Darjeeling is also called ‘Queen of the hills’. The city lies in the foothills of the Himalayas and offers a wonderful scope for eco tourism. Darjeeling with its natural beauty provides a wide variety of activities from leisurely scenic walks to more gruelling activities such as trekking and river rafting for the adventurous ones. It is internationally renowned as a tourist destination, along with for its tea industry and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The major sightseeing around Darjeeling is as mentioned below-:
1. Tiger hill: 11 kms from Darjeeling at the height of 2,590 metres ( 8,500 feet), is the summit of Ghoom, the highest railway station on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is famous for the panoramic views it offers of Kanchenjunga ( 8,598 metres / 28,209 ft), Mount Everest (8848 metres / 29,028 feet) , Lhotse ( 8,501 metres / 27,890 feet), Makalu ( 8475 metres / 27,806 feet) in Nepal along with other eastern Himalayan peaks like Chomolheri 7,326 m (24,035feet) in Bhutan , especially at the time of sunrise . Mount Everest the world’s highest Peak is around 225 kms away, as the crow flies and is visible on a clear day. Makalu peak (8, 481 metres) looks higher than Mt. Everest, owing to the curve in the horizon, as it is several miles closer than Everest. It can be reached either by jeep or by foot through Chowrasta, Alubari ( the oldest tea plantation in Darjeeling) or Jorebangla and then climbing up the incline to the summit, which takes about 2 hours at an easy pace. The sunrise over the Himalaya from here has become a major tourist attraction, with convoys of jeeps leaving Darjeeling for Tiger Hill every morning around 04:30 A.m.
Kanchenjunga also spelled Khangchendzonga ( 8,598 metres / 28,209 ft), is the world’s third highest peak and India’s highest peak is the major attraction from Darjeeling. The name “ Khangchendzonga” is derived from the Tibetian word for “ Great five- peaked snow fortress”. On either side of the main massif are Kabru (7,338 metres), Jannu (7,710 metres) and Pandim ( 6,691 metres), all high peaks in their own right. Apart from the the popular dawn views from Tiger hill, an early morning stroll around Bhanu Bhakta Sarani, which runs from Chowrasta ( The Mall) around the north side of Observatory Hill offers several stunning view points.
2. Observatory Hill-: is near Chowrasta square, or The Mall as it is popularly known. It is sacred to both Buddhist and Hindus. This hill was the site of the original Dorje Ling monastery (Bhutia Busty monastery) that gave the name Darjeeling to the town. The monastery was sacked by a Gorkha invasion in 1815. It was rebuilt in 1861 and was moved to its present location in Bhutia Busty in 1879. Today devotees come to a temple in a small cave, below the crest of the hill, to honour Mahakala, a Buddhist deity and also known as the angry form of Lord Shiva of Hindu religion. Devotional Bells ring in the midst of colourful fluttering prayer flags, which are used to pray in the shrine. Monkeys are seen in plenty at the Observatory Hill.
3. Bhutia Busty Monastery-: 1.5 kms, downhill from the Chowrasta, the Mall of Darjeeling . The most scenic Monastery, with the views of Khangchendzonga. The Bhutia Busty monastery, the oldest monastery in Darjeeling, was first located on Observatory Hill where the Mahakal Temple stands today. It was built in 1765 by Lama Dorje-Rinzing. The name Darjeeling is believed to have originated when monks of the monastery referred to the region as “Dorje-ling”, meaning the land of the thunderbolt. Another school of thought believes that it was named after Dorje-Rinzing. The monastery was sacked by a Gorkha invasion in 1815 on the Observatory hill. It was rebuilt in 1861 and was moved to its present location in 1879. The ill-fated monastery was again destroyed by a 1934 earthquake and owes its present existence to the Chogyals of Sikkim . It houses fine murals depicting the life of Buddha. The present structure of the monastery is awesome. It has been built in a traditional Tibetan style with Sikkimese influence, and it’s a great example of Darjeeling’s vibrant Buddhism tradition. The monastery belongs to the Red Sect of Buddhists and has links with the Kagyu and Nyingma orders of Tibetan Buddhism.
4. Yiga Choling Monastery-: Ghoom Monastery is the popular name of the Yiga Choeling Monastery located at Ghoom ( Ghum) 8 kms from Darjeeling. The monastery belongs to the Gelukpa or the Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism and is famous for its 15 feet high special statue of the Maitreya Buddha (future Buddha). It contains images of Buddha’s disciples, Chenrezi and Chongapa. The external structure of the building was established in 1850 by the famous Mongolian astrologer and monk Sokpo Sherab Gyatso. Since 1850 to 1905 he had administered as the head of the monastery. Later he went to Tibet and died in his birth province. It is the largest of the three monasteries in Ghum. It has a collection of 300 beautifully bound Tibetian texts including the Kangyur, the Tibetan Buddhist canon, running into 108 volumes.
5. Japanese Peace Pagoda-: Perched on a hillside at the end of AJC Bose Road, this gleaming white pagoda is one of more than 70 pagodas built by the Japanese Buddhist “ Nipponzan Myohoji” organisation around the world.. The two storied white temple was built in a traditional Japanese style in the year 1972. Close to the temple is the Peace Pagoda that showcases four avatars (incarnations) of Lord Buddha. From the top of the Pagoda, you get panoramic views of Darjeeling landscape including the Kanchenjunga range. The pagoda is designed to provide a place for people of all races and creeds to help unite them in their search for world peace. The foundation stone of the pagoda was laid on 03 November 1972 by Nichidatsu Fujii, and was inaugurated on 1 November 1992. The pagoda was designed by M. Ohka, and it took 36 months for constructing it. The height of the pagoda is 28.5 metres (94 feet) and diameter is 23 metres (75 feet).
