Journey to Darjeeling
We travelled to Darjeeling from Nepal and crossed using the border at Kakarbhitta. I have written a post on crossing the border here.
From Kakarbhitta we took a local bus to Siliguri for rs.15 each. We caught the bus from on the street directly after the border and it took approx. 30 minutes to reach Siliguri on the most back breaking, bone jarring trip ever – luckily everyone on the bus seemed to find it funny every time we hit a bump, so we had a good ‘ol laugh on the journey.
The bus dropped us just opposite the public bus station (although initially it was hard to spot as it was hidden behind a number of small shop stalls). At the time of writing there were no buses to Darjeeling due to the condition of the roads after the landslides that also suspended train services between Kurseong and Siliguri.
Just in front of the bus station in Siliguri are many shared jeeps heading up to Darjeeling and beyond. All jeeps to Darjeeling charge a standard set price of rs.120 each and take about 3.5 hours, including an obligatory 30 minute stop for the driver to have lunch / dinner. Feel free to hop out and grab some food yourself.
We arrived in Darjeeling around noon and inspected a couple of rooms before settling on one. From what we saw, the accommodation was expensive for the standard of the room with rs.500/600 being the norm for a room with bucket hot water showers. All the rooms we inspected had bucket hot water showers so I expect you’d need to pay above rs.1000 to get a normal wall shower.
Hotel Abhi Satya
Location: Just off Chowrasta square on Dr Zakir Hussain Road, up some steps opposite Hotel Golden Orchard
How much does it cost? Rs.400 room with attached bathroom (bucket hot water)
The room we stayed in was basic, and it got pretty cold at night; however the friendly owner Manuka provided plenty of blankets to keep us warm. The attached bathroom was also very basic with an Asian toilet, sink and bucket hot water showers (ask Manuka for a bucket of hot water and it will be delivered to your door within 20 minutes).
I was a little apprehensive about the bucket showers at first (simply tip a bucket of water over your head) but they seem work as well as a normal shower. However, with a room so cold, you don’t want to strip off and shower that often!
Local Food Stalls
Location: Just off Chowrasta square on Dr Zakir Hussain Road
How much does it cost? Rs. 5 – 30
The 3 food stalls closest to the square serve up cheap belly filling nosh. For breakfast you can choose from egg roll / sandwich / bun, omelette, or butter toast, and for lunch/dinner you can have momo’s or veg chowmein – all washed down with a cup of chai. There isn’t anything on the menu for more than rs.30.
Kalden Restaurant & Cafe
Location: Just off Chowrasta square on Dr Zakir Hussain Road, on the right past the food stalls (big red menu outside)
How much does it cost? Rs.10 to rs.100
We walked past this little restaurant every night on the way back to our hotel, and every night it was packed full of both locals and travellers. On our last day in Darjeeling we noticed a table free and decided to go in for lunch.
We tried the veg momo’s, veg soup and the Tibetan bread, all of which were delicious. The service was quick and friendly and the prices were very cheap considering how nice and flavoursome the food was.
If you walk past this restaurant and see a table then I recommend you grab it quick as it won’t stay empty long!
Location: Just off Chowrasta square on Dr Zakir Hussain Road – opposite Cyber Plant internet café.
How much does it cost? Rs. 30 – 200
This café is recommended in the lonely planet guide, and every time we walked past it was packed with travellers. We managed to get a table for breakfast on our last day in Darjeeling and ordered the chocolate and banana pancake, cheese & tomato omelette, butter toast and hot chocolate.
The restaurant was packed full but there was only one person in the kitchen so our food took a little while to arrive. When the food did arrive we were rather disappointed – the pancake had literally the tiniest dusting of chocolate on it, and the omelette was rather small.
We left not understanding what all the hype was about over this restaurant.
For dinner the range of food is rather small, consisting mainly of pasta.
Location: Nehru Road
How much does it cost? Rs.20 – 150
We were drawn into Glenary’s Bakery by the delicious looking cakes we could see from the window. You can either buy cakes / pastries to take out or you can choose to eat in (they are all freshly baked that day). They also serve a good selection of food for breakfast / lunch (including pizzas if you don’t want any spice.
Location: Nehru Road
How much does it cost? Rs.30 – 100 Thali’s – 95
We eat in Hasty Tasty a couple of times and sampled the thali and the Chinese platter. We thought the service was speedy and the food portions were large, although both the thali and the Chinese platter were lacking any real flavour.
Makaibari Tea Estate / Factory Tour
Location: Pankhabari Road, Kurseong (take the road to the right of Kurseong train station & it’s a 30-40 minute walk downhill)
How much does it cost? Rs.15 each for a factory tour or rs.400 (per group) for a longer tea estate tour
We caught a jeep to Kurseong from Darjeeling (rs.60 each) and walked for 40 minutes to reach the Makaibari Tea Estate. As we were visiting in October most of the tea production had finished (the best time to visit is March – April), although the owner still showed us round the factory and explained how everything worked. He also treated us to a cup of Darjeeling tea afterwards with no pressure to buy.
Darjeeling Toy Stream Train
Location: Hill Cart Road
How much does it cost? Joy ride: rs.260 (2 hour round trip) / rs.21 2nd class one way to Ghum
There is both a stream and diesel train service that runs all the way from New Jalpaiguri Station (NJP) to Darjeeling, however this takes 6 -7 hours and the track follows the road all the way up so you are not seeing any scenery that you wouldn’t see in a jeep.
I recommend that you either take the 2 hour joy ride to Ghum and back (first class only – rs.260 each), or for the cheaper option, just take the 40 minute ride one way to Ghum in second class (rs.21 each) and catch a jeep back to Darjeeling (rs.60 each).
Important Notice: At the time of writing all train services have been suspended between Kurseong and NJP due to landslides. It is unknown when this service will begin running again.
We did not visit Tiger Hilll during our stay in Darjeeling as the weather did not seem clear enough to warrant getting up at 4am to try and see the Himalayas. However, if you want to get up at 4am to try and get a sneaky peek at the Himalayas at sunrise then you can rent a whole jeep for rs.800, or catch a jeep heading that way for around rs.80.
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park & Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
Location: Jawahar Road West (20 minute walk downhill from Chowrasta)
How much does it cost? Rs 100 each plus rs.10 for a camera
We were extremely impressed with both the Zoo and also the Mountaineering Institute. Upon walking through the gates of the zoo we were greeted by a Himalayan Black Bear in the first enclosure, whom seemed to love sticking its tongue out!
We also saw leopards, tigers, blue sheep, yak, red pandas, wolves, deer, langur monkeys and various birds.
The Mountaineering Institute is located at the far north side of the zoo and contains a lot of pictures, and interesting information about the attempts to climb Mount Everest from the 1920’s to present day, as well as original articles of clothing and equipment used to climb Everest.
Bengal Natural History Museum
Location: Bishop Eric Benjamin Road
How much does it cost? Rs.10 each
This museum contains are rather moth eaten collection of stuffed Himalayan animals and birds, a huge array of insects and butterflies, as well as pickled baby animals (rather upsetting) including red panda’s and wolf cubs. It is worth a visit if you’re in Darjeeling.