Observatory Hill and Mahakaal Temple
Rising steeply from the heart of Darjeeling town is Observatory Hill, and it is well worth climbing to the top to experience the magnificent view from the summit. You can see all the way to Sikkim and beyond as you look towards the sacred peak of Kanchenjunga, one of 12 peaks over 20,000 feet (6096 meters). The hill is rich in flora and fauna and offers great opportunities for bird watchers and photographers. The Mahakaal (also written as Mahakal) Temple straddles the summit where the Dorjeling Buddhist monastery once stood .A communal place of worship for all of Darjeeling’s faiths, the central temple, with three Shiva linga is said to have self manifested in 1782. The gilded icons represent Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwor. As you wander through the temple complex, you will hear prayers are chanted by Hindu priests while Buddhist monks read from their holy scriptures. Devotees walk barefoot around the shrine three times, ringing bells hung from the walls by various families and organizations in honour of those who have passed away. Hundreds of prayer flags adorn the treetops above, creating an atmosphere of peace and multi-religious tranquillity. Next to Mahakal is a white chorten (a Tibetan memorial shrine) containing the relics of Dorje Lama, the temple’s caretaker in the 1880s Scattered around the complex are also shrines to various Hindu deities, including Durga, Ganesh, Hanuman, Kali, Krishna, Radha, Saraswati and Shiva. On your way down the hill, stop in for the charming Windamere Hotel, one of Darjeeling’s colonial masterpieces, which dates back to the 1930s. Famous for its Christmas dinners and entertainment, the hotel’s furnishings are frozen in time, and its wall are covered with historical photographs and documents that give a rich insight into Darjeeling’s past .
Chowrasta and the Mall
Chowrasta is the contemporary centre of Darjeeling. People gather along this wide promenade at the top of the ridge just below Observatory Hill to bask in the sun, gossip, do their shopping and eat in restaurants. Porters trudge up and down this important crossroads carrying merchandise. You can spend all morning here sitting on a bench with a cup of steaming hot tea reading the newspaper while watching local society go about its business . The Mall encircles Observatory Hill and is always full of locals taking their morning or evening constitutional walks. Along this mile-long stretch, joggers and athletes alternate with young couples strolling along arm in arm.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
At the top of Birch Hill (locally known as Jawahar Parbet), you will find the world famous Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI). Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, laid the institute’s foundation stone in November 1954, and the legendary Tenzing Norgay Sherpa was HMI’s first Director of Field Training. Tenzing Norgay’s grave is located on the hill’s summit, making a visit to the institute and its surroundings pilgrimage for all climbing enthusiasts. The Institute comprises of a museum on mountain lore, a well- equipped school for mountaineers, a hostel for students and Swiss- style houses for the Sherpa trainers. The mountaineering museum itself boasts a collection of historic climbing equipments, specimen of Himalayan flora and fauna, and a relief model of the Himalayas showing the Principal peaks. A Separate Everest Museum tells the story of expeditions to the world’s highest peak. Entry to HMI is through the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park (see below), on Jawahar Road (west), and it can be accessed by foot or on horseback. The Institute is open from 9am to 1pm, and 3pm to 5pm.
For the confirmed cliff hangers out there, Darjeeling offers a series of stone walls that make for terrific rock climbing. Gombu Rock, Tenzing Rock and Rock Face II are some of the most popular, and your hotel staff or guides will be able to help you make arrangements.
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Parks
One of India’s most highly regarded zoological parks; the Darjeeling zoo is home to wildlife rarely seen elsewhere. Spread across the hillside of Jawahar Parbat below the HMI, the park was established in1958 to study and conserve Himalayan fauna. Today, the zoo houses India’s only Siberian tigers, as well as other rare species, such as the red panda and Tibetan wolf. There is also a snow Leopard breeding Centre, which is definitely worth a visit. Monasteries: Darjeeling has three active Buddhist monasteries that welcome tourists: Bhutia Busty Monastery, the Yolmowa Buddhist Makdhog Monastery, also popularly known as Alubari (Aloobari) Monastery, and Yiga Choling Monastery. All these monasteries hold Tibetan religious and folk dances during Losar, the Tibetan New Year, which falls between mid-February and mid- March.
Bhutia Busty Monastery:
Located about 1.5 kilometers downhill from chowrasta, this monastery was founded in 1879, and has links to both the Kagyu and Nyingma orders of Tibetan Buddhism. It was ravaged by the 1934 earthquake that struck the whole region, but was rebuilt under the patronage of the Late Chogyal (Dharmraja) of Sikkim. Built in a traditional Tibetan Style with a notable Sikkimese Influence,
Yolmowa Buddhist Makdhog Monastery:
Situated a little over 2 kilometers from the town on Tenzing Norgay Road, this beautiful place of worship is popularly known as Alubari Monastery, after the tiny village in which it is situated. Yolmowa Makdhog Monastery was built around 1914 by Sangay Lama, a highly revered religious head of the Yolmowas, a small ethnically Tibetan group from northeast Nepal, some of whom settled in Darjeeling.
