darjeeling area including that of the entire Eastern Himalayan range. If you look towards north, you will see the landscape of Darjeeling Town. And in the background is the stupendous snowy range.
Tiger Hill viewing area outside the Tower
Just before the sun comes up, the peaks begin to emerge. It's hard to take your eyes off the dazzling snow peaks of Kanchenjunga, that has five treasure peaks of the snow, the highest of those being 28,169 ft (or 8,586 meters) which is the third highest peak of the world.
On a clear day if the mist doesn't play foul, you can even see the world's highest peak Mount Everest 29,029 ft (8,848 meters) which lies about 225km away and also the Mount Makalu 27,769 ft (8,464 meters). About 135km away is the Tibet's Chomol Hari Mountain which is said to be world's most beautiful peak. And then the sun rises above the horizon a little away from the peaks. What more! During sunrise as you watch these wonders in the horizon, they serve you hot tea in plastic cups.
On your way back, drop in at the Batasia Loop. Right outside, there are stalls set up early in the morning by the locals selling hot samosas (a kind of stuffed and fried dumplings) specifically for tourists returning from the Tiger Hill. You would be hungry by now and samosas or singaras are just a great way to continue the treat of the day. By the way, many tourists specifically those from Kolkata who know about this, keep it as a 'must have' in their agenda for the day.
Tiger Hill Open Hours
Daily, from early morning wee hours until sunset.
How to reach Tiger Hill
Tiger Hill is 11km (6.8 miles) away from the Darjeeling Town and above the Ghoom area. After the Ghoom station, you will need to take the narrow uphill Senchal road on the right. It takes about 40 minutes from Darjeeling town to reach to the summit by car. You can either book your own car or take a shared jeep that leaves from the Club Side Taxi stand at the base of Nehru Road and below the Mall. There are shared jeeps and taxis leaving from Chowk Bazaar area as well.
1) Check out Ghoom & Its Map to see the way to Tiger Hill.
2) Visit Darjeeling Tourist Places to know about all the great places & attractions in Darjeeling
By Raj Bhattacharya
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