So how do you define the place Darjeeling?
In short, Darjeeling is one of the prettiest hill stations in India located in northern part of West Bengal. It's all about magnificent views of snowcapped Kanchenjunga, torrents flowing down the mountain slopes, lovely tea gardens, landscapes with firs, pines & ferns, and all that combined with friendly people and modern yet colonial charm.
You can find about 4,000 different types of flowering plants in Darjeeling district including rhododendrons, orchids, magnolia etc, there are some 300 types of ferns including the rare fern trees.
And if you care to go around the forested land, you can see some amazing animal life like red pandas, pangolins, yellow throated martens, barking deer as well as leopards and even elephants in their natural habitats. And of course if your vacation plan is to relax, enjoy food, do shopping and sightseeing, the friendly natives like the Nepalis, Tibetans and Lepchas will make you feel perfectly at home as you enjoy the fabulous weather and charm of the place.
Darjeeling town at night
Photo: Emmanuel Vishal Rozario
The above photograph was clicked at around 10:00 pm. Quite intriguingly, the photograph seems to be clicked during late dusk. The beautiful peach coloured haze of the night sky gives a divine aura. The bright shimmering lights, which are actually the houses, in the distance look like stars shinning in a clear night sky. The gradual downward slope gives a beautiful transitive feel as the lights slowly disappear.
Did it ever strike you in the first place how the name Darjeeling was coined? Well there are several stories behind the name. The most popular is the one that says that Observatory Hill top
(located just behind the Mall) which is the highest point in Darjeeling town, attracted lots of lightning and thunders, particularly during the monsoon season. The word 'Dorji' in Tibetan means 'Thunderbolt' and 'Ling' means 'Place'. Therefore Darjeeling was so named to mean 'The place of thunderbolt'.
Another story says that Tibetan monks built a monastery atop the Observatory Hill in 1763. The name of the chief monk of the monastery was Rinzing Dorji Legden La. The Tibetans named the place after him... Dorji-Ling meaning 'Place of Dorji', and hence the name Darjeeling. In Sanskrit, the word "Durjay Ling" means "Shiva of invincible prowess who rules the Himalayas." The name Darjeeling could have also been derived from this.
Kanchenjunga Towering Over Darjeeling
History & Development of Darjeeling
History of Darjeeling dates back to 1700s when it was part of Sikkim under the Raja. It was later taken over by the Gorkhas from Nepal. The Britsh restored Sikkim from the Nepalese in early 1800s and carved Darjeeling out of Sikkim to create a sanitarium (or a health resort) for the British troops and Europeans. But the real development of the area started only in 1866 when Darjeeling made steady progress in the area of agriculture, communication, education and power.
Read: History of Darjeeling
to know about how a deserted land of mountains and forest became a sprawling health resort for the British and later a top tourist destination.
Darjeeling is part of the state of West Bengal in India and located at the northern part of the state. If you are looking for the coordinates (i.e. Latitude and Longitude) of Darjeeling, it is: 27°3'N 88°16'E. Geographically Darjeeling is bounded on its north by the state of Sikkim, on its east by Bhutan and on its west by Nepal. It's standing on a narrow ridge that juts out to the vast basin of the grand Himalayas. From a vantage point in Darjeeling, you get the best views of Himalayan snow peaks towards north and north east.
Area and Altitude of Darjeeling
Darjeeling is actually a widespread district although the popular Darjeeling hill town is the nucleus of the place. While the hill town is quite small (about 4 square miles or 10.4 square kilometers), the district spans across some 1,215 square miles of area (i.e. about 3,149 square kilometers including Kalimpong). The district includes the town of Darjeeling, Kurseong subdivision, Mirik and the terai region (lower plains) among other areas. But commonly by 'Darjeeling', one means the Darjeeling hill town.
Kalimpong, which was earlier a subdivision of Darjeeling district, has become a separate district of West Bengal effective 14th February 2017 with an area of 1,056 sq kms of its own.
The average altitude of Darjeeling Town is 6,710 ft (i.e. about 2,045 meters). While approaching Darjeeling by road or toy train, you will need to cross the highest point of the route at Ghum
(7407 ft or 2226 meters). However the highest point or the summit in the whole of Darjeeling district is Sandakphu
(close to 12,000 ft) which also happens to be the highest altitude point in the whole of West Bengal.
