Monday, 20 June 2011

Darjeeling, West Bengal

Darjeeling is a beautiful hill-station, situated in the Shivalik Hills of the Himalayas, in West Bengal. It is a picturesque hilltop, with unscathed beauty and interesting tourist spots to boast of. It is internationally renowned for its tea industry and Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (nicknamed Toy Train), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from scenic grandeur, Darjeeling also offers spots considered a trekker's paradise. Nestled amidst the rolling mountains, this place offers a perfect getaway for those seeking a rendezvous with nature. The salubrious climate and serene atmosphere of Darjeeling are some others reasons the tourists instantly fall in love with this place.

Darjeeling was once a part of Sikkim. It was then lost to Bhutan, regained from it and then again lost, this time to Nepal, in 18th century. However, during the Anglo-Nepalese war, Nepal lost the hill resort to the East India Company. The British then developed Darjeeling as a major hill resort, to provide them a getaway from the scorching heat of surrounding plains. Darjeeling also became a frontier town in British India, because of its strategic location and contemporary political situations. Later, at the time of Indian Independence, Darjeeling was merged with the state of West Bengal.

The cultural diversity of Darjeeling also makes it an interesting tourist spot. Apart from the indigenous ethnic crowd of the Lepchas, Bhutias, Sherpas, Rais, Yamloos, Damais, Kamais, Newars and Limbus, other communities like the Bengalis, Marwaris, Anglo-Indian, Chinese, Biharis and Tibetans can also be seen here. Hinduism and Buddhism are the two widely followed religions here, while Christians and Muslims form the minority group. English, Nepali, Hindi, Tibetan and Bengali are the languages, which are prominently used here. Darjeeling is also famous for its British-style public schools, which attract students from many parts of India and even abroad.

Once you have landed in Darjeeling, you must try the local market and taste the delicious cuisines of the place. Apart from Darjeeling Tea, you must buy the curio items pertaining to Tibetan and Himalayan cultures, such as thangkas, miniature monasteries and garments made from yak wool. Other than these, the beautiful portraits of Himalayas available here should be on your must buy list. After you are done with your shopping, do not forget to taste the yummy 'Momos', savor a hot cup of Darjeeling Tea and drink 'Thentuk', the hearty Tibetan soup. 

Places to See:

Tiger Hill is one of the most popular vantage points in Darjeeling. From here, you can get to see world's third highest peak, 'Kanchenjunga', easily. If you are exceptionally lucky, you can also get to see the highest peak of the world' Mt. Everest' from this place. Tiger Hill also offers some awe-inspiring views of surrounding mountains and valley.

The war memorial was built in Darjeeling, in the memory of those brave Gorkha soldiers who sacrificed their life for their country, in all wars and operations that taken place since independence. It was constructed by the Zilla Sainik Board, in 1995. When in Darjeeling, you must visit this place to pay homage to those brave-hearts.

The Dhirdham temple in Darjeeling roughly resembles the famous Pasupathinath Temple of Kathmandu. The presiding deity of this temple is 'Lord Shiva'. The temple’s ceiling reflects the influence of Tibetan architectural style. It was constructed by Rai Saheb Purna Bahadur Pradhan in 1939. It is situated near Darjeeling Railway Station.

Japanese Peace Pagoda is one of the Peace Pagodas in the world, which was built under the guidance of a Japanese Buddhist monk, 'Nichidatsu Fujii'. This place was constructed with the motive of providing enlightenment and focus to the people of all races and origin, to come together and work for world peace. The height of the pagoda is 28.5 meters and diameter is 23 meters. Its foundation was laid in 1972, but it was opened to visitors in 1992 only.

Buddhism is one of the most widely practiced religions in Darjeeling. There are many monasteries in the hill resort, standing as a witness of its tryst with Buddhism. The most popular ones include Sakya Monastery (Ghoom), Dali Monastery, Bhutia Busty Monastery, Yiga-Choling Buddhist Monastery and Makdhog Monastery. Each of these monasteries has its own glorious tale to tell.

Darjeeling is internationally renowned for its premium quality tea. There are about 70 tea gardens in the hill resort, producing one of the finest-quality teas in the world. While in Darjeeling, you must visit a tea garden to know about the entire manufacturing process of the tea.

Bengal Natural History Museum provides a complete view of the fauna native to different altitudes of the eastern Himalayas. More than 4,000 specimens have been classified here. The museum has different divisions for birds, butterflies and beetles, reptiles and mammals.

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute was inaugurated in 1954, by India’s first Prime Minister, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru. Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, the first man to climb Mt. Everest, was the first Director of Field Training, at this institute. It is one of India's finest mountaineering institutes, which also houses a mountaineering museum that boasts of a rare collection of historic mountaineering equipments.

Spread over an area of about 44 hectares, Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park is renowned for its successful captive breeding of several critical endangered species, like Snow Leopard and Red Panda. Situated at an altitude of 2133.5 meters, on the Birch Hill, this zoo now serves as home to many species of endangered animals as well as birds.

Spread in about 40 acres of land, Llyod Botanical Garden has been made as a distant annexe of the Calcutta Botanical Garden. This place has wonderful collection of orchards and it is also known for its collection of several exotic species of flora.

The real name of the Toy Train in Darjeeling is 'The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway'. It is a 2 ft narrow-gauge railway, running from Siliguri to Darjeeling. One of the UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in India, it offers a wonderful and pleasing journey, of approximately 86 km, amidst beautiful mountains and forests. The journey to Darjeeling is incomplete without an experience of the Toy Train. 


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