I have always been curious about Darjeeling, Queen of the Hills. In fact, I have never been to a hill station (or hill resort) in India before. Many Indians have talked to me about the hill stations in various parts of their country which they often visit either during a long weekend, the holidays or sometimes for a trip back home.
Once I had mentioned a long time ago that I wanted to visit a hill station, and the responses I received were mixed. Some talked excitedly with glee about the charm of these hill stations whereas others cringed. I don’t know the exact reason for the latter but invariably they mentioned something about large crowds.
We have hill stations in Malaysia too but of lower altitudes (1,100-1,500m above sea level) hence, the idea of being at a higher altitude hill resorts got me intrigued. Regardless of different responses I received, I was determined to include Darjeeling in my North-East India itinerary. Not because of the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ but just plain curious. Furthermore, there’s the Anglophile in me wanting to see whatever that is left of the British Empire amidst the hills 🙂
For the benefit of my non-Indian readers, I’d thought I share with you some historical background about Darjeeling.
The Darjeeling district lies in the northern part of the West Bengal state on the foothills of the eastern Himalayas at an elevation of 6,700 ft (2,042m). It is located 600km north of Kolkata, and it borders with the north eastern state of Sikkim, and with Nepal and Bhutan.
Darjeeling was part of the kingdom of Sikkim until the 19th century when Sikkim was engaged in war with Nepal but subsequently lost. The British brokered a peace settlement between the two warring nations, and Darjeeling was conceded to the British as part of the settlement.
Since the climate of Darjeeling is cold and misty, the British found it suitable for tea planting. As a result, tea plantations grew in the hills which brought the influx of Nepali workers and labourers. The British realised the importance of Darjeeling, thus forced Sikkim to a treaty and annexed this hill station. By the early 20th century, Darjeeling was renowned for one of the British Raj’s remote posts, and more importantly, it became a centre for mountaineering and played a key role in the conquest of the Himalayas.
Post-independence, Darjeeling became part of West Bengal state, administered from Calcutta. Majority of the population are Gorkhas of ethnic Nepali background but there are other communities consisting of Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetans and some mainland Indian ethnic groups.
Due to the ethnic make-up of the state, there has been an on-going independence movement in Darjeeling for many decades – calls for a separate state within India – Gorkhaland. I won’t go into detail about the politics behind the autonomy movement (to some extent, it has had been volatile) but the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), a semi-autonomous body currently administers the Nepali-speaking Darjeeling hills and has been for over twenty years now.
I wanted to travel from Kolkata to Darjeeling via the Darjeeling Mail train but there was a long waitlist due to the festive season. After a few weeks of not seeing the waitlist reducing, I cancelled my reservations and instead booked an hour flight to Bagdogra. From the Bagdogra airport, it was a 3.5 hour car ride to Darjeeling, passing through hilly landscapes and hairpin bends.
Should you wish to experience the train journey from Kolkata to Darjeeling, here are some tips:
– Take the Darjeeling Mail train which departs from Sealdah in Kolkata at 10:05pm. The journey is approximately 9hr 55 mins and the train arrives at New Jalpaiguri (NJP) early in the morning.
– You can arrange for your hotel/guesthouse driver to greet you at the NJP station, or take a shared jeep or a pre-paid taxi from NJP to Darjeeling.
I stayed in Darjeeling for three nights at a lovely guesthouse called Nestle Homestay . Nestle Homestay is run by a retired couple, Mr & Mrs Pradhan since 2012, and their house is located on Convent Road, just below the District Magistrate’s Office.
Nestle Homestay was recommended by a fellow blogger Amrita from Kolkata, and after much researching on other B&Bs/guesthouses in Darjeeling, Nestle was the best bet. They helped to arrange for airport pick-up from Bagdogra, and warmly welcomed me to the house as soon as I arrived. My room was located on the ground floor next to the kitchen – it was comfortable and clean. The bathroom was just outside of the room which I had to myself throughout my stay. Hot shower was readily available and that was essential for me since I come from the tropics, and the weather at that time was around 18-20 degrees Celsius.
The house has a lovely roof terrace which guests can go up and see the views of the mountains. Wi-Fi is easily available in the house throughout the day.
It’s a 10-minute walk from the guesthouse to the main road. Guests have to walk on a slightly inclined path on Convent Road, however, do look up as you walk because it’s a lovely view of the morning light streaming through the deodar trees.
I remembered arriving at Nestle at 3.30pm, and by the time I finished chatting with Mr & Mrs Pradhan over biscuits and tea, I was too buggered to go out to explore Darjeeling town especially after a long and winding drive from the airport. I turned in early that night but at the same time, I was excited to know what was in store for me the following day in the ‘Queen of the Hills’.
Are you planning a trip to Darjeeling soon? How about booking your accommodation here?
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