The layout of Darjeeling town can be visualized as three distinct tiers or levels on the hills. And each level is connected to the other by steep narrow roads.
which is often known as the Town Center, is located at the top level. The top level is therefore the most coveted area for the tourists. This is where most popular hotels, restaurants and shops are located. You won't get a 3D map of a place, so it may be a bit difficult to comprehend the levels. However in Darjeeling Map
, you can see the Mall and the surrounding area.
The top level is essentially the whole of Nehru Road which leads up to the Mall, the Mall Road itself, and a part of Gandhi road. Although the area along Zakir Hussain Road which originates from the Mall and goes uphill towards the famous St. Pauls School is also part of the top level, but being further off from the town center, the tourist demand for this area is not as much. There are however several hotels that have come up along Zakir Hussain Road. Many hotels at the top level offer great views of the Kanchenjunga snow peaks.
The second level is essentially the area along Laden La Road which goes down and connects the top level with places like station area, Chowk Bazaar etc at the bottom level. Other areas in second level includes the places along HD Lama Road, Robertson Road etc. Here too you will find several popular hotels and shops, but not as expensive as some of those at the top level. In this middle level, you will find many Indian styled hotels and shops, some offering nice views.
The lowest level or the bottom level is where the popular Chowk Bazaar
or Lower Bazaar is located. The area is always crowded and humming with locals comprising mostly of Nepalese, Tibetans, Lepchas and Bhutias. Towards south the area extends up to the Darjeeling Station and towards north up to North Point (St Joseph's College) and Lebong. You will get several budget hotels in this area although none can actually offer good views of the peaks. From the lowest level you can walk up to the top level, it takes about 30 minutes of tedious uphill walk.
Weather comes with its different faces in Darjeeling and each season has its own unique charm. But one thing which the place offers consistently is respite from the heat and dust. Summer (May to June) is pleasant with a little chill in the air and usually has clear sky, monsoon (July to September) comes with lots of rains, fog and cloudy sky, autumn (October to November) is quite pleasant again with clear sky, while winter (December to February) is very cold but offers good visibility. The spring (March to April) is pleasantly cool and offers clear sky and view of the mountains.
Many who come from outside West Bengal wonder if Darjeeling has an airport or a railway station by itself. While Darjeeling does have a small railway station for narrow gauge toy trains, those tiny mountain trains only operate between New Jalpaiguri (located at the plains) and Darjeeling town. Actually New Jalpaiguri (also known as NJP in short) is the nearest major railway junction.
The nearest airport is at Bagdogra. So after you reach NJP or Bagdogra, there is still about 80kms uphill road distance to cover to reach Darjeeling. And it takes time to negotiate the steep hilly roads. From NJP or Bagdogra, it takes about 3 hours to reach Darjeeling town by car. Bus (from Siliguri) and shared taxis from NJP and Siliguri are also available. You can also take the toy train from NJP which moves at a snail's pace and takes about 7 hours.
People & Culture of Darjeeling
Immigrants from many neighboring states and countries have settled down in Darjeeling district. While majority of the population are Nepalis, there are many Tibetans, Lepchas and Bengalis as well. Different religions and faiths are followed in Darjeeling including Hinduism (Nepalis are mostly Hindus), Buddhism (Tibetans are mostly Buddhists), and also Christianity. It's an amazing world out there in the hills and so different from the rest of the state of West Bengal.
With large diversity in origins, the festivals celebrated by residents of Darjeeling also vary widely and follow their unique customs. And festivities and festive celebrations remain integral part of the lives of people in Darjeeling all through the year.
Diversity of culture and origins of the residents who migrated from the neighboring places like Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim, lower plains etc are prominently reflected in the ethnic or local food and beverages that you get in Darjeeling. While the popular restaurants serve usual food to cater to tourists, if you want to taste the original food like the Nepali thali, Darjeeling's original pickles, snack items like momos, or Tibetan items like Thukpa, you will need to find the proper places.
It's an amazing story why the British had to look for an alternative place to grow quality tea and then chose Darjeeling as the place. Darjeeling tea has become a world famous industry by itself. Know about its story, what are the different types of tea cultivated in Darjeeling, how it's processed, the great tea estates and how can you tour them, best stores to buy Darjeeling tea and finally how to make a cup of such aromatic tea.
DHR Toy Train - History & Present State
It's a saga that dates back to 1800s when the mountain railway in Darjeeling was conceived by the Royal engineers. They created what is recognized as engineering marvels in those days and introduced a narrow gauge railway (popularly known as the Toy Train) which provided an all important communication between the plains and Darjeeling hills.
Know about the story of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, its route, the journey, how and when the 12 small mountain stations were opened along the route between NJP and Darjeeling, and lot more.
