An ex-human resource professional with an MBA degree, I had always relied on my way with the word. Travelling and writing were the twin drivers of my life and soon found that I was spending all of my holidays travelling while most of my non-working hours were spent researching travel options. I decided to make my passions a part of my daily life and since then I have thoroughly enjoyed my role as a travel writer. You can also find me voraciously devouring crime thrillers or checking out the latest sale!!
Darjeeling always has a fond place in my heart despite it being increasingly overcrowded and unkempt nowadays. I have visited Darjeeling multiple times and wanted my LO (little one) to experience this charming hill town that still retains its colonial touch. This is all about managing an infant in a hill station like Darjeeling and making the most out of the trip.
Right at the start I would like to say that any journey with an infant automatically becomes longer and more complicated. There are diaper changes, snack sessions and breaks to stop cranky moods and the journey from Gangtok to Darjeeling which normally takes 4 hours took 5 hours in our case with a longish stop at Melli.
For my Darjeeling visit I wanted to stay somewhere that’s close to the mall and yet has a good view and after some deliberation I zeroed in on Shangri La Hotel and Restaurant that’s on Nehru road. Getting there was a bit troublesome as we arrived around 5 p.m. at the taxi stand and had to wait for about 15 minutes for a porter to arrive and pick up our luggage.
And after that I had to struggle with a cranky baby on one arm and an overloaded handbag on the other while running after the porter en-route the mall to the hotel. Like most small scale hotels this one too did not have a lift.
However despite the initial hiccup we totally loved the large wooden floored room (LO zoomed around on high speed on her walker) with the fireplace and windows (large ones that cover an entire wall) that would have allowed a view of the Kanchenjunga (had the weather been clear).
We quickly ordered Chinese food for lunch after feeding LO. For the record all my meals at the Shangri La were excellent and the breakfast spread was especially adorable. We couldn’t wait to start exploring the lovely town as the windows looked down upon passers-by and shops lining the Nehru road...
Darjeeling wore a festive look with Durga Maa gracing the podium on Mall road and passers by walking about with fuchsia collared tikas on their heads…we arrived here on Shashthi; the 6th day of Pujo. Shera wali, Mata Ambe and Ganesh vandana songs played on loop everywhere ….very different from the city of Joy where homogenous bollywood music is played in every kind of puja.
We however after our cursory visit to the goddess, were off to see the famous Rock Gardens. En-route we also stopped at the Orange valley tea estate where the air was fresh and tinged by the smell of tea leaves. There is a small store here from where you can purchase tea from the Orange valley estate…”most of the tea is exported abroad” the girl at the counter airily informed me.
Rambling around the Rock Garden was a pleasurable experience and it was good to see the eco-park so well maintained and clean. The total round trip took us some 4 to 5 hours. After that it was again time for lunch at Glenarys where we enjoyed chicken au gratin and garlic bread. It was nice to see the staff so friendly and accommodating about all my special requests “hardboiled egg”, “doubly boiled rice” and so my little one had her very first lunch at Glenarys …the first of many future ones.
The evening was spent walking around the Mall (aka Chowrasta) and staring at the famous city sights like the clock tower and visiting the Big Bazaar area on Ladenla road. Of course the staring was done from the roof of Keventers while we slurped away on the iconic milkshake. It was rather disheartening to see that the clock on the tower had stopped.
The town in itself wore a burdened look though I could see fresh signage at points and there is a big refurbishment and re-design project slotted for Darjeeling. However the scenic beauty, charming buildings and the bewitching ambience of its lesser traveled roads are still intact.
The Joyride on the famous Darjeeling toy train was on top of my activity list this time. After two failed attempts to book tickets (timing did not match and seats were full), we finally managed to secure a ride on the 12.45 double coached train. It’s advisable to book tickets in advance from the IRCTC site ….the train is almost always packed in season time and the people at the booking counter are neither too interested in providing information nor are they fast.