6. Padamaja naidu Himalayan Zoological Park-: About 2 km. from the town, the Zoological park was established on 14 August, 1958 to study, conserve and preserve Himalayan fauna. At an average elevation of 7,000 feet (2,134 metres) it is the largest high altitude zoo in India. Housed within the rocky and forested environment are Himalayan mega fauna such as musk deer, Tibetian wolf, Siberian Tigers, rare species such as red panda and snow leopard is found here. It is famous for its success in the snow leopard breeding program, as the zoo and its attached snow leopard- breeding centre, are home to the world’s largest single captive population of snow leopards. There are also many Himalayan birds and pheasants. In 1975, Late Smt. Indira Gandhi the then Prime Minister of India dedicated the Himalayan Zoological Park, Darjeeling in Memory of Late Smt. Padmaja Naidu, ex-governor of West Bengal. The Zoo was re-named as Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park.
7. Himalayan Mountaineering Institute-: Just shared within the grounds of the Zoo, this prestigious mountaineering institute was founded in 1954. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) was established in Darjeeling on November 04, 1954 to encourage mountaineering as an organized sport in India. The first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary sparked a keen interest in establishing mountaineering as a well-respected endeavour for people in the region. With the impetus provided by the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, HMI was established in Darjeeling. Tenzing Norgay was the first director of field training for HMI. It has provided training for some of India’s leading mountaineers. Within the complex is the Everest Museum, with fascinating details from the 1922 and 1924 Everest expeditions, which both set off from Darjeeling. There is also the Carl Zeis telescope presented by Adolf Hitler to the head of the Nepali army.
Just beside the museum, near the spot where Tenzin Norgay was cremated, stands the Tenzing Statue. The intrepid Everest Summiteer lived in Darjeeling for most of his life and was the director of the same institute. Various mountaineering courses are offered here.
8. Tibetian refugee Self- help Center-: A 30 minutes walk down from the Chowrasta ( the Mall) in 1959 this Tibetian Refugee centre was established, as a rehabilitation centre for the Tibetian refugees who come to Darjeeling after the Chinees invasion on Tibet. It was set up as a home for the aged Tibetans, orphanage, clinic, monastery, School, craft workshop that produce carpets, woodcarvings, leather work, woollen items, spinning, dyeing etc. It provides a chance to the Tibetian community to continue to practise their skills and provide a sales outlet. The handicrafts are for sale in the showroom of Self – Help centre and the profit goes to the Tibetian community.
9. Llyod Botanical Gardens-: the botanical garden, located below the bus stand, is worth a dekko for its representative collection of Himalayan plants, flowers, magnolias most famously orchids- more than 50 species and rhododendrons, as well as temperate trees from around the world. The serenity of the sylvan atmosphere that the garden offers is another reason for its attraction.
10. Batastia loop and War Memorial : 5 km from Darjeeling towards Ghoom the narrow gauge rail line takes a figure of 8 loop which is an engineering feat. At the centre of the Batasia Loop is the War Memorial. This was opened in 1995 to commemorate the Gorkha soldiers of the Darjeeling Hills who sacrificed their lives in various wars after India’s independence. A war memorial within the loop has a 3 meter high bronze statue of a Gorkha soldier. From the Batasia Loop you can get a spectacular view of Darjeeling town with the Kanchenjunga and other snowy mountains in the back-drop. Batastia means airy space or open area. As you stand on one side of the garden and see the toy train making a complete loop while hooting its whistle along the way and trying to negotiate the spiral track with a double loop, it’s a fabulous experience. There are seating areas as well to enjoy the views. The entire area along with the gardens and an approach bridge that leads to the garden is about 50,000 square feet. It has been covered with grass and beautified with both seasonal and perennial flowers and shrubs. This is the best place to get a 360 degree view of Darjeeling’s landscape including the hill town and the snow covered peaks of the Eastern Himalayas with the majestic Kanchenjunga on one side.
11. Bengal Natural History Museum-: Located at a walking distance from the Chowrasta (Mall), the Bengal Natural History Museum is a place to go if you are looking to know about the animal and bird life in Darjeeling Hills as well in the region. The museum has a huge collection of mammals, birds, insects, fishes and more. The most interesting is that although the specimens look like artificial models, they are not. They are of real creatures that had been captured and preserved with stuffing. Some of the birds displayed are really huge in size and it’s unlikely that you would have seen such sizes before. There are over 820 specimens of birds belonging to more than 400 species of the area. There are only two foreign species that have been given as gifts to the museum.
12. Dhirdham Mandir -: the beautiful Nepali-style Dhirdham temple is a Hindu Temple of Lord Shiva located south of the Darjeeling market centre and just below the Toy Train Railway Station. It was constructed by the King of Nepal, Purna Bahadur Pradhan in the year 1939. He wanted to create a replica of the Pashupatinath temple complex of Katmandu of Nepal. The temple was designed by the Gorkhali architect Beg Raj Sakya. The temple looks like a multi-layered pagoda from outside and resembles the Pasupatinath temple ( Nepal) in architecture. As you enter the temple premises, you will see a white colored statue of Lord Shiva facing the temple near its entrance and surrounded by a short height concrete fence. This form represents the five different expressions of Shiva with his universal third eye.
13. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Museum -: Located at the Ghoom Station premises, the museum showcases many rare artefacts and photographs Darjeeling Himalayan Railway including its oldest Toy Train engine the Baby Sevok. This is one of the three such DHR museums and was set up in 2000. The other two are located in Sukna and Kurseong.