Darjeeling, India

Part Victorian holiday resort, part major tea-growing centre, Darjeeling (from Dorje Ling, “the place of the thunderbolt”) straddles a ridge 2200m up in the Himalayas, almost 600 km north of Kolkata. Over seventy years since the British departed, the town remains as popular as ever with holiday-makers from the plains, and promenades such as the Mall and the Chowrasta still burst with life. The greatest appeal for visitors has to be its stupendous mountain vistas – with Kanchenjunga (the third-highest mountain in the world) and a vast cohort of ice-capped peaks dominating the northern horizon.

The best travel tips for visiting Darjeeling

North Bengal, where the Himalayas soar from the flat alluvial plains towards Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, holds some magnificent mountain panoramas, as well as a number of India’s most attractive hill stations.

Most visitors pass as quickly as possible through Siliguri en route to Darjeeling, Kalimpong and the small, mountainous state of Sikkim. If you’ve time on your hands, it’s worth making a detour east of Siliguri to explore the sub-Himalayan Dooars, with its patchwork of tea gardens and forests that encompasses the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, home to the one-horned rhino, bison and wild boar

Although the infrastructure created under the Raj has been unable to cope with the ever-expanding population in Darjeeling, leading to acute shortages of water and electricity, the town remains a colourful and lively, cosmopolitan place.

It has good shopping and dining, plenty of walks in the surrounding hills, and attractions such as the Toy Train and colourful Buddhist monasteries.

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Maneybhanjang Town in the Darjeeling, India © Shutterstock

Maneybhanjang Town in the Darjeeling, India © Shutterstock

Best things to do in Darjeeling

From the Maneybhanjang–Phalut trail to the tea plantations, these are the best things to do in Darjeeling.

#1 Singalila treks: the Maneybhanjang–Phalut trail

The single ridge of the Singalila Range rises near Darjeeling and extends all the way to the summit of Kanchenjunga. Unfortunately, although some longer trails have been opened in Sikkim, there is no provision yet to link them to the initial lower sections of the ridge to Sandakphu (3636m) and Phalut (3600m) in Darjeeling District.

Easily accessible from Darjeeling, the later stages of the Maneybhanjang–Phalut trail provide magnificent views of the higher ranges; lightweight expeditions are possible as there are trekking huts and lodges and simple food stalls along the way. The walking is demanding and you should bring your own sleeping bag and warm clothes as the weather can be unpredictable.

Maneybhanjang, a small town and road-head 27km from Darjeeling, is the usual starting point for the route, with the finest views found along the Sandakphu–Phalut section of the trail while trekking north. You will need to get an entry fee from the Forestry Department to enter the Singalila National Park, and regulation states that you has to take a guide – available through the Highlander Guides and Porters Welfare Association.

#2 Visit leafy Kalimpong

Though it may seem a bit grubby at first, the quiet hill station of Kalimpong, 50km east of Darjeeling, has much to offer, including a colourful market, an extraordinary profusion of orchids and other flowers, great views of Kanchenjunga, several monasteries and lots of potential for walks in the surrounding hills, which are still home to the original Lepcha community.

Like Darjeeling, Kalimpong once belonged to Sikkim, and later to Bhutan. Unlike Darjeeling, however, this was never a tea town or resort but a trading centre on the vital route to Tibet. Despite a large military presence, Kalimpong’s recent history has been one of neglect, decaying infrastructure and water shortage.

#3 Visit a Darjeeling tea estate

Although the original appeal of Darjeeling for the British was as a hill resort with easy access from the plains, inspired by their success in Assam they soon realised its potential for growing tea.

Today, the Darjeeling tea industry continues to flourish, producing China Jat, China Hybrid and Hybrid Assam. A combination of factors, including altitude and sporadic rainfall, have resulted in a relatively small yield – only three percent of India’s total – but the delicate black tea produced here is considered to be one of the finest in the world.

It is also some of the most expensive with varieties fetching more than ₹18,000 a kilo at auction. Grades such as Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP) or Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) are determined by quality and length of leaf as it is withered, crushed, fermented and dried.

To watch the process for yourself, call in at the Happy Valley Tea Estate, a half-hour walk from Darjeeling off Lebong Cart Rd.


Darjeeling, India tea plantation © Shutterstock

#4 Ride the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Toy Train

Completed in 1881, the small-gauge (2ft or 610mm) Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was designed as an extension of the North Bengal State Railway, climbing from New Jalpaiguri, via Siliguri, for a tortuous 88km up to Darjeeling. Given World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1999, the Toy Train follows the Hill Cart Road, crossing it at regular intervals and even sharing it with traffic.

The Toy Train is no longer an essential mode of transport but is certainly a tourist attraction, and currently runs from Kurseong to Darjeeling. A handful of steam engines are still in use but diesel engines are now de rigueur on the long route.

Weather permitting, first-class coaches with large viewing windows provide magnificent views as the journey progresses and the scenery gradually unfolds; second class can be fun but crowded.

At its highest point at Jorebungalow near Ghoom (2438m), 7km short of Darjeeling, the dramatic panorama of the Kanchenjunga Range is suddenly revealed.

Best areas to stay in Darjeeling

When planning a visit to Darjeeling, India, choosing the right area to stay can greatly enhance your experience. From the vibrant commercial hub of Chowrasta to the serene hillside retreats of Ghoom, Darjeeling offers a diverse range of neighbourhoods catering to different preferences and interests.

Chowrasta and Mall Road

Located in the heart of Darjeeling, Chowrasta and Mall Road are the pulsating hubs of the town, bustling with activity, vibrant markets, and a wide range of mid-range accommodation options.

