I spent 5 full days in Darjeeling and explored it mostly on foot and by public transport. For some of the attractions, you will need to reserve a cab and I have listed these at the bottom of the blog post. I will attempt to give a detailed account of the places I visited and how to reach there and list the places that I couldn’t cover but may be of interest to other visitors.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute: Entrance fee- Rs. 60/person(Indian)
HMI is renowned for running mountaineering courses and while you are there, you can enquire about the courses that are offered. Apart from that there is a zoo, two museums and an indoor rock climbing facility.
The zoo has some rare and endangered species such as the snow leopard and red panda. Other animals such as the common leopard, Bengal tiger, black bear and various colorful varieties of birds and pheasants can also be seen. Other animals such as the Himalayan Tahr and the blue sheep, found in the hiher and incredibly inaccessible parts of the Himalayas could also be seen. Most of the animals were not locked in tiny cages and had space to move around.
One of the museums was about mountaineering and displayed the mountaineers who climbed the Everest in the early years and gave the history of how Everest was measured and an expedition was organised to reach the top. It also gave information on how the HMI was inducted. The museum also displays the gear used through decades for scaling peaks. A section is also dedicated to the Buddhist philosophy and important figures in Tibetan Buddhism and the inhabitants of the Himalayas.
The other museum is the Bengal Natural History museum, which we missed out on but which I have heard is also quite interesting.
There is also an indoor facility where you can practice your rock climbing skills. You can easily spend half a day at the HMI.
It is closed on Thursday.
Tenzing Rock: While you are at HMI, make sure to visit Tenzing rock, which we ended up missing because the weather got too rainy and windy.
Cable car or ropeway: Entrance fee- Rs.200/person
At the junction, the road divides into two. one leading to the gate of HMI and the other one continuing onward. If you take this other road, you will reach the cable car after about 15-20 minutes walk. A cable car seats 6 people and plies between the North Point of Darjeeling and Singla. The cable car offers beautiful views of the lush green Singla tea plantations on the hill slopes, surrounded by the high mountains on all sides. You can also see the snow capped peaks on a clear day. It’s quite a site to see the tea leaves being hand picked by the workers. Women workers pick the tea leaves because they have slender fingers. The cable car ride down and up take 40 minutes. You have to get down at the destination for 10 minutes but there is nothing to see there. I highly recommend this cable car ride.
It is closed on Thursday. The timings during peak season i.e. summers and autumn are from 10:00AM to 2:00 PM and in off season i.e. monsoons and winters are from 10:00AM to 4:00PM. This is because more people queue up to ride the cable car during peak seasons so the sale of tickets is closed off early.
Mahakal Temple: As you enter chowraasta from the direction of the clock tower, take the road that exits right on to a street where cars aren’t allowed. This street will lead you to the Mahakal temple, do ask someone along the way for it though because you might miss the narrow lane that goes up to it.
This temple is special because it has elements of both Hinduism and Buddhism and Hindu priests and Buddhist monks chant their respective prayers until about midday simultaneously in the main temple. Prayer flags, a Buddhist element adorn and protect the temple while metal bells are present at the threshold of the main temple and the smaller temples around. The main temple has Buddhist deities on one hand and the Hindu deities on the other and is surrounded by the prayer wheels, another element of the Tibetan Buddhism. In both the religions, you walk around the temple in a clockwise direction. I found the temple unique and fascinating. The views from the temple are also very beautiful.
Kanchenjunga view point: Now if you continue on the road that I mentioned above, you will see snow clad peaks on a clear day.
One of them is Mount Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. The walk is pleasant and scenic, even if you are not lucky to spot the peaks.
Japanese temple and Peace Pagoda: The cab drivers will assure you that it is too far and not at a walkable distance but if you are used to walking, you can certainly walk till here. On our way, we found a number of cars blocking the road but this was probably because of the upcoming elections. The way to the temple is otherwise quite scenic. As you enter the premises, you will first reach the temple, a simple building and you can spot the peace Pagoda at a distance of about 50 m. It is a three storied stupa and depicts eight important events from the life of Gautam Buddha, including enlightenment, defeat of Mara and the attainment of Nirvana.
Everyday from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM, visitors can attend and participate in the prayer. All visitors are given a drum, the same size and thickness as of a frying pan, with a handle and a stick and are guided by a Buddhist monk or nun to beat it to the rhythm of the chant. We were also told how to chant and it was an immersive and peaceful experience.
Toy train: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway better known as the toy train runs between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. Another train for tourists runs from Darjeeling to Ghoom, through the Batasia loop and back. The train is pulled by either a steam engine or a diesel engine. In peak season. you may have to book it beforehand in order to secure a seat.
We took the train that was powered by diesel and it cost Rs 805/person. The steam engine train is almost twice as expensive.
I must admit that the train ride must have been very enjoyable and scenic at a time when the construction was not so rampant, however, the only scenic part now is close to the Batasia loop. The train stops at Ghoom station for about half an hour and you can visit the rail museum there. It gives information about intangible cultural heritage and their preservation and how the railway line was built and its history.
Ghoom: About half an hour away from Darjeeling, Ghoom is situated at a higher altitude than Darjeeling. You can go to Ghoom for a day trip. It is best known for sunrise at Tiger Hill. We trekked to the top. To read more about Ghoom and Tiger hill trek, follow the link below:
Kalimpong: About 2 hours away from Darjeeling, Kalimpong can be done as a day trip or you can chose to spend more time there. I stayed there for two days. To see the points of interest in Kalimpong, follow the link below:
Miscellaneous: There are some points of interest outside Darjeeling for which you will need to book a cab. Apart from the places I have mentioned, the other places are mentioned in the picture posted below. I clicked it at the cab drivers’ union office. Rock garden has some waterfalls and is a picnic spot. Mirik lake is about 35km from Darjeeling.
Sandakphu trek: This scenic trek that goes through India and Nepal is six days long and can be done all year round. You stay in home stays along the way. Amazing views of Kanchenjunga and Everest can be seen along the way. You pass through the Singalila National Park which has some endangered species, like the red panda and can see many birds along the way. I am quite keen on doing this trek the next time I visit.