Planning a trip to Darjeeling and scouring for some of the best but lesser known things to do? If yes, then you have landed at the right page. Some months back, while I was planning my trip to Darjeeling, I was searching for anything that would make me discover the hidden delights of Darjeeling. Can’t say that I was delighted with the outcome. So, I landed in Darjeeling with a list of usual things to do and places to visit, intent on finding the least known of it all.
Here’s sharing my discoveries with you, the best of places to visit, things to do and yum food places in Darjeeling. Go, enjoy the many charms of this Himalayan nest.
Do we have anyone with a sweet tooth here? Well, counting myself in, I recommend a must visit to Glenary’s. It was Easter when I walked into Glenary’s, and found the pastry rich air waltzing its way to me. Quite poetic that. But trust me, Glenary’s deserves such elaborate words, for I tasted some of the best Easter eggs, croissants, muffins, chocolate crumble, rum cake and what not.
Must have gained some thousand calories at Darjeeling; courtesy Glenary’s.
But then, all is fair in love and cake wars.
Umm.. yes. You read that right. For anyone who thought that going to the Keventers’ at Darjeeling and harping on the Barfi connect is the coolest thing to do, there’s this. While most of the crowd stays hanging around the Chowrasta, you should visit the lower city market at Darjeeling and strum some. With some luck, you’ll even find hand-crafted guitars like the ones at Gangtok here. With some more luck, you’ll bump into a guitar teacher, sooner or later. I found one in the reception guy at my hotel. Good luck!
Frank Ross Café
Okay, Darjeeling’s Frank Ross Café deserves a mention here for its super awesome, 100% vegetarian menu. Great sandwiches, awesome momos, interesting dips and authentic Chole-Bhature(!). What more can you ask for! Remember, finding good food that is essentially North Indian, like Chole-Bhature, in the region is like stumbling over world’s eighth wonder. One of the must-visits on Nehru Road.
Life & Leaf
The very artsy insides of Life & Leaf, Darjeeling
This one is right on the very enjoyable Chowrasta. A treasure trove for souvenir hunters, it has hand-printed T-Shirts, I♥Darjeeling souvenirs, tiny wallets that come with Tibetan emblems, scarves, homemade jams and Darjeeling’s famous bamboo pickle.
Alright, so Darjeeling’s Toy Train needs no introduction. This World Heritage Site looks like quite a charm. Once in, try not to take the window seat if you dislike the soot flying in and settling on you. Soot, yes, since this tiny train runs on a steam engine and coal slivers keep flying in from the windows. The train being a two or three coach affair, you are never far from the engine!
But then, it takes quite a scenic route after crossing the market, making its way from vegetable markets, houses towards pine forests. The museum at Ghoom Station, one of the stopovers, is an interesting place to be at, if you too are a fan of Sheldon Cooper. A good deal if you’re not a fussy traveler.
Okay, this one is going to be very hard for the lovers of Windamere. If you think that’s the only place to stay from where you can get to be in the middle of all the Chowrasta action, think again. Hotel Chalet, a hotel that looks very rundown, almost deserted but bang in the middle of the Chowrasta, is a surprise find.
At almost 70% less tariff than Windamere, it’s a good pick if all that you need to bunk up is a clean bed, huge windows, working taps. Its proximity to a huge, well stacked bookstore, a coffee house and all the lovable mayhem of Chowrasta is such an add on. Stay for an experience if nothing else. And oh, you can even use the free wi-fi by logging on to city’s free wi-fi zone for Chowrasta. Shhh!
Breakfast at Chowrasta
However much I love splurging at fantastic cafes, I have a taste for street food too. More so if this street is Chowrasta, the very hippie and happy no-vehicle zone of Darjeeling. While I sat there, reading a book for my breakfast, a man selling fresh parathas and ghugni (chickpeas and gravy) offered me a hearty meal for 20 rupees.
Now considering my intent on not leaving the book unread and good, fresh food on offer, I took one. And then, ordered another. Masala Chai from the lady, who runs a stove (literally) under the lamp and pine at Chowrasta, is a must too.
Now, I’m coming to the book that made me taste ghugni in the first place. That book (In the Land of Flying Lamas) came from the very special collection of the Oxford Book Store. This store shares its upper floor with Hotel Chalet and thus was a dream for me. Imagine walking down the stairs and into a book store.
I loved the fascinating collection of books at Oxford, for it had everything from Lepcha Folk Tales, Himalayan stories, Tibetan tales, Everest anecdotes and so much more. Here, you’ll fall in love with the hills if you already haven’t. And yes, there are thousands of other books too, your usual William Dalrymple’s and Pico Iyer’s.
Photo Courtesy – Facebook Page- Das Studio
When I say studio, I don’t mean a typical studio. This one is more like a museum for the lovers of photography and the lovers of mountain photography. On sale are some thousands of photographs of the Himalayas, some featuring the Everest, Kanchendzonga while others featuring the charming smiles of Himalayan people.
Other than these, you can hop to Tiger Hill, to watch sunrise (I loved the sight of Kanchedzonga getting touched by the first rays of sun). Here, you’ll see a slow, comedy movie in action as there would be a crowd of hundreds of people, all jostling to get a good view of the rising Sun, instructors yelling at them to sit down and be patient till the Sun actually rises, and a roaring clapping session when the Sun finally makes an appearance. I had fun, some people got stomped over their feet. So, choose wisely.
Apt Art. At HMI, Darjeeling.
A visit to the HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute) and the zoological park are good leisure activities if mountaineering and wildlife interests you. HMI has a lot of interesting stuff in the museum, including the trekking gear from Tenzing and Hillary’s Everest summit!
Tenzing Rock, Darjeeling
Talking of mountaineering, you can climb up Tenzing Rock as well. As they say, the legendary Tenzing Norgay used to practice on this one, climbing it several times a day, always barefoot. I did that too, but chipped my nail. So yeah, give it a try but do put your shoes on!
You’ll find a lot of guides and drivers offering you a visit to the tea estates here, but consider it more of a gimmick. If it really interests you, visit the Happy Valley Tea Estate and learn more on the processing of tea.
Other than that, I loved the saree collection at the Khadi outlet on the Chowrasta. For good quality, not overtly expensive tea, ask for the tea lady at Mahakal Temple.
And just for a PS (I love writing these) – Don’t ever buy tea from the tea estates or the very fancy tea shops. Talk to the local people and they’ll tell you where to get the best tea from. If you think I missed anything that deserves a mention in this post on the best things to do at Darjeeling, leave a comment below and I would be off to it on my next visit.
Till then, happy travelling.