WINE & DINE
Darjeeling in Monsoon
So is monsoon a great time to plan a trip to Darjeeling? If you want a single line answer from me, I'd have to say... 'depends on eyes of the beholder'. It's a fact that vast majority of tourists won't even look at Darjeeling as a tourism option in Monsoon.
Why? Because it rains almost incessantly during this time and you can hardly see the sky, leave alone the sun. That is not to say that the sun does not appear at all. It does, but not probably when you are prepared to take a great camera shot and by the time you are, it disappears.
Monsoon in Darjeeling essentially sets in from June and continues till August and sometimes beyond. You may even encounter showers during May and October.
Another reason why most tourists avoid the time is because they all come here to view the Kanchenjunga snow peaks. Unless you are strangely lucky, you won't be able to view that because the sky remains mostly cloudy or the day remains too foggy for such views. Another negative about monsoon...
Sorry I'm pouring in only negatives for now, but just hold on till I finish the apparent facts and then I'll come to the sides not easily known or felt by the tourists.... So the other negative... during this time there is not much point taking local sightseeing tours. Because from most of the view points you will only see fog, rains and cloud.
Sometimes there are also landslides in Darjeeling during monsoon which may cut off some road routes. But that is usually not a big problem because one can usually take alternative routes. However that may take lot more time to reach the destination due to road conditions and traffic. Very seldom there has been a disaster out of landslides.
Now the Positives...
All those negatives I mentioned so far are only for the chicken hearted persons or those who can't see a vacation beyond sunny days, tours and views, and can not accept a change. Let me tell you that I have seen Darjeeling through many different seasons and monsoon in Darjeeling is as dear to my heart as any other season.
Here is why...
First of all, there are no tourists. The entire hill town looks so serene, and the trees and the forests so green. The sound of the rain drops falling on the tinned roof of the cottages create such an intimate and romantic atmosphere that is so unique! Well you need to have bit of a romantic heart to appreciate that :)
Watching the drizzle on a rainy day in Darjeeling
But one of the most wonderful sights of Darjeeling during monsoon is the play of the mist or the fog. You can see the mist coming and covering the entire place with a foggy white blanket. You can't see anything even a yard away. And suddenly in no time, it's all gone. It gets bright and clear once again, leaving behind stretches of moist roads and landscapes.
I took the above two pictures in Monsoon from Windamere Hotel in Observatory Hill located just above the Mall. The scene change took place within few seconds. This is Darjeeling in Monsoon! Sun and the mist play such unbelievable hide and seek all through the day.
Another great sight that I love during monsoon is of school children in their oversized raincoats and wearing gum boots (up to knee level) with colorful umbrellas, some of them trying to squeeze in with the other under the same umbrella while torrential rain almost drenching them both.
When you settle in for a while and look at the locals, you realize that rainy days are just another normal day in the hill town when business is carried out as usual. All shops and establishments remain open even if there is continuous pouring. Just take an umbrella and you are all set. After all unlike in the plains, water logging does not take place in hilly terrain. If you drive down the streets like the Hill Cart Road, you will see many springs & waterfalls with roaring gush of snow white water in their full flow that you can rarely see any other time.
If you like to take home one of the greatest posters of a misty morning in Darjeeling, then see the picture below. It captures a mystic Darjeeling with two men taking a stroll along the Mall road in shades and lights of a foggy morning and just after the rains. You will get this fantastic poster at Das Studio located on Nehru Road that leads to the Mall. It's one of their greatest and oldest collections. It's magical and I have it framed up on the wall of my living room.
Foggy Mall Road, Darjeeling
Courtesy Das Studio
I myself tried to take a picture of the same place on a misty morning during a recent monsoon. You can see it below and compare. Of course I don't have the two mystical men in my picture and with time taking its toll, the trees and vegetation around do not look exactly the same.
Darjeeling Mall Road in Monsoon, My Picture
Things I love to do in Darjeeling during monsoon:
1) Go down to Keventer's in the morning, walk upstairs and take a seat by a window-side table indoor. Order for some sandwiches, meatloaf or sausages and Darjeeling tea. There are couple of tables facing the valley and others facing the road. Take a sip, bite the sandwich and relish the misty view of the valley that takes you to a trans state. Or look at the road below and simply enjoy how so many colorful umbrellas cross each other as the rain falls from above.
2) Go down to Sunset Lounge in Chowraste Mall. Again take a valley view table, order for fine Darjeeling tea, listen to some great music and read a book while enjoying the scene of rain fall on the valley. If I have my laptop with me, this is a great time to catch up with mails or be on a chat with friends. Wi-Fi internet is free in the lounge.
3) Go down to a Monastery in the morning or late afternoon and join the prayers with the lamas. With the Buddhist chants, rings of the bells and a true sacred ambience, it feels heavenly as if I'm one of them and one of real Darjeeling.
On this day of monsoon,
I was on my way to Bhutia Busty Monastery
4) Enter one of my favorite shops (could be a curio shop or a studio, or just a tea stall) and chat with the owner. Other times these locals have no time to spare due to high tourist demands. Now they have all their time and smiles to offer. The time flies as we get into discussions about life in Darjeeling, its future, the political shape it might take and lot more.
5) If it's not raining heavily, I would Drive down towards Mirik and enjoy the lovely tea gardens in the mist, spend the day with the nature and come back.
For me, It has always been a pure bliss to be in Darjeeling during Monsoon.
Places you can visit in monsoon
Here are some indoor places in Darjeeling which you can visit and enjoy even during monsoon. You should ideally take a reserved car and carry an umbrella.
1) Bengal Natural History Museum - flora & fauna of the region.
2) Japanese Temple & Peace Pagoda - Needs some walk from the main entrance.
3) Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center - need to walk between various workshops.
4) Some of the great monasteries - some will require walks.
5) Ava Art Gallery - great collections of paintings and artwork.
6) Hayden Hall - an institute working for the underprivileged and has a sales outlet.
Some practical advantages of visiting Darjeeling in monsoon
1) Almost all hotels offer lower rates;
2) The service in hotels get vastly improved as there are far lesser guests to entertain;
3) The water shortage which is so prevalent during high season is almost non-existent during monsoon as demand comes down substantially;
4) The cab drivers also offer lower rates, again due to lack of demand;
5) You don't need to queue up for a table in restaurants;
5) Nature at its best ... green and lush foliage.
Some facts about monsoon in Darjeeling
June, July and August are usually the peak monsoon time in Darjeeling although it can stretch well beyond to September. The average temperature during monsoon ranges between 13°C to 19°C. However in the evening and at night, the temperature can fall and it can get quite cold. During monsoon time, the humidity in Darjeeling remains at its highest levels and can easily go past 90% of saturation. You should carry light woolens or warm clothes, particularly for the evenings and early mornings.
So coming back to the original question... is it a great time to visit Darjeeling during monsoon? I would have to say again... 'It really depends on eyes of the beholder'.
1) Check out Darjeeling Weather to know more about the weather conditions in Darjeeling and neighboring areas during the various months.
By Raj Bhattacharya
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