Darjeeling Highlights

Photo by Patrick Horton

The Himalaya at dawn, a toy train, tea estates and Buddhist culture

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You’ll need to organise two things for visiting Darjeeling. A driver plus vehicle and ‘bed tea’. The latter is a wonderful Indian invention and combines an early morning wake-up knock at the door and a pot of tea. You’ll need to be at Tiger Hill at least an hour before dawn. Even earlier will let you avoid the crowds of vehicles that block the narrow road leading to the viewpoint and it will also give you access, for a small sum, to the top floor of a viewing building.

Tiger Hill is a high ridge above Darjeeling that gives jaw-dropping views of the Himalaya. At dawn the sun breaks over the eastern horizon to light up the mountains and is an event that attracts mainly domestic tourist. You should come to see the sun slowly paint the purple pre-dawn shades of Mt Kanchenjunga into gold while later on those same fingers of gold touch Makalu, Lhotse and Everest. This gives you the thrilling sight of viewing numbers one, three, four and five in the hierarchy of highest mountains. (Number 2 is K2 in Pakistan). Once the sun is well up and the crowds dispersed, it’s time to head back to your hotel for an early breakfast.

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Fed and rested you can then take a trip on the steam-hauled Darjeeling Himalayan Railway to Ghoom. While most of the trains now use diesel locomotives there is still a fleet of 12 vintage steam locomotives that are about 100-years-old. Before your trip have a wander about the station, the old locomotives and watch the maintenance crews work on them and the driver and firemen get them ready for service.

Yes, it’s a Darjeeling tourist trip, but quite exciting as you trundle along the side of the road, almost able to touch the people in the doorways of their shops. The train stops part way in a garden where there are views of the town and Kanchenjunga. Then to lose height the train does a loop (Batasia Loop) and disappears under the track it has just been on.

Ghoom is a bit of a shambolic town in a gentle way and the railway station adds to its charm. While the engine crew stoke up the boiler for the return trip venture to one of the tea stalls for a cup of chai (tea).

You’ll need to book in advance for this train at Darjeeling station.

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