Darjeeling – well what can I say, Darjeeling is more than a town or a tourists destination or a glimpse of Kanchenjunga. Darjeeling is love, first love in most cases. It’s a feeling buried deep inside our hearts. Darjeeling has its own charm which cannot be expressed via words.
Maybe that’s the reason, Darjeeling has always been an attraction for film-makers to showcase their perfect idea of the hill station. From legendary film-maker, Satyajit Roy to evergreen Bollywood films like Aradhana has portrayed Darjeeling in some or the other manner. Darjeeling being over-crowded with tourists and hotels at every nook and corner haven’t still lost its charm! The modern highly rated films like Parineeta, Main Hoon Na, Barfi proves that!
Heritage Steam Engine hauling through the colonial town, that smell of bakery’s from European styled Glenary’s, the delicious English breakfast of Keventar’s gives Darjeeling an essence. A feeling that only people who have been to Darjeeling in the colonial era can feel!
For most of the Bengali’s, Darjeeling is their first Himalayan destination! In most cases, Darjeeling is First Love! For a lot of Bengali’s (including me), Darjeeling has always been a soft corner in their heart. No matter how touristy or crowdy it becomes, this colonial town has its own charm which never fails to impress a tourist! And Darjeeling in Christmas or New Year? Well, you can only guess! This lovely Himalayan town is more lively during this period.
I always had this idea of spending a leisure holiday at Darjeeling, overlooking the almighty Kanchenjungha over a big glass window, with a novel in hand and pure mesmerizing flavoured Darjeeling Tea! Yeah I know it feels like I’m inspired by the movies! But who isn’t? As the famous dialogue goes “Saala Hindustan me jab tak cinema hai, log chutiya bante rehenge!” Well, this is true, but not for Darjeeling though!
Finally, after Lepchajagat and Chatakpur, I kept Darjeeling in the end of our tour to relax and spend the new year over this Himalayan Town! What could be the best way to end the previous year and begin your journey to another year, other than spending this precious moment at a place you love and with the people you love!
How To Reach Darjeeling On A Budget :
Although Darjeeling being a popular touristy destination, you can get a lot of information out there on the internet, however here are some tips of mine, if you are looking for a budget tour.
From NJP / Bagdogra you can either take a private vehicle which costs around Rs. 2200/- or if you are looking for a shared vehicle, you can find a lot of them outside NJP or throughout various places in Siliguri. However, nowadays, most shared vehicles outside NJP are there to cater the tourists only and thus they tries to enroll you in their package. So you have to take the Hotel and other sightseeing tours from them. If you are not interested, they don’t entertain you much. But simple no-frills shared vehicle (without these packages) do exists, but you have to look out there for a bit. Else best way is to move to Siliguri by auto. An auto would charge you around Rs. 40/- – Rs. 60/- per head on sharing basis, else if you are travelling with family and have lots of luggage, you can take reserved auto which would cost you around Rs. 100/-. Although these fares are very dynamic and depends on the season you are visiting and your bargaining power. If you are not in a hurry and can wait a little bit till few passengers gets cleared, you can get great deals!
Now in Siliguri, you can go to Darjeeling More or Tenzing Norgay Bus Stand. These are the most popular stops for finding a shared vehicle. However shared vehicles to Gangtok, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and other various destinations are scattered throughout Siliguri. But I do understand, if you are being there for the first time or travelling with luggage, it’s not possible to scan through whole Siliguri for these stands. In that case, you can ask the auto driver to take you to a stand where you can find shared vehicles for your destination or else stick to Darjeeling More or Tenzing Norgay Bus Stand where you’ll definitely find shared vehicles.
The advantage of moving to Siliguri is, unlike NJP, they are really meant for local’s way of transport. So they don’t bother whether you are a tourist or something and doesn’t tries to force enroll you into their packages. BTW, don’t be intimidated by these packages though. They can be really value for money. It’s not like they are cheating or something. So if you are someone, who really landed up without any booking, you can give them a try though. It can be really cheaper than you’d have ended up spending if on your own!
Anyway, so shared vehicles from NJP generally costs around Rs. 200/- and around Rs. 150/- from Siliguri. However, these fare varies (goes up/down) by Rs. 50/- depending on availability of vehicles and season. You can also opt for Buses operated by North Bengal State Transport Corporation (NBSTC) from Tenzing Norgay Bus Stand which costs around Rs. 100/- per head.
