11 Things you should know before you visit Darjeeling

Despite congested roads and exorbitant transport cost, it is a must visit

OK you are all set to visit Darjeeling, one of the most beautiful places in the North East. You will hardly realise that this place is located in West Bengal except when you see the posters of Didi – the state’s chief minister. But there is a bucket list you should keep in mind before you embark to this tiny hill station. And you should do so before the place changes its name from the currently British titled place to some local names as the current trend goes.

A view of Darjeeling Valley

  • Where to start: Bagdogra is the nearest airport to use if you are coming from anywhere. It is a small defence airport but there are good connections from almost all the cities in India. In fact this is the gateway to many places including Bhutan and Nepal.
  • So what is Siliguri? Well both Bagdogra and Siliguri are same for people who are not familiar with this place. Don’t learn geography when you are here and just go ahead and consider both the places as one. Siliguri is the place where you will be heading to once out of airport. You will immediately notice Tea Gardens on both sides of the roads as soon as you hit the roads. So your tea journey has just begun.
  • How far? Well Darjeeling is 69 kms from the planes you have just Deboarded. This looks too close but ain’t. There are two ways to each Darjeeling Both roads meet at Kurseong. If you are adventurous and do not mind traffic then take the Hill Cart Road. But if you want to be at leisure stopping at every place and enjoying the place then I recommend Pankhabari Road.
  • The best way is to self drive. You will get a self drive car operated by Zoomcar from Bagdogra airport itself. But when they pick you up from the airport to their drop and pick up location ensue you mark that place in your map so that you can come back to that same place to return the car. Most Zoomcar pick up locations are interior bizarre places. Before you take the delivery ensure you videograph the entire car from all sides including the interiors.
  • Hilly Driving. Are you well versed in driving through mountains? Take a self drive vehicle only if the answer is yes. There are thumb rules to follow and some really curved bends to negotiate and your heart will stop seeing the valley below. A small mistake can be fatal.
  • So why not a taxi? Good idea if you have enough money. A taxi ride to the hill can cost you around Rs 5000 one way and if you arrive after 5 PM(By this time Darjeeling will be completely dark) then you have to have 2500 extra. Even the per day hiring taxi is also expensive. Tata Sumo is the most seen vehicle in the hills and it carries at least 20 to 25 people in each trip putting them wherever there is some space.
  • Snarling Traffic and Parking: Till Sonada – some 17 kms still to Darjeeling – there will not be any snarls. But as you reach near Darjeeling it is bumper to bumper. If you are driving yourself ensure your hotel has a parking. There is virtually no space for any car to even stop anywhere to buy a bottle of water. While you may be able to see Kanchenjunga ranges right in front of you as you reach Darjeeling, ensure you park your vehicle somewhere to take a beautiful view at leisure.
  • Toy Train: After Kurseong you will see the rail tracks of the Toy train. Though its periodicity is far less, ensure you give way and stay away from it when it criss crosses the road. Of course the train stops for cars to pass but ensure you are not driving very close to the tracks that the train scratches through your vehicle. You will see Sonada, Ghoom and Darjeeling stations on the way. The train ride costs Rs 1300 for a 2 hour return journey. You will be giving this money to upkeep and maintain one of the most cherished heritage of this place. Ensure you ride the train.
  • Places to Visit: On the way you have a choice to visit Mirik, Dowhill and Victoria School at Kurseong.

See the Batasia Loop and Dali Monastery so that you need not come back to visit these places. I need not mention here the places you should visit because there so many guides available at Hotels you will be staying. But ensure you do not return without seeing Cemetry (So many great mean are buried here) Lal Kothi (Secretariat), St. Joseph School, North Point, St. Paul’s School (Many Hindi movies were shot in these two schools), St. Andrews Church and spend much of your time in Chowrasta – the main market.

  • Food Choices: Availability of food depends on which side of Darjeeling you live. Remember if you are late, then you may have to go to bed empty stomach because you really dont have anything open after 9 PM and nothing before 8 AM. But Glenary’s is a must visit for all your needs. Remember the portion of all their meals are so large that you will end up wasting if you order without realising it. Try Planters Pie for sure.
  • Tea Etiquettes: When you are in Darjeeling never even think of Coffee because you are near the world’s most expensive and best tea estates in the world. But ensure you learn something about Darjeeling tea before your tour begins. If you are regular Tea drinker with milk and a lot of sugar day in and day out, make no mistake, you have no idea how to drink tea. Don’t worry, you had company in me until I reached Darjeeling. Darjeeling tea is prepared with just hot water. Pour hot water into a cup, put half spoon of Darjeeling tea leaves, cover it for 5 minutes, strain the tea leaves out and enjoy the tea. No milk, no sugar no honey, no lime. If you want all of these along with tea, then please proceed to have a CTC tea. You can get Assam and Munnar Tea which has colour but not the aroma and taste Darjeeling Tea offers. Try to buy some original Darjeeling tea from Chowrasta at Nathmulls.

Of course you can proceed to Gangtok from here which should be a 3 to 4 hour drive from here. It is more beautiful that Darjeeling.