By Aratrika Das Brahmachari
Darjeeling – the name is famous for a variety of reasons. Tea of course tops the list, closely followed by the Gorkhaland movement & some may even be reminded of Rajesh Khanna’s famous song – “mere saapno ki rani’ – shot here by the vintage Darjeeling Himalayan Railway tracks. Darjeeling today, is an over-frequented holiday spot that seems to have lost most of its erstwhile charm. However, like humans, places have spirits that never die! And to feel the real spirit of this colonial hill station, here is a list of 5 things you should do when you visit Darjeeling.
Have Breakfast At Keventer’s
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Plan your day amidst the aroma of coffee, hot chocolate & smoking hot sausages! Keventer’s is an open air breakfast restaurant serving hot beverages & British breakfast platters that include poached eggs, sandwiches, salami, sausages & meat-loaf. It overlooks the clock-tower but is separated from the bustle of the Chowrasta. You should start your day here if you love vintage eateries, is a Satyajit Ray fan or simply because you can’t resist good food.
Spend An Hour At The Mall
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Walk up to the mall, the highest point on the Darjeeling Hill, through the Chowrasta! If you are a shopaholic, some of the trinkets sold by Nepali hawkers on the way will surely catch your eyes! If you want something really authentic, the curio shops lining the mall have the best collection Tibetan thankas, antique statues & oriental jewellery! You may do a little bit of tea-tasting at the many tea leaf-selling shops here. Not interested in shopping? Sit on one of the benches or order some tea at one of the cafes, basking in the golden sunlight & observing the tourists & locals in their myriad hues, the children taking pony-rides or the Himalayan hills all round!
Take A Toy Train Ride
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The Darjeeling-Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers joyrides for tourists other than the regular train-service that connects New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling! Opt for a joyride to Ghoom- the second highest railway station in the world.
Completed in 1818, the tracks today seem to exist literally on the motor road almost running into the lives of the locals. The vintage, blue toy train gallops past kitchen gardens & porches of the locals, so close that you could actually smell what’s cooking in their kitchens. But the perk is that no one seems offended! The women would grin at you & the children would wave at the train whizzing past.
Batasia Loop, one of the 5 loops in the track, offers a stunning view of the mountains! The Railway Museum at Ghoom also cannot be missed!
Take A Romantic Walk
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From the Mall you could take one of the meandering, maple-strewn walkways past heritage hotels, churches, Kanchendzonga view-points, graveyards & colonial bungalows. Start from St. Andrew’s Church, past the green railings & lose yourself in the mist & low lying clouds! Often you would hear the chants from a monastery, hidden in the mountains! The British architecture of the buildings mixed with the Tibetan influence would beckon you for more! You may go the zoo or mountaineering institute; visit the shrubbery or the Mahakal temple or simply sit at one of the benches facing Kanchendzonga, surrounded by Tibetan prayer flags, admiring the natural beauty!
Brew Some Darjeeling Tea At Glenary’s
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Have you ever seen a telephone booth inside a café? Well, Glenary’s was once the only place from where one could make a long-distance call. Also, it was the first café to house a cyber station for tourists! Order some baked goodies like pastries, fruit cakes, doughnuts, croissants or home-made chocolates. Opt for a pot of Makaibari Tea & watch the leaves infuse their flavours into the hot water! Mix a little bit of sugar & skip the milk for an authentic cup of Darjeeling Tea. If you are lucky you might get a table next to the glass wall overlooking the opposite hill & if you happen to visit after dark, the lighted hill is a sight to behold.
Glenary’s also houses a pub & a restaurant famous for continental cuisine! The antique fireplace in the restaurant is a great spot for Instragram clicks!
Tea gardens, forests, monasteries – Darjeeling has a lot to offer! Though many may feel that the place has lost the quaintness a hill-station should possess, it is up to us to find a way to bring out its essence. As Keats puts its – “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”,
Darjeeling will live in the hearts of many in the form of poetry, painting, film & memory forever!