About Darjeeling

Darjeeling is a town located in the Shiwalik hills in the Himalayan region of West Bengal. The weather in Darjeeling is pretty cool since it is situated at a height of 2128 meters above sea level. This is yet another town which served as a summer capital for the British looking for a get away from the scorching temperatures of the plains. There was a time when the vicinity of Darjeeling was sporadically governed by Sikkim and the kingdom of Nepal. There are reports that confirm that Darjeeling was linked with Nepal, Bengal, Sikkim and Bhutan. The early settlers here were the Lepcha clans who had a sprinkling of villages hither and thither. In the year 1835, the British made a deal with the Chogyal of Sikkim to lease the area.

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In 1841, it was the British who tried their hand at cultivating tea in Darjeeling. The tea estates we see there now are the product of their efforts. Darjeeling was integrated with West Bengal when India gained independence in 1947. Masses of Tibetan refugees made a home in Darjeeling when the Chinese invaded Tibet in the year 1950. Darjeeling has seen a lot of upheaval in the past but peace has been restored now. Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain is visible on clear days. The foremost peak which can be seen is the world’s third-highest peak, Mount Kanchenjunga.

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Darjeeling is known as tremor prone region. Darjeeling experienced a titanic earthquake in 1898, which is named the Darjeeling Disaster. The temperature varies from season to season here. Darjeeling has seen a high temperature of 26.7 degrees Celsius and a low of – 5 degrees Celsius. Darjeeling has five seasons. These are spring, summer, autumn, winter and monsoons.

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The closest airport is at Bagdogra, which is at a distance of 90 kilometers. This is in Siliguri on the plains. Buses, taxis and jeeps are available to take you to Darjeeling from Kolkata, Kathmandu, Siliguri, Kalimpong and Sikkim. For a once in a lifetime experience you must take the New Jalpaiguri-Darjeeling toy train. The miniature train will take you on your splendid voyage from New Jalpaiguri or Siliguri up to Darjeeling. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the foremost, and even today it is the most remarkable model of Passenger Railway in the Hills. The trip takes a long ten hours. One could opt to go by road part of the way and experience the train journey for rest of the way. The train is available everyday. The train is grounded during the monsoons. The railhead between Darjeeling and Siliguri has been conferred with the status of being a World Heritage Site. There is only one other Railway conferred with this status, the Semmering Railway in Austria. The pleasing journey is a sight beyond compare.

Map of Darjeeling

Below is the map of Darjeeling, in West Bengal. Use the scroller to zoom as per your preference.
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Videos of Darjeeling

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

A “B” class tank engine heads northwards on the narrow-gauge railway that connects New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling in northern India.

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Sunrise

A beautiful sunrise video taken from Tiger Hill. This is a long one and very beautiful, with a sweet song in the background. You can also see the peak of Kanchenjunga turned golden with the luminous light.

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Darjeeling Sahar:

A Darjeeling Loco to music. DHR 19 B has travelled far. It was acquired for private use on a family estate in Lake Forest, Illinois, USA, in 1960, and then transferred to the Hesston Steam Museum, Indiana, USA, in 1982. It was damaged by fire in 1985, repaired, but then taken out of commission in 1987. In 2003 it was purchased by Adrian Shooter for the private 2′ Beeches Light Railway in Oxfordshire, England, and underwent a complete restoration to working order at the Tyseley Locomotive Works in 2004.

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Darjeeling tea estate

This shows the fields and a factory which is typical of Darjeeling, India. You can see the process of brewing tea in this video.

And one more…!

The tea plantations and some great sights… check it out for some surprise pics!

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Adventure and shopping in Darjeeling

Interested in the history of mountaineering? Want to learn the basics of mountaineering? No fear. You have arrived at the correct place. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and museum is right here in Dargeeling. It is on Jawahar Road, which is 2 kilometers out of town. The Mountaineering Museum has a compilation of historic mountaineering equipment and specimens of Himalayan flora and fauna. You will find details of attempts on the great Mount Everest. For many years, the director of the institute here was Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who conquered Everest with Edmund Hillary. He was an inhabitant of Darjeeling and he is also cremated near this institute. Today his statue stands here. Adolf Hitler had presented a Zeiss telescope to the Nepalese Maharaja. You can catch the Kunchenjunga at close range through this telescope.

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Another adventure you can embark upon is white water rafting. This is a relatively new sport in the Darjeeling Hills. The dare-devils love it here as the mighty River Teesta and Rangeet’s tumultuous currents are a terrifying challenge. The intensity of the rapids is different at different spots so the meek could try the spots with less intensity. The young and old alike love the exciting view even as they snake down the river.

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We suggest you carry suntan or sunscreen lotion, a pair of shorts, an extra pair of footwear and an extra set of clothes. People with serious health problems,weak hearts and epileptics should not try this sport.

