Famed for its rolling mountainous terrain lathered in luscious green tea plantations, Darjeeling has the reputation for being an old timers retreat fit for tea sipping, scone munching and some gentle rest and recuperation.
But if you prefer your dunking to be over the side of a white water raft rather than a biscuit into a cup of Earl Grey, you can find plenty of action between the peaks and valleys.
Just three hours drive along twisting roads from Siliguri, this beautiful part of NE India is an easily accessible introduction to the Himalayas. This weekend-long adventure will fill you with tasty food, get the blood pumping around your veins and leave you satisfied you’ve done the best of what’s on offer.
DAY 1: EXPLORE THE AREA AND FEAST
6:00AM – TAKE A TREK – ramble through the back streets of Darjeeling with a guide from Samsara Tours and watch the world wake up. Wind your way around cows and chickens, past beautiful ancient monasteries and witness the sights and sounds of life perched high on a hillside.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have spectacular views of the snow-capped Kanchenjunga Range in the distance. Or if there are misty white clouds clinging to the hillside, the feeling is more eerie, otherworldly and mysterious.
Stop off at Ghoom Monastery on the way. It was built in 1875 and is the oldest in the area. The tour finishes in the centre of the town.
1:00PM – TAKE LUNCH – in one of the many cafes or restaurants that line the main street. Find one that serves momos – a Nepalese and local delicacy – divine little parcels of goodness dipped in a spicy chilli sauce.
2:20PM – CATCH THE DARJEELING HIMALAYAN RAILWAY BACK.
After the tea-fields, this toy train ride is the second most famous attraction in the area. Opened in 1881 this narrow-gauge railway was originally built to take the colonial British to the mountain-top resorts they frequently visited for relief from the hot Indian summer in Calcutta.
Today the wonderfully maintained steam locomotives haul tourists and locals alike along the route from Darjeeling to Ghoom. It’ll cost you around 1000Rs or if you want to save money, and don’t mind what locomotive pulls you along, the diesel version is only 625Rs. You’ll be back in Darjeeling in just over an hour.
4:00PM – VISIT THE CHOWK BAZAAR – potter the narrow paths that take you through this bustling local market. You’ll find everything you need from fresh meat hanging in wooden shop windows, to freshly roasted nuts and delicious sweet treats. Whilst you’re there grab some snacks for breakfast cause it’s going to be an early start!
AN HOUR BEFORE SUNSET – take a short walk to Chowrasta, or the Darjeeling Mall.
Follow the loop road past market stalls until the Kanchenjunga mountain range comes into view (hopefully it does for you!). With clear visibility you’ll see across to the fourth highest mountain in the world, bathed in glorious light and topped with the whitest snow.
For dinner grab some street food from one of the many vendors and kick back to watch the locals and the world go by, then get to bed early ready for a very early start!
DAY 2: UP MOUNTAINS AND DOWN VALLEYS
4:00AM – TIGER HILL AND SUNRISE – head to the roundabout in the centre of town (KFC advertising over it) and find one of the many 4WD taxis waiting to leave for the only destination worth visiting at this time of the morning!
Once they set off it’s a rally race to get their passengers safely along the 11km winding road to Tiger Hill in time for sunrise. Scamper up the final hill by foot and jostle for position with hundreds of other people, all vying for a view of the sun’s first rays as they hit the Kanchenjunga Range in the distance.
On a clear day (again I wasn’t at all lucky) when the mist doesn’t interrupt the view, you can even see Mount Everest over 200kms away. If you fail to see anything then the cups of sweet, milky coffee being sold by the local ladies, kind of make up for it!
7:00AM – BREAKFAST, THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY
Dine with the locals and get some good old, fashioned Indian cuisine inside you. Find Aanchal’s Big Bite, a tiny restaurant just up the street from the Indian Post Office. Order a plate of Idli, Masala Dosa and Uttapam for a range of delights, read more about them on Sophee’s blog here
8:00AM – WHITE WATER RAFTING – Head back into Darjeeling and grab a change of clothes and some old closed-in shoes ready some action on the Teesta River. After an hour drive you jump onboard an inflatable raft with your experienced guide and the other thrill-seekers ready to negotiate the rapids that range from Grade 2 to 4.
2:00PM – RELAX WITH A CUP OF TEA
After two days of racing around like a blue-assed fly it’s time to enjoy what Darjeeling is famous for – tea!
Happy Valley Tea Estate supplies Harrods in London and operates tours every day except Sundays. Don’t go on a Monday though, as there’s no tea picked the day before the factory is empty until Tuesday morning!
The knowledgeable guide talks you through all aspects of plucking, withering, rolling, oxidisation, drying, sorting and grading. To finish off you can sample all the varieties they produce from white, to green, to black.
Then stroll the fields taking photos of the ladies picking the leaves, the plants and the expansive panoramic views all around.
Want to spend longer in the area? Here are some more adventurous things you could get up to:
Singalila Trek – One of the most popular treks in the area taking 3 days along the India/Nepal border.
Paragliding – take to the skies on a tandem flight to view the mountains and surrounding villages from up high.