DARJEELING – The name Darjeeling is believed to have originated when monks of the Bhutia Busty monastery referred to the region as "Dorjé-ling", meaning the Land of the Thunderbolt.
Darjeeling is often referred to as the QUEEN OF HILL STATIONS. It is located in the state of West Bengal in the Mahabharat Range or Lesser Himalaya at an average elevation of 6,710 ft (2,050 m).
It is internationally renowned as a tourist destination, along with its tea industry and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It conjures visions of snow peaks, serenity of vibrant green hills steeped in splendor, a land of breathtaking beauty crowned by the majestic Himalayas. This heavenly retreat is bathed in hues of every shade. Flaming red rhododendrons, sparkling white magnolias, miles of undulating hillsides covered with emerald green tea bushes, the exotic forests of silver fir - all under the blanket of a brilliant azure sky dappled with specks of clouds, compellingly confounds. The crest of Kanchenjunga shining in the first dawn light truly supports the title.
Excursion to Mirik
MIRIK (elevation 1,767 m) is another tiny hill resort easily accessible from Siliguri, Kurseong or Darjeeling. The centerpiece of the town is the Sumendu Lake where boating (on direct payment) under the serene gaze of Khangchendzonga makes for a most relaxing pastime. Rameetay Dara and Deosi Dara are two elevated points near the lake from where the view is terrific. Apple orchards and tea gardens are other attractions.
More correctly known as Yogachoeling Gompa, this is probably the most famous monastery in Darjeeling and is about 8 km south of town, just below Hill Cart road and the train station near Ghoom. It enshrines an image of the Maitreya Buddha. Foreigners are allowed to enter the shrine and take photographs. As Ghoom is frequently swathed in mists, and the monastery is old and dark, it is often affectionately called Gloom monastery.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute & Museum
About two km from the town, the HMI runs courses to train mountaineers, and maintains a couple of interesting museums. The Mountaineering Museum contains a collection of historic mountaineering equipment, specimens of Himalayan flora and fauna and a relief model of the Himalaya. The Everest Museum next door traces the history of attempts on the great peak.
Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who conquered Everest with Edmund Hillary in 1953, lived in Darjeeling and was the director of the institute for many years. He died in 1986 and his statue now stands beside cremation spot just above the institute.
Himalayan Zoological Park
This zoo was established in 1958 with the objectives of study, conservation and preservation of Himalayan fauna. The animals are well cared by dedicated keepers. To protect and breed the dwindling stocks of wild animals, to educate the public and instill in them a sense of the worth of these wonderful creatures, it is necessary to keep them in pseudo-natural habitats. The zoo houses India's only collection of Siberian tigers and some rare species, such as the red panda and the Tibetan wolf.
While in Darjeeling a visit to any nearby Tea Garden to watch the actual process of the manufacturing of Darjeeling Tea is worth it. Some of the Tea Gardens also sell their packet teas. There are about 70 tea gardens in this hill region.
Tea is grown at an altitude ranging from 600 to 2000 meters above mean sea level and requires a minimum of 50" to 60" of rainfall in a year and for this Darjeeling did not lack. The cool and moist climate, the soil, the rainfall and the slopping terrains all combine to give Darjeeling tea its unique "Muscatel flavour" and "Exquisite Banquet". The combination of natural factors gives Darjeeling tea its unique distinction not found anywhere else in the world. Thus, it is the most sought after and highly valued.
Tibetan Refugee Centre
Established in 1959, the centre comprises a home for the aged, and orphanage, school, hospital and craft workshops that produce carpets of pure ladakhi wool, woodcarving, leather work and wool items. The weaving and dyeing shops and the wood carving shop are particularly interesting.
The highest spot in the area at 2590m, Tiger Hill is near Ghoom, about 11km from Darjeeling. The hill is famous for its magnificent dawn views over Kanchenjunga and other eastern Himalayan peaks. On a clear day even Mount Everest is visible.
Toy Train ride (upto Ghoom)
A visit to Darjeeling is incomplete without a ride in the toy-train of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR). The miniature train, given heritage status by UNESCO, covers the distance of 88 km between New Jalpaiguri station and Darjeeling. This fascinating narrow gauge steam engine train still operates with the original steam engine and the loops and the zigzags along the route are remarkable feats of engineering. The Short journey from Darjeeling town to Ghoom (the nearest station), becomes a joy ride in itself. The Toy Train is considered an engineering marvel and some prefer to call it one of the wonders of the world, to be preserved forever.