You might just have a box of tea in your store cupboard labelled ‘Darjeeling’. In England, the brew is known to be one of the best in the world, and it all comes from a little mountain town in the Eastern Himalayas of the same name.
Long ago, Darjeeling was a popular hill station for the British who travelled there to escape the heat of Kolkata during the sweltering summer months. The surrounding slopes were discovered to possess the ideal conditions for tea growing, with leaves producing a deliciously floral flavour.
Fast forward many years to today and the town of Darjeeling is no less appealing to tourists from around the world as it was to the British. Lots come for the tea culture but stay for the Tibetan cuisine and incredible mountain views that you can admire around town.
I arrived after weeks exploring the northeast and found the town a perfect refuge after being off the beaten track for so long. I ate my body weight in delicious food, discovered as much tea as I could and wandered up and down the hills in search of the very best mountainous vistas. If you’ve got a few days sightseeing in Darjeeling, here five things you can do.
1. All things tea!
Darjeeling is known around the world for its unique infusion, and in the town there are plenty of ways you can sample it. For starters, head to the Happy Valley Tea Estate, it’s a short walk from the town centre and you can learn all about how the tea is produced, followed by a taster session. Get ready to know the difference between your greens, blacks and whites!
In town, tea is served everywhere, but to try out the biggest selection make your way to Nathmulls of Darjeeling. Established in 1931, it’s one of the oldest tea exporters in the region. Their tea room boasts spectacular views and a huge range of tea options to choose from. Afterwards, you can shop for your favourites or ask the knowledgeable staff for their recommendations on which one to take home. If you’re just after some perfect plantation scenery, go to the Rangeet Valley Ropeway, where you’ll find a cable car over tea fields and beautiful Himalayan vistas.
2. Spot Kangchenjunga
Speaking of Himalayan vistas – if you’re lucky with the weather you can spot them every day from Darjeeling town. The mountain you’ll see is Kangchenjunga, a mountain at the eastern end of the range, which lies across the Sikkim-Nepalese border. At 8,586m high, it is the third highest mountain in the world!
Arguably the best view of the mountain is from Tiger Hill, just a short drive from the centre of town. At sunrise, it’s completely packed with people waiting to get a shot of the first light on Kangchenjunga. You can also see Everest from here, although it looks far less impressive because of its distance. If you’d prefer a quieter view, try Observatory Hill, a quick walk from the town square.
3. Discover Tibetan food and crafts
Darjeeling has a large Tibetan refugee population, and there are many opportunities around the town to enjoy Tibetan foods and crafts. Kunga restaurant is one of the best options, serves delicious thukpa soups and traditional Tibetan salted tea.
The walk to the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre is a lovely one, and when you arrive you can observe Tibetans making traditional crafts – such as carpets, woven fabrics and paintings. There’s a small shop here and a photo gallery of the history of Tibetans in Darjeeling. The Himalayan Tibetan Museum is also excellent and gives a concise and well-illustrated overview of Tibetan culture.
4. Admire the greats who climbed Everest
If you’ve ever felt an inclination to climb mountains, head to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute where you can wander through the Everest museum. Learning about the amazing men and women who have climbed world’s highest peak and seeing the gear they used.
Many great climbers have come from Darjeeling, and the town is very proud of its heritage. Tenzing Norgay, the first man to climb Everest, was the first director of the institute after he settled in Darjeeling to live alongside the large Sherpa community here. There’s a statue of him outside the museum.
5. Chill out and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere
There’s so much to do in Darjeeling, but what keeps you in town for longer than planned is the relaxed atmosphere. You’ll find the pace of life is slower here than the rest of India – and you’ll quickly be charmed by the residents who are primarily of Nepali descent. Grab a big breakfast at Sonam’s Kitchen, flick through the vast selection of books at the Oxford Bookstore and wander up to the Mahakal Mandir temple on top of Observatory Hill. Trust me when I say, it’s hard not to fall for this Himalayan town!
Explore Darjeeling and beyond on an Intrepid adventure around India. Pick your trip today!