However, if you are coming from Bagdogra, there are no shared vehicles from Bagdogra though. However a company named Wizzride, started these private shared vehicle service to various destinations like Gangtok, Darjeeling, Kalimpong etc. from Bagdogra airport. So obviously they are not local’s way of transport, as the vehicles are mostly Innova / Xylo (unlike Jeep’s in NJP / Siliguri) and the cost is also on the higher side, in the range of Rs. 600/- – Rs. 700/- per head. So if you are a couple or a solo traveller looking for budget transport, then Wizzride is obviously meant for you! Ohh, did I mentioned that you can book Wizzride in advance? Yes, you can book your ride online, in advance! You can also book Private Vehicle / Sightseeing packages through them if you wish to. Please check their website for more details.
BTW if this is your first time via Shared Cabs, I must remind you, they are local’s way of travelling. So they are definitely the cheapest option, but nowhere close to comfortable. Shared Cabs are mostly jeeps and puts in 10 passengers in total like 2 beside the driver, 4 in middle and 4 in end. The luggage goes into the top carrier of the vehicle. You can definitely book 2 seats / entire row for your group if you want to travel comfortably. That’s up to you! Also if you reach early you get to choose the seats as per your preference else if you are not in a hurry, you can always choose to wait for the next vehicle. But remember, generally with a shared vehicle you must keep buffer time in your hand, as shared vehicles will never start unless it’s full.
Sightseeings at Darjeeling On A Budget:
Now that you are in Darjeeling, you might be wondering about the Sightseeing Packages and Trip To Mirik or somewhere else! Don’t worry, I have got you covered!
Well, most hotels have their own in-house or tie-ups with tour operators/taxi owners association for their guests. Although not necessary, but this can be the little bit costly, due to the commissions involved. but I’d definitely suggest you to check the rates once.
The thumb rule is sightseeings cannot be done via shared cabs. However Darjeeling being always flooded with tourists, you can find shared vehicles for sightseeing too during peak seasons. Darjeeling have 3 main taxi stands namely – Upper Club Side Taxi Stand (at Gandhi Road), Lower Club Side Taxi Stand (at Laden La Road) and Motor Stand (at Chowk Bazaar / Lebong Cart Road).
So if you are looking for vehicles for Sightseeing or Day Trips, you need to go to Upper Club Side Taxi Stand / Lower Club Side Taxi Stand. These are like taxi owners and drivers formed an association with fixed rates based on the points. The rate is generally cheaper than that offered by your hotel. Obviously, the rate varies depending on the type of vehicle you opt for. Small 4 seater vehicles cost cheapest, and then Sumo / Bolero while luxury vehicles like Innova / Xylo are the most expensive option.
Also, the rates vary based on the points. They have the points clubbed into a package like 3 Point, 5 Point, 7 Point and 10 Point etc. However, you are also free to choose your own points (like a-la-carte!).
3 Point is basically the Tiger Hill, Ghoom Monastery and Batasia Loop. It starts early morning, usually at around 4 AM and ends by around 7 AM – 8 AM. It costs around Rs. 150/- per head in a shared vehicle, around Rs. 1200/- – Rs. 1500/- in a small cab and around Rs. 1800/- – Rs. 2000/- in Sumo.
5 Point Tour includes various sightseeing points like Japanese Temple & Peace Pagoda, Lalkuthi, Dhirdam Temple, Art Gallery, Bengal Museum. You can take this tour as per your own preferred timing. It costs around Rs. 1500/- in a small vehicle and around Rs. 1800/- in Sumo.
7 Point Tour covers HMI, Zoo, Ropeway, Tenzing & Gombu Rock, Happy Valley Tea Estate, Tibetian Center, Race Course and Football Stadium. This is the tour you should generally opt for. This costs around, Rs. 200/- per pax in a shared cab, around Rs. 1800/- in a small vehicle and around Rs. 2000/- in Sumo.
However as you can notice, an important point – Japanese Temple & Peace Pagoda is not included in 7 Point tour. This is not done intentionally though, but based on the route the divisions have been made. So if you want to include Japanese Temple & Peace Pagoda (from 5 point tour) and mix with 7 Point you are free to do that. However, as most tourists do the same, they came up with a concept called Mixed Point and included these two points along with that! The mixed point tour costs around Rs. 2200/- in small vehicle and Rs. 2500/- in Sumo.
Don’t confuse Tenzing & Gombu Rock with another popular point Rock Garden, which is a little bit out of town and thus charged separately.
NOTE: These fares given above are for your reference. They gets a little bit inflated during peak season.
Also, you must note that not all regions in Darjeeling are reachable by cab. Like a vehicle is not allowed to ply in Mall. So if you have booked a hotel in such a region, you have to walk to the stand / mutually agreed point. And if your hotel is reachable by cab and if you are booking a private vehicle, they will generally pick you up from your hotel (in case it’s not very far / out of town, which might then incur extra charges). Else for the shared vehicle, you have to go to the taxi stand. So depending on distance, you can either walk or take a vehicle to the taxi stand.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, during peak season, when you approach a taxi stand yourself, a lot of drivers will gather around you offering different rates varying by Rs. 500/- – Rs. 1000/-. So, as we all know, going through a tour operator offers you peace of mind and you generally pay higher prices (for their esteemed service and off-loading your mental burden of-course), whereas doing everything on your own is generally cheaper and gives you flexibility, however, this is where the disadvantages kicks in. You need to be careful, well-informed, cool-headed and must have the capability to manage and judge things and take decisions based on that!
