At some point in our lives, we have all savoured a piping cup of Darjeeling tea. However, not many around the world know about the provincial highland town, Darjeeling, where the tea is produced. Therefore, only a few would have taken the time to tour one of the most scenic destinations in Eastern India.
All credit goes to the Scottish physician Archibald Campbell, for what Darjeeling is today! Archibald Campbell, during his visit to China, found a peculiar set of beverage seeds that were doing the rounds in the region. He brought some to India and planted a few tea seedlings in the lush soil encircling the town of Darjeeling. And the rest is history! There was little worth seeing in Darjeeling before that, but when the tea production took off, Darjeeling transformed into a natural verdant haven.
Be it the taste of bonafide tea or the sheer picturesque views, Darjeeling is a must-visit destination and a perfect visual retreat for vacationers.
Here are a few amazing things to do in Darjeeling.
Visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and Mountain Zoo
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute was established in 1953 to memorialise the triumphant conquest of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and his companion Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. With myriad artefacts honouring the highlanders through history, it is a must-visit for the history buffs. View the preferred list of mountaineers who have famously ascended the peak of Mount Everest, the photos on the walls of renowned explorers, and the banners that represent the states and governments, that funded the expedition. The HMI building is encircled by a mountain zoo. Stroll between the cages and enclosures to enjoy the sight of some of the world’s unique and lesser-known flora and fauna. Snow leopards, Royal Bengal Tiger, red pandas, fox, various species of deer, and wolves, to name a few, are some animals you can find in its vicinity.
Shopping for tea
As Darjeeling is the birthplace of bonafide tea, there are innumerable family-owned beverage stalls and wooden stores retailing, Darjeeling tea! Nevertheless, you need the expertise to find the best tea leaves and to successfully talk down the prices versus smart Indian tradesmen. You could fancy buying pre-packaged teas in the conventional classes. No matter where you end up purchasing tea in Darjeeling, you are ensured that the quality is much better than those sold in supermarkets or outlets in the cities.
Dinner at the Windamere Hotel
There are a few rare places in India that have conserved the feeling of British imperialism to this day. And in-house establishment at the Windamere Hotel does precisely that. The 5-course silver service banquet spread is an exceptional experience, with faint lighting, 1930s melody blandly playing in the background and an ample continental-meets-Indian menu. The food list changes each day; however, the most savoured dishes in Windamere Hotel are jam roly-poly with custard, chicken korma and rice, and you guessed it, a delightful cup of Darjeeling tea.
A ride in the train
Glasgow-built steam train; the first of its kind in India, that once transported British troops, tea cultivators and Indian Civil Service representatives from the foothills of the Himalayas up to Darjeeling and Siliguri high in the mountains is still operating at its best. The shrill sound and rumble of the train reverberating through the air, thick white puffs of smoke, and great coal-burner engines zigzagging their way through the small and spiralling streets is a real spectacle to behold. A ride in the steam train is sure to offer you breathtaking views of green tea shrubs spurting down the sheer foothills. Furthermore, you can witness charmed locals greeting and capturing selfies as the train moves adjacent to their dwellings.
Visit the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery
Darjeeling is home to the largest Buddhist monastery in West Bengal. It overlooks the twisting roads and tea spreads of the mountain town. And if you must visit the monastery, the best time to do is in the evenings! You can partake in the evening prayer session along with Buddhist monks of all ages. These blessed beings sit down in rows facing a giant Buddha statue chanting, beating drums, blowing trumpets and horns, ringing gongs and clashing cymbals. The whole experience is sure to have an impact on your senses. The commotion that takes place in the monastery can be a bit overwhelming, not knowing what to receive or expect or not quite realising what exactly is proceeding. However, listen out for the sound of conch shells resounding through the air as young ascetics signal the inception and performance of prayer time.
Tea factory visit
You just cannot visit the land of tea without halting at a functioning tea plant. There is no deficit of breweries to visit, with hundreds if not thousands spread beyond the hills, parted by neat series of green tea shrubs and cultivators’ residences, each growing, packaging and trading tea to all corners of the globe. The most visited and the most prominent tea plant is named Happy Valley Tea Estate, which although available and open to the visitors, is not considered as authentic as Puttabong Tea Estate. The Happy Valley Tea Estate was initiated in 1852 in the northernmost district of Darjeeling, positioned amid the largest estate in the hamlet. You can look at how tea leaves are prepared, folded, burned, purified, concentrated, assorted and wrapped at the facility.