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The Queen of Hill Stations!

  • Submitted by: Carol Nettar
  • Submission Date: 02nd May 2008

My wife and I got the opportunity to visit the Queen of Hill Stations, Darjeeling, “The Land of the Thunderbolt”, in 2006. We had been looking forward for a good, relaxing break and Darjeeling turned out to be our best vacation till date!!! I will share some of our experiences with all of you.

We had gone to Bhutan in December 2005, celebrated the new year there and then traveled to Kalimpong and Darjeeling in January 2006. Kalimpong is a small town before Darjeeling. Kalimpong is good for relaxing and nothing else. Not much sight seeing there.

We traveled to Darjeeling by taxi from Kalimpong. The view on the way was amazing. There were so many tea estates on the way. The narrow road leading to Darjeeling is very dangerous. There are lots of hairpin bends, blind curves, etc. Make sure you call an experienced driver for the trip.

We saw the mighty and majestic Himalayas again. We have seen the Himalayas in Bhutan and in Himachal, during our honeymoon in Shimla and Manali. The view of the Himalayas takes my breath away each and every time. The sheer beauty and grandeur of the mighty Himalayas makes me feel so nostalgic every time I see it! And I thank God for giving me the wonderful opportunity to be closer to him (height wise!!!!)

It was my dream to travel by toy train to Darjeeling, but we were so tired after the bone-jarring trip from Bhutan, that we decided to go by road, as it was much faster. The train travel takes a lot of time and we had to take the road way. The train tracks and the road run close to each other. School children can be found taking joy rides on the train. They jump on and off the train with so much expertise. The train chugs along through markets and houses at just about 10 km per hour. Vehicles on the road stop for the train to cross the road at many points.

We came across Ghum just before reaching Darjeeling. It is the highest railway station in India at an altitude of over 7000 ft. The town’s major attraction is the Sampten Choling Monastery. It has a 15 ft statue of Buddha. The famous Batasia Loop is also in Ghoom. There is a war memorial in Batasia Loop in honor of our soliders, who have laid down their lives. The view of the memorial is wonderful, with the mighty Himalayas acting as the perfect background.

We reached Darjeeling by evening and immediately checked into a good hotel. All types of accommodation are available near the Mall road. Darjeeling is a tourist’s and trekker’s dream destination. There are so many ways to explore Darjeeling, but the best and the most effective way, is by foot. We spent the entire evening exploring the Mall road and the city. The Mall road is very clean and tidy. We did a lot of shopping there. I bought my first Khukri from the Mall and it was my constant companion from then on. Khukri is the traditional weapon of the Goorkhas and it is extremely sharp and effective for self defense. We had our dinner from the Shangrila restaurant in the Mall. The temperature was freezing in the evening.

We visited the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, The Everest Museum and The Padmaja Naidu Zoo the next day. They are situated in the same compound. Many courses of varying duration are conducted for aspiring mountaineers in the Mountaineering institute by experts and the Indian army also participates in their training. The mountaineering equipments used by Tenzing and Hillary can be seen in the Everest Museum. This museum is a Must-see for all. There is so much to see and learn there.

We saw the Red Panda, The Snow Leopard, found only in Ladakh and the Tibetan Snow Wolves and the Siberian Tiger for the first time in our lives. We were informed by our guide that this is only place in the world, where Snow Leopards and Tibetan Wolves were bred in artificial environment. It was really a wonderful experience seeing these beautiful creations of God. I still cannot forget the Himalayan Black Bear and the Golden Pheasant. They were so very beautiful.

We arranged a cab for us to visit Tiger Hill the next day. It is one of the most famous tourist spots in Darjeeling. We left our hotel by 4.30 am to see the sun rise in Tiger Hill. The temperature was below freezing and we were packed from head to toe in warm clothes and jackets.

As the first rays of the sun crept through the Himalayas, at the crack of dawn, we saw Mount Kanchenjunga and we were extremely lucky to see Mount Everest. We were told that there were clouds covering the peak for the past 4 days and the peaks were not visible.

Later that day we visited the Japanese Buddhist temple. It is a wonderful work of architecture. The towering Buddha Pagoda is awesome. The temple is covered by lots of trees on all sides and the early morning sunrays falling on the temple, through the trees was an amazing sight.

We then visited St. Joseph’s School, where the Shah Rukh Khan starrer “Main Hoon Na” was shot. The school was very beautiful and if I had a chance, I would definitely join St. Joseph’s to do my schooling again!!! The church in the school premises is very beautiful and the Himalayas act as the background for the church.

We also visited the Ganga Maiyya Park, Happy Valley Tea Garden and the Rock Garden. The famous Darjeeling Tea can be bought here. The prices are high, but the tea is superb. Darjeeling tea is much stronger than any other tea and is famous the world over. Makaibari tea produced in Kurseong holds the world record for the costliest tea @ Rs. 22,000/- per kg. I have come across articles stating that Darjeeling Tea was sold for Rs. 50,000 per Kg.

The local community in Darjeeling is a mix of Goorkhas, Tibetans, Sikkimese, Anglo Indians, Chinese, Biharis, etc. Nepali is the dominant language, though Hindi, English and Bengali are also widely spoken and understood.

We spent four days in Darjeeling, trekking and exploring different places. It has been one of the most wonderful holidays of my life.