So in this case, you need to check the condition of the vehicle first. You can simply ask them about the vehicle and they will point you or show you their respective vehicle. You must do this, as not all vehicles are in good condition always. Next is, while talking to the driver try to judge his nature a little bit, as a lot of taxi drivers will try to rush you through the points, while others don’t mind waiting a bit longer as you take your own sweet time through various points.
So if you are looking for cheaper rates, you can obviously go for this option. Else if you feel the difference of Rs. 500/- – Rs. 1000/- won’t matter much, try to book from the association only. They are not any agency or something, it’s just an association formed by the drivers and vehicle owners themselves. So they generally take in tourists turn by turn accordingly.
Obviously booking directly with a driver can get you a discount by Rs. 500/- – Rs. 1000/-, but as I said that comes with lots of hassles, like if something goes wrong / driver doesn’t pick up your phone next day, you can’t complain generally. So my suggestion would be to go for this option only if you are doing on-spot. However, during peak season, this won’t work, as most vehicles gets booked in advance. If you are going during the lean season, then this is your best option, if you can judge the driver correctly! Else if you can trust the driver you spoke to (by his body language or something), go ahead and book him. Booking in advance will always require some kind of advance, be it directly with the driver or the taxi stand association or through the hotel.
If you want to play it safe, book it from the association directly. They are formed by the vehicle owners and drivers themselves and to avoid any hassle, the rate is mostly fixed with very little scope to bargain.
Whoa! That’s already a long story! Hope these informations helps you plan the trip on your own!
Finally, while leaving Darjeeling, if you are looking for a shared vehicle to NJP, Motor Stand at Chowk Bazaar is where you need to be. So either you can walk down or take a cab if you are with lots of luggage. However, make sure to reach way in advance as depending on the influx of tourists/locals you might get late. Shared Cabs will never start unless it’s completely filled up.
So, here’s the itinerary that we were following:
26th Dec – Day 1 : NJP – Lepchajagat
27th Dec – Day 2 : Lepchajagat
28th Dec – Day 3 : Lepchajagat – Chatakpur
29th Dec – Day 4 : Chatakpur
30th Dec – Day 5 : Chatakpur – Darjeeling
31st Dec – Day 6 : Darjeeling Sightseeing
1st Jan – Day 7 : Day Trip To Simana, Mirik, Pashupati Market
2nd Jan – Day 8 : Joy Ride. Darjeeling – NJP
30th Dec – Day 5 : Chatakpur – Darjeeling :
Finally, after having our breakfast, by around 9 AM, we started hiking back to the point where the vehicle dropped us. Barsha Ji helped my mom hike down the path while Bikash Ji helped us with the heavy luggage. They had already arranged a vehicle
to drop us till Darjeeling.
Finally, after bidding goodbye, with promises to be in touch and back as soon as possible, we started towards our final destination – Darjeeling.
Although the journey took more than the usual, as due to the sunlight, the snows started melting gradually which made the road completely slippery. Vehicles could hardly drive more than 10kmph. And with scenarios of vehicles being slipped towards the edge of the hill, made other drivers in the queue more cautious and tourists started being tensed.
Finally, by around 12:30 PM, we reached our shelter for next 3 nights – The Revolver, Darjeeling! Well, let me brief you a bit here! The Revolver is one of the fewer hotels in Darjeeling, which doesn’t change it’s tariff rates based on the season. So throughout the year, the tariff of The Revolver is the same! Also, The Revolver is known as one of the best budget hotels, which is prominent from it’s TripAdvisor Reviews! If you are wondering about the odd naming, the hotel was named after the album of a famous band – The Beatles. They have total 5 rooms named after the band members i.e. John, George, Paul, Ringo & Brian! Recently they have also opened up a new Family Four Bedded room named Prudence!
We were welcomed warmly and shown our respective rooms shortly after the documentation procedures. The lady (owner) briefed us various aspects of their operations to get us accustomed and avoid any misunderstanding later on! Well, unlike other Hotels, The Revolver is very unique in its own way and I must say that I really loved their style. The Revolver depicts a lot of similarities with that of hostel culture in western countries.