Other than tea people find other things they like to shop for. Most of your shopping will be done at Chowrasta where you will find a majority of the shops are along Nehru Road. There are several interesting things you can buy here. All Himalayan items are available over here. Things like wood carvings, woven fabrics, carpets, jewelry, thankas, religious objects and brass statues etcetera. You have to be a shrewd shopper if you want bargains. If you spend some time looking you will surely find things at your price.

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If you are looking for the good quality brass statues, you won’t find them on the counters. They are stored under the counter. They will only bring them out if you let them know what you want and that you are willing to pay for it.

If you are looking for good woodcarvings then you should head for the market off Hill Cart Road, which is next to the taxi stand. You will also find umbrellas made from bamboo, woolen sweaters at cheap prices over here.

The cheapest place to get hold of Tibetan carpets is at Haydon Hall on Laden La Road.

Darjeeling tea

Tea is a multi million industry in Darjeeling. There is a vast demand for Darjeeling tea. Darjeeling is famous for being the best tea producer in the world. Some of the teas estates here is very high quality. It attracts the highest prices at auctions. The climatic conditions play a big part in the production of fine tea; still the ultimate outcome depends on a complex drying process.

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When the tea leaves have been picked, the fresh green leaves are kept 15 to 25 centimeters deep in a drying trough. Here the moisture content is reduced from 70% and 80% to 30% and 40%. This is done using high-velocity fans. When this process of drying is completed, the leaves are rolled and pressed to break the cell walls and squeeze out their juices onto the surface of the leaves. By and large it is rolled at two different pressures, and in between the rolling the leaves are sifted to split the coarse leaves from the fine. Then the leaves which are coated with their juices are allowed to ferment on racks in a very humid room. This process develops their characteristic aroma and flavor. This fermentation must be controlled carefully since either over or under-fermentation would ruin the tea.

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The process only ends when the fermented leaves are passed through a dry air chamber at 115 degrees Celsius to 120 degrees Celsius on a conveyor belt. This is done to further reduce the moisture content to 2% and 3%. The final process is sorting. The tea is sorted according to grades. The teas in ascending order of their value are: Dust, Orange Fannings, Golden Broken Orange Pekoe, Orange Pekoe (unbroken leaves), Flowery and the best is Golden. (The first three teas consist of broken leaves).

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To improve and maintain the viability of the tea, the tea estates have employed modern agricultural practices in the last few years. They were one of the first agricultural enterprises to use cloned plants, in their replanting schemes. But not much has been done on this level and most of the tea trees are 100 years old. They are almost at the end of their useful or even natural lives. The soil is deteriorating and the plants are ageing. This is a cause for grave concern as tea is not only a major export item but it also provides most of the employment in Darjeeling. The producers don’t get good prices for the lower qualities at the auction but the top qualities continuously achieve record prices. The tea from Castleton Estate in Darjeeling fetched a record breaking price of 6010 rupees per kilogram at an auction in the year 1991. A Japanese bid this amount, which was a world record.

Tourist spots in and around Darjeeling

About 8 kilometers from Darjeeling is the popular Ghoom monastery, which is just below Hill Cart Road and the railway station near Ghoom. The image of Maitreya Buddha (the coming Buddha) is preserved here. If you travel further down the road towards Siliguri, you will come to another monastery called Sonada. It is a huge and appealing monastery of the Kagyupa sect.

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On Tenzing Norgay road you will arrive at Aloobari Monastery, which is visitor friendly and closer to Darjeeling. Sikkimese and Tibetan religious artifacts (hand bells) and handicrafts are sold here. Bhutia Busty Monastery is a colorful monastery quite close to Chowrasta.

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The Kunchenjunga at the back makes it look even more stunning. You will find an old library of Buddhist texts upstairs. The shrine that we see here was at the observatory hill initially.

Tiger Hill near Ghoom is the most elevated spot in the area at a height of 2590 meters. This is approximately 11 kilometers from Darjeeling. The majestic view of the dawn over the soaring Kunchenjunga here is incomparable. To enjoy this view one must depart at 4.30 AM. The crowds could be maddening over here and it could be nippy. Piping hot coffee is available here.

Darjeeling domestic water is supplied from Senchal Lake, which is on the way to Tiger Hill. The Indian holiday makers love to picnic at this spot.

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Observatory Hill is sacred to Buddhists as well as Hindus. You will find it just above the Windmere Hotel. There is a shrine dedicated to Kali. This place is teeming with monkeys. You need to watch out for them.

Dhirdham Temple is the most prominent Hindu temple in Darjeeling. It is close to the Railway station. It is designed on the lines of the famous Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu.

The zoological Park in Darjeeling boasts of being the only zoo to house India’s only collection of Siberian tigers and some rare species, such as the Red Panda, but sadly the conditions here are far from acceptable. You will also find the rare snow leopard. They are kept separately in a large enclosure. They also run a snow leopard breeding program.