The Queen of Hills might be in a turbulent internal strife at the moment but if you're making a mistake of shoving Darjeeling out of your travel itinerary, then you're doing just that. Making a very big mistake.
Darjeeling will vow you with it's beauty in every step of the way. If hill stations are gems in the Indian map, then Darjeeling is definitely the brightest and rarest diamond.
A soothing colonial charm envelopes the youthful vigour of the peaks which scream adventure. The backdrop of a snow covered Kanchenjunga to your modest wooden cottage makes up for the perfect scenery. Of course, at Darjeeling, every nook and corner is picture perfect. Be it the quiet of Kurseong, the hustle and bustle of Siliguri or the contrast of both at the tourist attraction of Mirik, Darjeeling caters to every kind of traveller.
To start with, the Himalayan toy train will accompany you through the winding path up the hills as you slowly accustom yourself to the altitude and the mind-blowing view. A ride on the toy train is an absolute must for the first time visitor because it gives you a headstart into this scintillating hill tation as it makes its way through a Bollywood favourite Sukna into the apltly named sleepy monastery town of Ghoom, passing the steepest gauge at The Agony Point between Tindharia(The Three Ridges) and Gayabari. Later, you'll encounter the most breathtaking Batasia Loop which is considered to be the midpoint in the whole train trek. Not for nothing did Mark Twain say, "It is the most enjoyable day I have spent on earth" after a DHR(Darjeeling Himalayan Railway) ride.
From the plains of Siliguri which is a shopaholic's paradise, trek through the forest covered tracks of Sukna. Brace for a panoramic view of the white peaks as you drive through the hairpin turns and narrow roads. The main rod divides into two, one embarks towards Kurseong, the other to Mirik.
Mirik is home to a monastery, the embodiment of peace and love. Find your inner Zen there. If trekking is your call, then head over to the Swiss Cottage on the top of the opposite hill. The path is steep and risky enough to give you an adrenaline rush. If you're longing for some aqua adventure, head over to the Lake that covers a large expanse. Mirik undoubtedly calls for that heightened ruh of serotonin.
Kurseong, on the other hand, is a place of art. From the little "Durbin Tower" that is a park housing a telescope and two reservoirs, to Tagore's house at Mongpu, Kurseong is the one for the romantic heart.
Arriving to the main town of Darjeeling, a visit to the Keventers' is a necessity. If you haven't relished the coffee at Keventers', looking over the Kanchenjunga, you haven't known the feelings a rare cuppa can evoke. As you wind through the Darjeeling market, make a stopver at the Mall and ride a horse around the summer house of the Governor of West Bengal, a mansion in the midst of clouds, if you wish. Visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Museum to rave over the trekking gear used by Tenzing Norgay, carefully preserved till date. The Darjeeling War Memorial is one more place you'd want to see.
The Darjeeling Zoological Garden is a treat for the young and old alike. Bears, tigers, peacocks all cradled in the wilderness is a sight to relish. Pandas are the main attraction in the zoo. The animals are visibly happy and cared for in their natural habitat. A walk through the zoo itself is enough to turn you into an animal lover.
Lo and behold, the best is yet to come. A trip to the hills is incomplete without the Sunrise at Tiger Hill. This viewing point should be marked in red in your tour plan. Luck favouring, this will be the most beautiful thing you would ever see. The sun rising in all its glory, spreading out its rays unto the snow of the third highest peak in the world.As you make your way back, by the grace of a clear sky, the peak moves with you. The grandeur of the sight is what stays with you long after you have left.
Whether or not you can make it to the Makaibari Tea Estate, make sure you have laid your hands on a pack of the best, most fragrant variety of the exotic Darjeeling Tea. Neither should you miss a plate of momos. Savour a plate of steaming momos as the chilly breeze blows by. It's a fundamental duty to taste momos when you're at Darjeeling.
Even the nightscape of Darjeeling makes for a pleasant sight. The rolling hills, the colourful rhododendrons, the blanket of green, the cornucopia of tea estates all under the brilliant azure sky cradling people from Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet and India is one holiday you should never let go. Darjeeling, in one word, is stuff that dreams are made of. If you're missing out on this, you're depriving yourself pleasure of a lifetime.