After getting freshen up, we went outside towards Mall. First, we had our lunch at a nearby restaurant. Then we went ahead to the Club Side Taxi Stand and booked our Sightseeing Tour and Day Trip To Mirik respectively. As we were very much satisfied with the gorgeous views of Kanchenjungha from Chatakpur itself, there’s no point in waking up early morning and go to Tiger Hill. The view from Chatakpur was way better than that of Tiger Hill anyway. So I took a mixed point tour with my own preferred points.
Finally, we went to the Mall scanned through the markets for a few hours till evening. Unlike the famous saying, the items in the market can be cheap and quite of good quality if you can bargain and get the right product. So if you are a street shopper, well accustomed with shopping at markets like Esplanade or Gariahat at Kolkata, then you can take your chance!
Once evening settled in, we went ahead to Glenary’s. As always, there was a huge rush! Somehow we managed a table and took some snacks to munch on! Well, Glenary’s never fails to impress you! The ambience, decors and music brings back old memories! Good thing is that they didn’t changed over the years and the heritage still remains intact!
Once the evening settles in, you can expect lots of vendors to pop-in at the roadside with various food stalls serving delicious street foods. It’s hard to control your urge towards those finger licking dishes! I’d suggest keeping an evening free to scan through and taste some of these items!
Meanwhile, we got a callback from our hotel checking whether we’d be having our dinner. We decided to have our dinner at the hotel only, as it’d be easier for my mom and dad. Later, gradually, as shops started closing, we went back to our hotel. December – January being winters, shops start closing down by around 7 PM – 7:30 PM. By around 8 PM, it becomes like a ghost town except for those street food stalls.
I must mention here that, the food at The Revolver, is really great, tasty and finger licking. They serve various kinds of platters of which you must taste the Naga Platter! Or if you just want to stick to the simple Bengali Rice, Dal, Sabji along with Fish / Chicken / Egg curry then you can choose local cuisine named – Yahako (it’s a Nepali word meaning “Yahan Ka” in Hindi). BTW, Nepali and Bengali cuisine is almost similar in terms of staple food. So they too eat the same thing i.e. Rice, Dal, Sabji along with Fish / Chicken / Egg curry.
31st Dec – Day 6 : Darjeeling Sightseeing :
Today we woke up a bit late, by around 8 AM. And then we took our own sweet time to get ready. Later we went ahead to Keventars. While in Darjeeling, it’s a crime to miss having your breakfast at Keventars. The heritage breakfast joint from the era of legendary filmmaker Satyajit Roy still beholds its charm. Keventar’s have also been depicted in modern Bollywood movies like Barfi! However, during peak season getting a seat here can be tough!
Due to the recent snowfall, which is now a very rare phenomenon in Darjeeling, a lot of tourists rushed into Darjeeling during last minute! So as expected, when I arrived, I was behind 20 – 25 persons in the queue. Although I expected this and thus I rushed even before the Restaurant opens. Gradually when I got the table (in the next 45 minutes), there were another 50 persons behind me.
We ordered the delicious breakfast platter containing Sausage, Beacon, Ham, Salami & Eggs fried along with Hot Chocolate! Well, I don’t think I need to write another review for this! But still, if you are visiting Darjeeling for the first time or have no idea about Keventars, the only thing that I can say is It’s a crime to be in Darjeeling and not visit Keventars! By now you must have guessed about my sumptuous breakfast at Keventars overlooking the almighty Kanchenjungha!
Although, I’m not very fond of city sightseeing, however considering the family, it’s kind of a ToDo thing! Finally, after having our breakfast, we went to the Taxi Stand, which is nearby the entrance of Mall right at Gandhi Road – right near the entrance of Keventars. Finally, we started for our very first point for the day – Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) & Zoo by around 11:20 AM.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) & Zoo : Well the mountaineering institute and the zoo is in same premises, so it’s the same place after all. HMI was established in the honour and memories of the most popular sherpa Tenzing Norgay who assisted Sir Edmund Hillary climbing the Everest for the first time. The HMI Mesuem displays various accessories and items related to mountaineering. If you wish, you can also enroll in a various crash course or long-term courses. Regarding the Zoo, it in-houses a lot of high altitude animals and birds along with popular but rare animals like Snow Leopard, Red Panda, Tibetian Wolf etc. The zoo comprises of various sections for mammals, birds, reptiles and an aquarium for various species of fishes too!
Bengal Museum has also been shifted within the compound of HMI and Zoo. So you can cover all these 3 points at the same place with the same entry ticket! The ticket for all 3 points costs Rs. 60/- per head and Rs. 10/- per camera (if you are carrying a DSLR).
Our next point was Gombu Rock & Tenzing Rock : It’s a huge gigantic rock which was named after Tenzing Norgay. Right on the opposite of Tenzing Rock, there’s Gombu Rock which is named after Nawang Gombu – nephew of Tenzing Norgay. Well, there’s nothing much to see here, however, few locals organize climbing these rocks for a nominal fee. So if you wish you can try it out. On the roadside, you can also spot lots of local vendors selling Tea (from nearby Tea Gardens), Momos.
