Sunday, April 3, 2016

Darjeeling: Colorful Calmness for Chai with Queen

Darjeeling is famously known as “Queen of Hills” and I could easily feel the way air changed as we crossed Sukhna military base & climbed up to Kurseong from NJP railway station in our private vehicle. On road it is 3 hour distance, but if you do have sufficient time- close to 7 hours, do take toy train from NJP to Darjeeling, aka, Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (DHR), which is indeed breath taking. Remarkably, DHR is world heritage site and established in 1881 by British. The toy train track runs along the road and I was delighted to spot the smoke omitting locomotive pass by twice! Names of station are quite interesting- Tung, Sonada, Ghum and tells you that you are entering Gorkhaland, on which culture stands out with Tibetan colors, Nepali language, monasteries, generosity, happiness and amazing food!
A photo posted by Jaideep Rao (@jaideeprao) on
We stopped at Batasia loop, which is just after Ghum station. Ghum station is in the highest altitude & on a clear day you should be able to spot Sleeping Buddha or Kanchanjunga from there. When I crossed Ghum, clouds had started forming and has less than 10m visibility. Temperature had dropped from 30 c to 6/8 c. Oh, coming back, Batasia loop is a 5km long spiral engineering marvel made to help the train climb up from low altitude to height of Ghum railway station. Batasia loop also has a memorial garden to the Gorkha soldiers of the Indian Army who sacrificed their lives after the Indian Independence in 1947. Batasia loop is surely a must visit!

I stayed in couple of hotels in Darjeeling- Hotel Seven Seventeen and Sonar Bangla- both had courteous staff and very well maintained space. I recommend both of them. Seven Seventeen have their own restaurant which served amazing Tibetan food and Sonar Bangla is right behind Glenary’s, which is must visit place for bakery junk food & Darjeeling tea. Next to it is Emami Frank Ross café that interestingly serves some amazing south Indian food! Both Glenary’s & Frank Ross have amazing ambience and are in Mall road that ends in Chowrastha, which reminded me of Shimla! I did some accessory shopping for the Sandakphu trek from Mall market and when I returned, did some for my home!

Prime attraction of Darjeeling is undoubtedly Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park and Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI). Don’t miss out on animals which are only found in Himalayan ranges at the zoo. Red pandas, Himalayan black bear and snow leopards are the show stoppers. I was really impressed with the zoo & would rate up above any zoo which I have visited.

I can vouch on HMI museum that it won’t let you exit without the wow feeling. HMI was established in 1954 by PM Nehru and had Tenzing Norgay, first person to ascent Mt. Everest with Edmund Hillary, as it’s first director. HMI museum has very inspiring collection of accessories used by summiteer’s, their lives, what it means to scale peak on peak, Himalayan culture and has put in place the perspective of joy of mountaineering. HMI also has Samadhi & giant statue of Tenzing Norgay. We spent close to 2 hours to cover both in detail- this pace is truly astonishing!

Last place I visited in Darjeeling was Japanese Temple and Peace Pagoda, which is 4kms away from Chowrastha. Peace Pagoda is very beautiful with Buddha’s life depicted in the parikrama (means when you take a round). Four statues of Buddha emit peace radiance here. Japanese temple, established by Fujii Guruji, is a lovely place and for me it was lot of learning going through life & thoughts of Fujii Guruji, a Buddhist monk who lived 100 years!

Darjeeling is indeed a lovely place with friendly people. I would cherish taking shared taxi to eating momo & thukpa to walking & climbing up/down to navigate between places. Queen, always be the best!