Flowers and Plants in Darjeeling
Spring is the time to see Darjeeling hills getting covered with colorful flowers like the rhododendrons, large varieties of orchids, magnolias and more. While there are thousands of different types of plants in Darjeeling district, the most predominant in the hilly areas are the pine trees (locally known as dhupi) and in the lower plains, the Sals.
Go through the above link to know about the latest updates on Darjeeling district and Sikkim, find out latest developments, political situation, new facilities & attractions introduced, festivals & events planned, my newly explored places, and a lot more.
Car parking facilities are quite limited in Darjeeling and you can not park your car arbitrarily by the roadside... there will be police harassment and even fines. Some hotels have their own private parking facilities for guests. However most of the public car parkings are located outside the town center. Go through the link above to know about all the free and paid car parking in Darjeeling.
The meandering mountain stream Teesta originates from the glaciers and lakes of Sikkim Himalayas and then flows down through Darjeeling, other parts of West Bengal before entering Bangladesh. This section is about the course of Teesta, its main tributaries in Darjeeling district, the best view points along its course, the bridges built over the river and more with great pictures.
What does the future store for luxury tourism in Darjeeling? Does the hill town that was once well established in the luxury segment way back in the colonial days still hold the same charm and vibe for the high end visitors? Check out the link above for a discussion that was triggered by a viewer of this website.
Most who know Darjeeling also know that one of the major constraints the hill town has, is availability of water. And this has been a problem since long. Many budget and even mid-range hotels would caution the guests to use water judiciously.
But what is the reason for such perennial water scarcity? Is the capacity of main water storage of Darjeeling enough to meet all demands? Certainly not. Is the water distribution system faulty? Certainly yes and getting worse. Visit the above link to know how the residents and hotels are coping with such water scarcity.
Ray (August 2022)
Hi Raj, A couple of questions; What is the best currency to bring with me to India? Is it USD or, GBP? What amount of IRs can a visitor bring to India? Many years ago the USD was well liked in India. Is it still the case now? Finally, can I book a Toy Train from Darjeeling to Siliguri? Are the trains from Darjeeling to Kolkata safe for an 'Older Generation' passenger travelling on his own? Had to ask the last question as the 'old boys' from GMS are concerned about my train travel from Darjeeling to Kolkata. Kind regards,
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) August 2022
Hi, USD is the preferred currency in India but GBP is also okay. You will need to visit a currency exchange booth anyway (available at the International arrival halls in most Indian metro airports) to convert into INR because practically no retailers will accept foreign currency here.
There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency you can bring in, however, if it is more than US$5,000 in cash, then you need to declare that at the Indian customs by filling up a form.
Presently, the Indian Railways system (IRTCT.com) accepts only end-to-end through bookings of DHR toy trains from Darjeeling to NJP. The train usually stops at Siliguri Junction for a few minutes before heading to NJP. You can book up to NJP and get off at Siliguri. Siliguri is only 6kms away from NJP.
There is no safety issue as such while riding trains between Darjeeling and Kolkata. The only question is, whether you will like it or not. I personally don't, because, sometimes noisy and indisciplined families travel, and the washrooms often become unclean, leave aside the amount of time spent on the journey. However, your best chance to experience a comfortable journey would be in AC First Class Coaches. Regards,
Matthew Calvocoressi (April 2022)
We plan to come in early October after monsoon. I see that there are public holidays on October 2, 4, 5, (6, 7). Also school holidays October 1-11. We can’t come late October or November due to work. If we want to visit monasteries, markets, shops etc in Gangtok, Kalimpong, Pelling and Darjeeling, is it advisable to avoid the public holidays as some things might be closed on those days? I just don’t know what will be open or closed on these regional/national holidays. Thanks. Best.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) April 2022
Hello, School holidays have no impact on tourism or day-to-day businesses. While we can't specifically say what might exactly be closed on a particular national holiday, as a general rule of thumb, only the government offices & establishments, as well as banks remain closed on such days. On a few important national holidays, some of the government-operated museums and emporiums may also remain closed. However, most tourist sites and attractions including monasteries, shops, restaurants etc remain open on national holidays. Usually, public transportation also remains unaffected. You may observe a lot of crowds everywhere because both locals and tourists make the most out of these days. Best.
Abhishek (December 2021)
Hi Raj, Thank you for maintaining this Site and Forum. It is a great resource for travelers visiting Darjeeling / Sikkim. I had a quick query on the RT-PCR Requirements and would like your inputs on it, as i am not getting concrete information on it. We will be travelling from Pune to Bagdogra Airport by Air on 24 Dec.