Yiga Choling Monastery (Ghoom Monastery):
Just below Ghoom railway station, about 8 kilometres away from Darjeeling town, Yiga Choling is the largest of Darjeeling’s three monasteries. Built in 1875 by Lama Sherab Gyatso, it contains images of Buddhist deities and lamas, such as Chenrezing (Avalokitesvara), the Buddha of compassion, and Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa sect. The monastery also contains a huge 15- foot image of Jampeyang (Maitreya), the Buddha of the future. A large collection of liturgical texts includes the 108- volume Kangyur, the Tibetan Buddhist canon.
Darjeeling is of course famous for its tea gardens, the larger of which are known as ‘estates’, encircling the town on all sides. During your sojourn in ‘Darj’, you really must visit atleast one tea garden and a factory where the leaves are processed. The experience will be as educational as it will be novel. The Happy Valley Tea Estate lies within the boundary of the town itself and is easily accessible to visitors. One of the oldest and most renowned tea estates of the area, Happy Valley lies in the Darjeeling at an altitude of 9022 feet (2750 metres) and has a plantation area of over 100 hectares. Visitors can observe tea picking, processing and packaging, and can purchase some delicious tea from the factory itself. More adventurous visitors may want to pay a visit to tea plantation a little further away, such as Tumsong (Tamsang), the area’s first organic tea plantation, which can be reached by Jeep from Darjeeling bazaar. The wooden houses and close community of a tea garden are an experience second to none.
Tiger Hill is the highest point in the Darjeeling area .An early morning trip to witness the sunrise is a must. Watching the rising sun strike the colossal Kanchenjunga range of snow-capped peaks in a blaze of rapidly changing colours is truly spectacular. Tiger Hill is now part of a nature preserve, the meadows of which are suitable for picnics. Situated above Ghoom, Tiger Hill can be reached by taxi or bus from. For those visitors in search of little exertion, the trek up to Tiger Hill from Ghoom is a very rewarding experience. There are no fees of any kind at Tiger Hill.
Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre
The Tibetan Refugee Self Help centre lies at an altitude of 7000 feet (3657 meters) near Lebong. Established in 1959 to house refugees from Tibet, these days it provides shelter to the aged in addition to housing an orphanage, a school, a hospital and a monastery. Various craft workshops produce Tibetan Carpets of Ladakhi wool, wood carvings and leather products. There is also a showroom where antique Tibetan coins, banknotes and jewelers are sold. Visitors may hire a taxi to reach the Centre or walk along the Chowrasta Hermitage Road. No entrance fees are charged.
Japanese Peace Pagoda
The Japanese Peace Pagoda was established by followers of the Nipponzan Myohoji, a Japanese Buddhist order. The pagoda is the highest free-standing structure in town; the pagoda can be reachedon foot or by taxi. Near the pagoda is the Nipponzan Myohoji Temple, which is built in a traditional Japanese style and offers visitors a place for peace and introspection .Visitors may meditate and interact with the resident Japanese monks, and photography is permitted inside the Temple.
Situated below the Darjeeling railway station, this temple was built in 1939 by Rai Saheb Purna Bahadur Pradhan. It was designed by the Gorkhali architect Beg Raj Sakya to replicate the Pashupatinath temple complex of Kathmandu, Nepal. A Statute of Lord Shiva stands outside the main temple, representing his five different facial expressions with the universal Third Eye. Visitors can take photographs outside the temple, but cameras are not allowed inside the sanctum. permitted inside the Temple.
Darjeeling-Rangit Valley Passenger Cable Car
Popularly known as ‘The Rope-Way’, the Darjeeling-Rangit Valley Passenger Cable Car is located about 3 kilometres north of town at North Point. It is India’s oldest passenger rope-way and connects Darjeeling with Sigla Bazaar at the valley.
Situate 10 kilometres from town, the Rock Garden offers attractive picnic spots with natural waterfalls and boating facilities. Small restaurants and shops abound, but visitors should be aware that return transportation is difficult to organize from the park
Water transport is a great way to explore the uniqueness of Darjeeling’s natural and cultural diversity, and the famous Teesta and Rangit rivers offer first-class rafting adventures. According to your experience and interest, you can either glide along clam blue waters with magnificent scenery rising out of the blanks, or rush through roaring white rapids. You will always be in the capable hands of accomplished river-men employed by government authorized rafting agencies.