However the Darjeeling station has been adorned with lots of signage and useful bulletins that conveys historical data as well as current travel times, fares etc quite efficiently. I quickly took photos of the train schedules on my phone and stored them for future reference.
The joyride was a joy as the train swirled its way around the Batasia Loop and then moved towards Ghoom. LO was visibly scared by the loud engine whistles so we had to shift our seats to somewhere as far away from the engine as possible….a useful tip to remember if you are travelling with babies as they have super sensitive ears.
The rest of the journey was beautiful and we got to rest our backs for two precious hours and LO enjoyed staring out of the window at the lovely scenery and wildflowers and the shops that sometimes seem to just spill on the railway lines. In Batasia Loop the train halts for 10 minutes (photography and tea) and in Ghoom the train halts for half an hour (enough for a quick DHR Railway Museum visit and momo snack).
Railway Museum is undergoing a facelift and devoting at least 10 minutes to appreciate the exhibits there is recommended. If you are quick then a perfunctory visit to the Ghoom Monastery is also possible. Temperatures in Batasia Loop and Ghoom are much lower and it’s windy so take extra woollens. It’s unfortunate that Ghoom station waiting room (that has got a fresh coat of paint) and signage is still so ill maintained in terms of hygiene.
After some shopping we relaxed with a hot cup of Darjeeling tea at Fiesta where the view is great and LO had a great time staring at our reflections in the glass ceiling. I could see new updated menus at Fiesta ….right now it serves everything from Kashmiri Kahwa tea to chicken biryani to momos to vegetarian thalis.
Getting to the Darjeeling station from mall road/ Nehru road is an expensive affair where the taxi drivers charge 200 INR for a one way ride. It’s convenient to walk though as we discovered as the entire road is downhill and even with my LO (little one) we reached the station by walking.
Getting back is logically more difficult and takes more time though it can be done in 20 minutes if you are reasonably fit. Look out for the dilapidated yet beautiful Batuk house that’s on the way…my photography attempts were all seriously hindered by LO.
The number of vehicles plying the roads nowadays is astounding…its highly recommended for everyone to wear a dust prevention mask while walking through the narrow dusty roads. You can get one from the street vendors here for about 50 INR. Once you are out of the town fill up your lungs with the clean fresh oxygen.
Shop at the Mall Road and Nehru Road if you are looking for lovely woollen wear, Kashmiri embroidery ponchos, dresses, bags, shoes and woollen material. The Darjeeling Mall Market and Mahakal Market (two sides of the Darjeeling mall podium) are both street shopping hotspots which offer exciting opportunities for bargain hunters (shop for souvenirs here).
Chowk Bazaar is another place where the locals shop and if you can bear the rush…give it a shot. Things to pick up from Darjeeling (which by the way is far cheaper from Gangtok) are silver/ semi-precious metal jewellery, thangkas, nepali beaded jewellery, woollens, shawls, scarves, stoles and some really hard to find books and postcards about the Himalayas from the book shop near Mall road. For my LO I brought a dream catcher (it was a treat to watch a local guy make it from scratch), jackets, caps, scarves and dresses.
Unending supply of mineral water…the water quality here is dubious so be very careful.
Ear muffs…there is a real barking dog problem in Darjeeling and even adults would need to cover their ears for a good night’s sleep. And buy a dust prevention mask too.
Target the early morning times (around 7.00 a.m.) for a nice long walk…sit on the benches around the mall and feed the pigeons and watch kids skate around. The tea sellers are also around and it’s nice, peaceful and uncrowded.
Sample the local food…it’s delicious and fresh and in peak season the vendors provide good respite from the restaurants that are packed to capacity. On Nehru road there was a strip of vendors that started right outside of hotel Bellevue …they sold everything from momo to chicken wings to chaat to noodles and soup. Don’t even think of feeding any of it to your baby though.
Locals and their babies provided a super fun source of entertainment. LO who is shy around unknown people back in Kolkata had a field time here playing with the colourfully dressed kids and climbed into the laps of friendly locals happily….guess the hills appealed to her a lot.