The one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once – by even a glimpse – would not give that glimpse for the shows of the rest of the world combined.”

−Mark Twain                                                                                                            

 ‘Queen of the Hills’, Darjeeling, may have suffered assorted ravages at the hand of Man over time, but its greatest charm – the great bounty of Nature − remains mostly untouched and unspoiled. The welcome to the town proper starts much before one reaches it. Glimpses of towering snow-capped silver Himalayan peaks flirting with mists and clouds, the verdant landscapes dominated by pines and sycamores, the riot of flowers, the rivers and streams, the valleys, the orderly tea gardens – all escort you to Darjeeling.

If God has been at His most Bountiful, over the years, Man too has added interesting value-additions to the scene. Let us explore the charms of Darjeeling:

WONDERS OF NATURE

TIGER HILL

One has to get up very, very early to make the ‘pilgrimage’ to Tiger Hill (2590m./8482ft.), 13 km away. If your ‘karma’ is good, you will be rewarded with the wondrous and awe-inspiring sight of the dawn breaking and the skies turning to all manner of stunning colors as all turns to gold and the mighty Kanchenjunga gives a ‘darshan’. If you are lucky, you may view Everest too. The almost mandatory trip to Tiger Hill has achieved international fame.

SENCHAL LAKE

Located near Tiger Hill, it is a popular picnic spot. Drinking water for Darjeeling comes from this lake.

MOUNTAIN VIEWS

If the weather-gods are kind, one can get stunning views of some of the highest peaks in the world, including Kanchenjunga, Everest, Jannu, Kabru and others. If you are lazy and do not wish to take the trip to the Tiger Hill, you can view the peaks from many places in town, including Observatory Hill, terrace of the Windamere Hotel,  Chowrasta, the road leading to the Bhutia Busty – below the Chowrasta, and other spots. The best hotel rooms are those which offer views of the Himalayan Peaks.

WALKS

The most common form of joy for those visiting Darjeeling is leisurely walks. If you wish to see the world around you on the move – and be seen, join the crowds for walks on The Mall. Otherwise, you can discover many an interesting walk. A popular Long Walk is to Kurseong on the old Cart Road.

CHOWRASTA

It is the ‘heart-and-hub’ of the town. The Mall originates and culminates here. Almost mandatory for the visitors is to sit-and-stare for grown-ups and pony rides for the children, Add-ons include views, eats, snacks and shopping.

TREKS, HIKES AND CAMPING

For there more vigorous, there are the treks, hikes and camping. You have any number of options regarding time and distance. The most popular treks are to the Singalila Range. Your hotel, or any number of operators, will be happy to make all necessary arrangements.

RELIGIOUS SHRINES

BUDDHIST MONASTERIES

Darjeeling boasts of a number of important and interesting Buddhist Monasteries. These include:

YIGA CHOLING MONASTERY – 8km from town, near the Ghoom Station, it is the oldest monastery in the region, dating back to 1875. It belongs to the Gelugpa Sect and has a statue of the ‘Maitreye Buddha’ and some rare manuscripts. This monastery and others nearby can be visited on the way back from Tiger Hill. Nearby is the SAMTEN CHOLING MONASTERY, the seat of the Dromo Geshe Rinpoche. A 26ft high stupa has been built here in memory of Lama Anagarika Govinda, a noted German Buddhist scholar.

DRUKPA KARGYUD or DALI MONASTERY, of the Drukpa Sect is located at Dali, 4km short of Darjeeling. The Drukchen Rinpoche resides here.

BHUTIA BUSTY MONASTERY, is a very colorful and interesting monastery near the Chowrasta. It was built in 1879 on the Observatory Hill and shifted to its present location in 1934, after being damaged by an earthquake. With the impressive backdrop of the Kanchenjunga Range, it also has a library which possesses the original copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It belongs to the Kagyu (Red) Sect.

Other monasteries worth a visit are the ALOOBARI MONASTERY, SONADA GOMPA and the JAPANESE PEACE PAGODA.

TEMPLES

DIRDHAM TEMPLE, is the most famous temple in town and is a replica of the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. Built in 1939, it is located near the Railway Station. The statue of Lord Shiva outside the temple depicts ‘Panch Bakram Tri Netram’ – five different facial expressions of Lord Shiva in different moods and the Third Eye.

MAHAKAL TEMPLE- located on Observatory Hill, crowns the town and is sacred both to the Hindus and the Buddhists.

CHURCHES

SAINT ANDREW’S CHURCH, on the Mall is perhaps the most famous church in town. An Anglican church, it was built in 1843. Plaques in this church memorialize the early settlers in town in the 1800s. There are also the Roman Catholic churches, IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CATHEDRAL, Loreto Convent Road, and the SACRED HEART CHURCH, North Point.

Darjeeling has many more delights on offer. Some of them are featured in part 2 of this story.