Next was Rangeet Valley Tea Garden : Well, nothing special in terms of the Tea Gardens I have been to! But if you are here for the first time, it might amaze you! There are lots of roadside stalls to try out the Tea (if you just want to taste) or buy one if you are interested.
Next, we went to Japanese Temple & Peace Pagoda : It’s a Buddhist temple built in Japanese style and along with the Temple there’s a Peace Pagoda, which shows various avatars or Lord Buddha. You can get a panoramic view of the whole town (and Kanchenjungha as well!) from the top of Peace Pagoda! Well, it seemed that the snows didn’t yet melt here and thus tourist influx was way beyond the expected!
Finally while returning back to stopped at Lal Kothi, which is situated close to Japanese Temple. Although now, it has been turned into GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) office. GTA is a governing body that runs the administration of Darjeeling district. So, you can’t enter the premises anymore, you can just stop for a while and proceed.
Next, we went to Ghoom Monastery : Well Ghoom Monastery and Batasia Loop are covered along with Tiger Hill in the 3 point trip. However as I took mixed point, I choose my points as per my preference. It’s one of the oldest monasteries located at one of the most scenic region – Ghoom. However, I’m not sure, if this statement of mine still holds true in 2019. As due to the over-development and modernization, Ghoom seemed to have lost its charm.
Finally, we ended our sightseeing tour with Batasia Loop : Well, remember the evergreen song Mere Sapno Ki Rani Kab Ayegi Tu? Yes, it was shot at Batasia Loop. There’s a charge of Rs. 20/- per head. If you are taking Joy Ride, the train halts at Batasia Loop anyway and this charge is included within the ticket price. It’s actually a beautiful garden with narrow gauge train line for DHR (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway) in form of a loop with a War Memorial constructed in the memories of Gorkha soldiers. Well, what’s so special then? Imagine this (if you can), a Steam Engined DHR hauling through the loop overlooking the range of almighty Kanchenjunga! You are bound to go back into your childhood memories – Mere Sapno Ki Rani Kab Ayegi Tu to be specific!
Finally our driver Mr Angbay dropped us nearby Mall at the taxi stand as per our request. We walked ahead to the Mall. The shops and everything seemed to be decorated for welcoming a new year. A temporary stage has been set up with high-quality speakers, music system and lights! After enquiring we came to know that some performance is being arranged with various artists. While Suparna and Mom went ahead to the markets for their shopping, we grabbed a chair there. A local Nepali couple was performing a dance, while the stage was being prepared for the Gala Event once evening settles in.
Darjeeling Tea Saga :
Later we went ahead on a tea testing spree! We went ahead at various well-known establishments and tried to gather basic knowledge about tea. Well, we all know how famous our Darjeeling Tea is! But it’s also true that the best quality is generally exported and we never get to taste the best Darjeeling Tea.
So here are my 2 cents that I could understand (a little bit though!)
White Tea : The best and purest form of Tea. However very subtle in taste (more close to water) with the highest antioxidant properties.
Green Tea : The unfermented variety, mostly known for it’s antioxidant features.
Black Tea : This is the most favourable variety mostly because of its flavour and aroma. The price depends on overall richness, taste & feel, flavour which adds up to the quality resulting in smoothness, floralness and fruitiness in taste.
The above parameters and colour also depends on flushes which refers to the season of harvest. First Flush is during the spring. It’s more costly and subtle is taste and colour. Second Flush is during the summer and is more strong in taste and colour. Third, being the monsoon and Fouth is Autumnal and have their own beauty and difference in character.
Finally, we went back to our hotel! Yes, I know what you might be thinking! How can I spend 31st at the hotel doing nothing? Well, the events/parties throughout the town seemed a bit costly! So instead we grabbed our poison and some snacks from the street food stalls and thought of celebrating amongst ourselves!
1st Jan – Day 7 : Day Trip To Mirik :
Today we woke up a bit late at around 8:30 AM and got ready. After having our delicious breakfast (Pan Cake, Toast with Butter / Jam, French Toast along with Local Hand-Made Coffee) we started for our Day Trip To Mirik at around 9:45 AM. Our driver for the day – Sanjay, picked us up from nearby our hotel.
We took the same diversion towards Lepchajagat from Ghoom. Stopped for a while at Ravina Ji’s shop for Tea and Momo. Met Passang Ji and Lendup again! Finally, we started proceeding towards Simana. The route is same as like on Day 2. From Sukhia though, we took the diversion towards Mirik, while the other route would take you to Jorpokhri through an amazing pine forest! You can cover this route too if you start a bit early. We had already covered this while we were at Lepchajagat.