As per latest travel guidelines, is RT-PCR Test required for Fully Vaccinated Individuals as well, for travelers coming from Maharashtra? It is not required normally for Fully Vaccinated Individuals, but due to Omicron, I read it might be required for people travelling from Maharashtra, even for Fully Vaccinated Individuals. Hence, need some clarity. Thanks.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) December 2021
Hi, fully vaccinated individuals from other states (including Maharashtra) can travel to any parts of West Bengal (including Bagdogra) without RTPCR test certificates. However, guidelines do change from time to time, so do check with your hotel at your destination for the latest guidelines.
Mohsin Ali (October 2021)
I have a 10 year old daughter. We are planning to visit Darjeeling in December. Does she required a negative RTPCR report while entering. Me and wife are both vaccinated with double doses, so we might not require.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) October 2021
All above 2 years are required to show negative RTPCR test reports (obtained within 48 hours of arrival) unless fully vaccinated. You should contact your hotel for any latest changes in guidelines.
Arpo Mukherjee (July 2021)
I wanted to come to Darjeeling from Kolkata. My first dose of vaccination is done, so is that enough or any RTPCR test required?
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) July 2021
The negative RTPCR test report is not required at present. However, it is advisable to carry your vaccination certificate.
Adrish Mukherjee (January 2021)
Dear Mr Raj Bhattacharya, Greetings of the day. Extremely grateful for sharing your vast and varied knowledge about North Bengal tourism in your website.
I am from Kolkata visiting Darjeeling on 14-17 April 2021 , just after normalisation of lockdown, along with my wife we are aged 40-45 years and moderately fit , this is our first visit to Darjeeling hence not well versed with the area, hence request your invaluable suggestions. Is toy train of Ghum available? What other major places available during this period to visit? Regards
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) January 2021
Hello, Most tourist sites in Darjeeling are gradually opening up. Toy train joyrides between Darjeeling and Ghum are operational. The Ropeway (cable car) resumed last week. HMI/Zoo are open too. Hopefully, by April it will be back to the usual state.
Since it's your first visit to Darjeeling, suggest you go through Darjeeling Trip Itineraries
where I have discussed and commented on numerous day-wise tour plans.
Sheryl (July 2019)
I am planning a visit to Darjeeling and am concerned about altitude sickness which I have experienced in Peru. Is it possible to buy a can of oxygen in Darjeeling and if so whereabouts? Thankyou for your assistance.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) July 2019
Hi, altitude of Darjeeling town is only 6,700ft and it's unlikely that you will experience any altitude problems there. However if you plan to get to higher reaches such as Sandakphu (nearly 12,000ft), there is such possibility. You won't get portable oxygen cans/cylinders in Darjeeling. You need to buy them at Siliguri (the town at the lower plains). It's 30 minute by car from Bagdogra airport/ 7-10 minute from NJP station. There are several medical accessories stores there... Rehab on Hill Cart Road (Phone: +91 9152830492), Riya Gas Agency in Meghdoot Cinema Complex, Hill Cart Road (Phone: +91 9152148710) are couple of them. Please call them and check availability before you go.
Taniya Chakraborty (Jauary 2018)
Hi Raj, First of all thank you for this informative site. i am a freelancer and have everyday work commitments. I intend to stay up there in the hills for sometime, I would like to know if I avail all my internet arrangements (jio wifi connection), would i still be able to manage network in this region ? thank you !!
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com, January 2018)
Hi, yes JIO, Vodafone, airtel, bsnl etc work in Darjeeling town (but may not work in outskirts or remote areas). Networks are mostly 3G and may be patchy at times.
Sifat (September 2015)
Hi Raj, This website is really helpful. I am planning to visit Darjeeling again on 23rd of October 2015 (the day after Dussehra). I know during puja time there will be a mad rush in Darjeeling. But will it be same after Dussehra? I do not have any idea when the puja holiday ends. Do you recommend visiting Darjeeling that time (right after puja). Many thanks.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com, September 2015)
Rush usually continues till Dewali (in November).
Goutam Kr. Bandyopadhyay (November 2014)
I belong to a small group of senior citizens who want to experience the best of flora & fauna as well as the clearest view of the Himalayas as possible at the titled location(s). I shall be deeply obliged if you let us know the month in which it would be possible to have the best of both (i.e. views of the Everest & Kanchenjunga ranges, and the forests & flowers).
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com, November 2014)
April is a good time to get best of all.