Gandhi Road and Laden La Road

For travellers seeking a blend of convenience and tranquillity, Gandhi Road and Laden La Road offer the ideal choice. The guesthouses and budget hotels are slightly removed from the bustling town centre, providing a peaceful atmosphere.

Lebong and Happy Valley

If you desire a serene escape amidst nature, away from the town's hustle and bustle, consider staying in the Lebong and Happy Valley areas. Surrounded by lush green tea gardens and boasting breathtaking mountain vistas, the higher-quality hotels here provide a tranquil retreat for nature lovers.

Browse the best hotels in Darjeeling.

Kangchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world © Shutterstock

Kangchenjunga - the third highest mountain in the world - seen from Kalimpong © Shutterstock

Best restaurants and bars

From charming tea houses serving aromatic blends to vibrant bars offering local brews, Darjeeling presents a gastronomic journey that is as diverse as it is memorable.

Chowrasta Mall

Located at the heart of Darjeeling, Chowrasta Mall is a bustling hub of culinary activity with a delightful assortment of restaurants, cafes, and bars. From traditional Indian fare to global cuisines, this area caters to all palates.

Laden-La Road

With its narrow lanes and charming storefronts, Laden-La Road is another gastronomic hotspot in Darjeeling. This vibrant neighbourhood offers a plethora of dining options, from family-run eateries serving local Himalayan delicacies to fusion restaurants blending international flavours with local ingredients.

Nehru Road

The main thoroughfare of Darjeeling has plenty for food enthusiasts. It’s the best place to savour local specialties like thukpa, momos, and traditional Tibetan butter tea.

Gandhi Road

Gandhi Road, located just off the Mall, is a vibrant neighbourhood known for its eclectic mix of bars and restaurants. Whether you're in the mood for authentic Indian cuisine, international flavours, or fusion dishes, Gandhi Road is the place to go.

How to get around

From iconic heritage trains to shared jeeps, Darjeeling offers an array of transportation options that will elevate your journey. Here’s how to get around.

By the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Embark on a nostalgic journey aboard the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, affectionately known as the Toy Train. This iconic attraction weaves its way through the hills, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.

By shared jeep

For flexible and convenient transportation within Darjeeling and its neighbouring areas, shared jeeps are the best options. You can easily find them at designated stands or enquire at your accommodation. Shared jeeps are a popular choice for reaching nearby attractions such as Tiger Hill, Ghoom Monastery, or the stunning Mirik Lake.

By taxi

If you prefer more personalised and convenient transportation, hiring a private taxi or renting a car is a viable option. This allows you to have complete control over your itinerary, enabling you to explore Darjeeling and its surroundings at your own pace. Consult with local travel agencies or your accommodation for recommendations on reliable taxi services or car rental companies.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railways toy train heading to the Darjeeling from Siliguri station © Shutterstock

Darjeeling Himalayan Railways -"Toy Train" © Shutterstock

What is the best time to visit Darjeeling?

The best seasons to visit Darjeeling and the mountainous areas of north Bengal are after the monsoons and before winter (late Sept to late Nov), and spring (mid-Feb to May).

Darjeeling experiences a temperate climate, with cool summers and chilly winters. The weather is pleasant during the months of April to June and September to November and the skies are clear. During these months, you can enjoy panoramic views of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks and partake in various outdoor activities.

It's worth noting that Darjeeling receives a fair amount of rainfall during the monsoon season (June to August), which can limit visibility and make trekking trails slippery.

Find out more about the best time to visit India.

How many days do you need in Darjeeling?

To truly appreciate the charm of Darjeeling, it is recommended to spend a minimum of three to four days in the town. This timeframe allows you to explore the key attractions at a leisurely pace and immerse yourself in the unique ambiance of Darjeeling.

With three to four days, you can visit iconic spots like Tiger Hill, the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, and the Happy Valley Tea Estate. You can also take time to explore the monasteries, enjoy scenic drives, and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Rock Garden and Ganga Maya Park.

Additionally, allocating a day to visit the tea gardens surrounding Darjeeling will give you the opportunity to witness tea plucking and processing and indulge in tea tasting. Overall, three to four days is a recommended duration to fully experience the attractions and atmosphere of Darjeeling.

How to get here

Virtually all travellers arriving in Darjeeling from the plains come via Siliguri, whether by the Toy Train or by road. Jeeps and buses stop at the bus stand in the lower half of the town, from where it’s a bit of an uphill trek to the main hotel area. Here’s how to get to Darjeeling.

By plane

The nearest airports to Darjeeling are Bagdogra, 100km to the south (see page 787) — allow at least 3hr to get there by taxi – and Pakyong, 79km away, in Sikkim. By train Darjeeling is famous for its spectacular Toy Train (see box). Railway reservations (daily 8am–2pm) for selected main-line trains out of NJP can be made at Darjeeling’s station a couple of days before departure, though booking online or via one of the town’s travel agencies is easier.

By bus

Due to poor road conditions, it is best to avoid the handful of buses and minibuses that run to Siliguri from the bus stand near Chowk Bazaar.

For overland bus travel to Kathmandu, head to the border town of Kakarbitta in Nepal to get a choice of coaches.

By taxi/jeep

In the mornings, jeeps run regularly to Gangtok (for Sikkim; foreigners need two photographs and photocopies of their passport information page and Indian visa to get permits at the border), Siliguri, Mirik, and Kalimpong, and are by far the most efficient way to travel, especially if you pay for two front seats for yourself.

Book in advance if you can at the jeep stand (next to the bus stand); each route has its own syndicate, and some have two or three.

Find out the best ways to get to India.

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Andy Turner

written by
Andy Turner

updated 29.05.2023

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