First, we stopped for a while at Simana View Point. Translating Simana literally in Hindi means Border. It’s a border of India and Nepal. Well while on your way to Simana, you’d go into Nepal a lot of times though. The road where the vehicles parks, belongs to India whereas the view is in Nepal. However considering the Indo-Nepal friendship, there’s no border restriction, and you are free to step into Nepal!
Although the culture and language on both sides of the border are mostly the same. So it’s very common that someone’s in-law’s house is right on the opposite however they belong to Nepal / India. So cross-border marriage is a very common thing here! And the absence of any such fencing or those kinds of things, makes these people move freely on the other side of the border.
You can see the town Maneybhanjan and the narrow route leading to Sandakphu from this viewpoint.
WARNING : If you have International Roaming enabled, remember to turn off your data, and do not make any calls or SMS while on this trip. Else you’d land up with hefty bill amount at the end of the month like mine! Thanks to Airtel’s International Roaming cappings, that I was auto-enrolled a pack of Rs. 649/- as I crossed the daily limits. When I noticed this charge of Rs. 649/- under the header International Roaming at the end of the month, I was quite surprised. A quick discussion with Customer Care revealed that I crossed the daily limit of usage while on IR and to prevent hefty bill amounts Airtel auto-enroll these daily packs (unless I subscribe one manually). Thank God! Because later when I checked the itemized bill the amount was around to Rs. 2500/-. Glad that Airtel enrolled me this pack, else I’d have ended up paying Rs. 2500/- instead of a mere Rs. 649/-.
Actually, on your way to Simana and Pashupati (coming to that shortly), you’d cross your ways through Nepal. Some part of the road is in Nepal while some of them are in India. Also in some cases, the other side of the road is in Nepal and another side is in India. So you cross International Border now and then (a lot of times actually), while on this trip. So it’s best to keep your phone in flight mode between Sukhia and Mirik in order to avoid any surprising bill amounts.
Well, while at Simana, there are lots of food stalls, selling tea, snacks, Maggie etc. But remember, these stalls are in Nepal side and being a border town, and considering the high altitude, it’s a little bit costly. So make sure to ask for the price before ordering something!
Further down the road will lead you to Pashupati Market. However, we moved to Mirik and planned to stop at Pashupati while on our way back as it’d take some time for us to explore the market as we planned to buy a few items!
NOTE : If you are planning to cover Mirik while on your way to NJP / Darjeeling, be clear of your intentions. Because marketing at Pashupati can take some time. Unless you plan on marketing, there’s not much of an issue though. However, if you plan to do shopping, keep Mirik / Pashupati separate instead of clubbing it on your journey days.
Upon reaching Mirik, it felt like hell. Yes, it’s not a typo. For people who visited Mirik during their childhood, it’d feel the same. The place has been developed like another city. The lake has been almost cut down by half. Concrete Parks have been developed. There’s hardly any spot left where you can walk, as the whole area is filled up with a well-developed market. We could hardly stay there for a minute. Instead, we rushed back. Mr Sanjay asked us if we’d be having lunch here, however, we couldn’t take it anymore. Instead, we planned to have lunch somewhere later along the route.
Next, we stopped at Pashupati Market. It’s an entrance for India-Nepal border. Indo-Nepal being the friendly country, there are no visa or such requirements there for Indians. However, a basic formality of validating Voter ID Card is done and that’s it. So once you cross the border, you can either walk or better take a Nepal Taxi to the market. The taxi costs Rs. 220/- for a round trip. The vehicle would drop you there to the market and will they will give you a specialized token. Later when you are done with your shopping, another vehicle will pick you up from there upon showing the token.
Obviously, if you belong from that region you can take your own vehicle after completing the vehicle permit formalities. I’m not sure about the exact formalities, however, I noticed a lot of local vehicles plying there for their shopping needs. It was same as like in Moreh, Manipur.
NOTE: This is only for Indian and Nepalese. Foreigners are not allowed to cross the border here.
Now coming to the market, yes electronic items, clothes (of reputed brands), shoes (of reputed brands), cosmetic items (of reputed brands) are very cheap. Almost around 50% – 80% cheaper than in India. However, there are lots of fake things, especially with electronic items. So beware!
Regarding clothes, shoes and cosmetic items, if you are really a master of street shopping and can identify the quality of the material by just touching it, then you’ll be benefited, else there’s always a possibility of getting cheated!
We all bought North Face Wind-Cheaters and Jackets for ourselves. Suparna bought few cosmetics! Although we thought of getting shoes, but we really couldn’t determine its originality. However later we realized, we should have got that, as we didn’t notice any probable issues though!
Finally, we came back and started proceeding back towards Darjeeling. While on your way in this route between Simana and Mirik, you’d come across a lot of famous Tea Estates like Gopaldhara, Goodricke, Thurbo etc. You can stop for a while and breathe fresh air before proceeding further.
We stopped for a while at Ravina Ji’s shop at Lepchajagat on our way back, finally, we were back to Darjeeling by around 5:30 PM.
We spent the evening at the Mall and Glenary’s before calling off the day.
2nd Jan – Day 8 : Joy Ride. Darjeeling – NJP :
Well, frankly speaking, Joy Ride is definitely exciting but not worth the value. So if this is your first time at Darjeeling, you can definitely go for the ride. Not everything can be quantified with money, the experience is definitely unique, however, if you have done this before, you can safely skip Joy Ride.
DHR – Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has now been declared as UNESCO World Heritage. The steam engine hauling through the narrow gauge tracks by the edge of the Himalayas through breathtaking landscapes has always been exciting since the British era. Although nowadays, a cheaper option with Desiel engine is also there along with the heritage Steam engine which is costlier. However both follow the same tracks, so it’s upto you to decide!
Previously this train used to connect Darjeeling with Kolkata during the British period which used to take around 2 weeks! However, now that’s not an option though! But the train still runs daily with the name NJP DJ Passenger (52541) between NJP and Darjeeling (Station Code: DJ). But it takes around 7 hours though! However, people generally don’t consider this option much, as not all the coaches have a toilet and there’s no point in wasting 7 hours where you can reach Darjeeling by vehicle within 3.5 – 4 hours.
Regarding the Joy Ride, you can book it from IRCTC. It is recommended to book well in advance during peak season, else during the lean season you can book it a day in advance from Darjeeling Station too. I noticed that a lot of people struggles, while booking Joy Ride from IRCTC. The trick lies in the Station Code. You should choose “Darjeeling (Station Code : DJ)” under Source and “To Darjeeling (Station Code : DJRZ)” under Destination to get the Joy Rides.
Joy Rides are 2 hour round trip rides from Darjeeling to Ghoom and back. And thus a new Station Code DJRZ depicting “To Darjeeling” has been created for such purpose, as in this case both the Source and Destination is the same. And due to technical validation reasons, you can’t put the same station under both Source and Destination which actually makes sense though. The train makes a brief halt at Batasia Loop and its entry fee is included in Joy Ride. You don’t have to pay for anything separately.
Finally, the train stops for around 30 minutes at Ghoom. You can pay a visit to the DHR Museum. Again, the entry fee to DHR Museum is included in the ticket and you don’t need to pay anything separately.
NOTE: Joy Ride prices are not fixed unlike other trains under IRCTC. They keep fluctuating depending on various factors.
Well if you are not looking for shelling out such a hefty amount for the Joy Ride and still wish to experience the same, there’s an option for you too! There’s a daily passenger train between Darjeeling and Kurseong (52544). So you can take that train and get off at Ghoom and take a shared / private cab back to Darjeeling. However please note that this is a passenger train and doesn’t make any stops at Photogenic Spots / Batasia Loop though like Joy Ride which is specifically targetted towards the tourists. NOTE : This train is now cancelled.
If you don’t mind taking the same option in the evening though, you can take the Daily School Train – DJ KGN NG TRAIN (52588) which departs from Darjeeling at 4 PM and arrives Kurseong at 6:30 PM. This same train actually departs from Kurseong in the morning at 6:30 AM and arrives Darjeeling at 9 AM.
There’s another train named Red Panda (52570), which operates on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between Darjeeling and Kurseong. You can take that as an option too.
Well, I guess that’s enough information for you to book and enjoy Joy Ride!
Although neither Me nor Suparna has ever been to Joy Ride. This time you can say we didn’t mind paying that hefty amount as we really wanted to experience it once. I enjoyed it though during my childhood days when I used to travel Darjeeling with my grandfather. He was posted there as D.C.E in Indian Railways!
Well, in the beginning, I was hesitating to pay the hefty amount, but then after the Ride, it seemed to be completely worth it for once in a lifetime!
Finally, after coming back to our hotel, we packed our belongings. We requested the lady if there’s any check-in today so that we can stay a bit longer than the usual check-out time, as we have our train at 8:00 PM. So we thought of checking-out after having our lunch. This kind of situation happens with us always! However homestays don’t mind much, but I was not sure if this being a hotel would allow us to do the same. Fortunately, they did! Thank God!
As per our request, Mr Rupesh (from whom we booked the Sightseeing and Day Trip To Mirik) arranged a vehicle for a nominal charge, for us to drop to NJP.
Finally, after having our lunch, we left by around 1:30 PM. Well a trip to Darjeeling, no matter what will always be memorable!
The Revolver : The Revolver is one of the best budget hotel in Darjeeling. It’s also one of the fewer hotels in Darjeeling which doesn’t change its tariff based on the season. The tariff at The Revolver is the same throughout the year. Located just within walkable distance from Mall, The Revolver is your best bet if you are looking for a hotel within Rs. 1500/-. However, due to its immense popularity, finding a room at The Revolver is almost next to impossible if you don’t book well in advance!
If you are wondering about the odd naming, the hotel was named after the album of a famous band – The Beatles. They have total 5 rooms named after the band members i.e. John, George, Paul, Ringo & Brian! Recently they have also opened up a new Family Four Bedded room named Prudence!
However, don’t let the Budget Hotel tag misguide you. The rooms, washrooms and the entire hotel premises are very clean and well maintained. The Revolver kinda showcases a lot of western cultures. Like each door is equipped with a security lock box and you are informed about the code upon check-in. Definitely, they keep changing the code for security purpose! So if you want your room to clean up, just hang the tag and put your room key inside the lockbox and you’ll find it clean upon your return! So you see, you don’t need to call up the reception un-necessarily for everything!
The rooms are equipped with basic toiletries (Towel, Soap, Shampoo, Comb, Earbuds etc.), an emergency medical-kit (the rarest thing to find in India), and some snacks (like Munch, Lays etc.). So you see, you don’t get these things even in a 3* hotel! The floor in the washroom is equipped with floor-mat so that you don’t get slipped! Again the rarest thing to find!
And believe me, these are the small reasons why I’m impressed with The Revolver! Unlike lots of other 3* hotels in Darjeeling, The Revolver doesn’t switch off Geyser as per their fixed timings. So you can get hot water 24×7! So with great power comes great responsibility!
Here I’d like to tell you a short story. At my previous office, the phone calls used to be free of cost. People used to call up their wife post lunch for a few minutes or so. However, there were 2 young employees who used to stick with their girlfriend over the phone always from the time they entered office till they left. And one fine day, as expected, our CEO stopped this facility and started implemented mechanisms to track all the calls. And everyone needed to provide justification for all the calls made at the end of the month. And for every personal calls made, they started deducting at actuals from the salary. So you see, if you use the facilities responsibly it can be a great boon for all, else for misusing you can lose the facility completely! Hope you can get what I’m trying to say here!
Anyway, coming to The Revolver again, the food at the in-house restaurant is awesome and finger-licking. Don’t forget to try the various platters especially the Naga Platter! The owner at The Revolver has a hobby of brewing hand-made coffee. Yes from harvesting to processing, he does it all by himself. And that my friend is very unique and completely different from the coffee that’s available out there in the market.
Chatakpur – Darjeeling Drop: Rs. 2500/-
Sightseeing & Day Trip To Mirik: 5300/- (By Bolero)
The Revolver, Darjeeling: Rs. 9408 (Boarding Charges for 2 Rooms x 3 Nights, including GST) + 4211 (Fooding Charges, including GST)
Darjeeling – NJP Drop: Rs. 2300/-
NOTE : I have omitted costs of personal nature such as eating out, shopping, drinking, tasting tea etc.
Manish (Driver, Chatakpur – Darjeeling Drop) : +91-81454-24977. A young chap, drives a tata sumo with registration number WB 76 3131.
Mr. Rupesh (Driver, From whom we booked our Sightseeing and Day Trip To Mirik) : +91-81450-55488. Please note that we didn’t book with Rupesh directly. We booked it from the Club Side Taxi Stand (association) and it was his turn when I showed up! He’s a nice soft spoken person. A very responsible person as he kept informing me everything. And every time I called, he was very helpful. But as both the days, he sent different person, we didn’t get a chance to be with!
Mr. Angbay (Driver, Sightseeing) : +91-76999-72093 / +91-98324-24676. Rupesh sent Mr Angbay for our Sightseeing. In his mid 40’s, a local person, very nice and helpful. Doesn’t rush you through the points and gives you your own sweet time to explore. Drives a Tata Sumo with registration number WB 76 2221. You can get in touch with him directly if you wish to.
Mr. Sanjay (Driver, Mirik Sightseeing) : +91-97345-21200. Rupesh sent Mr Sanjay for our Day Trip To Simana, Pashupati and Mirik. A very good chap, in his late 30’s. A nice co-operating person to be with. Drives an Innova with registration number WB 76 8017. If you are looking for Innova, then you can get in touch with him directly if you wish to.
Tshering Sherpa (Driver, Darjeeling – NJP Drop) : +91-62977-09949. A very good, local person. Drives an Alto. I forgot to note down the registration number, sorry! As per our request, Rupesh arranged him for us.