Darjeeling Heritage walk completion was on my list today. After a long & tiring trip to Sandakphu and Phalut, I decided to keep it light today. However, my aunt wanted to go shopping; hence, I decided to pick up my partially explored Darjeeling history. Last nights was cold after a rain shower. But the daybreak brought glimmers of warmth where the sun’s golden light softly caressed the land and ignited the birds into a chorus of melodies. However, it was still raining on & off. Still, I had also planned for a ponderous brunch at Keventors, hence lazed around.
Darjeeling has been of paramount importance in Bengali art and culture since the British era! Some of them lingered forever in their culture! But I wanted some detailed information about Darjeeling heritage; hence I caught hold of Prashant, the Manager of Rani Kothi. Over a cup of tea, he took me through the history of Darjeeling.
He started with the meaning of Darjeeling, the word finds root in Tibetan words, “Dorje” meaning thunderbolt, and “ling” meaning land! But Darjeeling is home to the Gorkha community. Though Lepcha, Bihari (primarily workers at the tea gardens), few Tibetans and other ethnic Nepalese communities are part of this population. However, Darjeeling’s politics is intertwined with Sikkim’s since Sikkim was established, the kingdom.
But the Gorkha and other hill tribe communities had a different lifestyle and were exceptionally brave in warfare. However, they succumbed when the king of Sikkim “Gifted” Darjeeling to the East India company through legal deeds. Thus politics and history found their numerous course to evolve over the past century.
Another fact that Prashant did not deny that these colonists were the sole reason for urban development in Darjeeling. Little did Archibald Campbell know back in 1841 that his endeavour to start tea planting in the spiralling slopes of Darjeeling hill will give way to a new era of Tea connoisseurs around the globe! Tea tourism is one aspect where Darjeeling possess immense opportunity, especially from discerning travellers. Prashant suggested to me some places to cover & took his leave.
I took a quick shower & ready to explore Darjeeling again, although I covered 10% on the first day of my arrival. As usual, our driver Hari was on time at the hotel, & we took off to Mall road again. It was 10 am, and there was a massive queue in front of Keventers. The British colonial day restaurant has completed 100 yrs, serving English breakfast, tea & snacks in the hill town.
We took the queue and waited for an hour before a table was allotted to us. As I entered, I saw the lower section is the bakery, with an ice cream parlour mainly for takeaways. I had to climb the narrow wooden stairway for the upper floor. There was 5 table in the indoor area, & rest settled in the open terrace. We took the open terrace seating, as the weather was good, clouds floating in & out like a wave.
Keventer is famous for its traditional English breakfast and varieties of sandwiches, burgers, hotdog, baked beans. But pork dishes, salami, sausages, meatloaf and eggs are a speciality here. You even get hot and cold beverages. It’s Delicious! I ordered chicken sausages & cheese omelette along with a cup of coffee. Others order hotdog, baked beans, meatloaf, traditional English breakfast, and tea & hot chocolate. Please note the portion served are pretty significant, so order carefully. After a hearty brunch, we walked out of Keventer.
I started to walk up towards Observatory Hill & Mahakal Temple. It took 20 min of an uphill walk to reach the top, with a few flights of stairs. On the way, there are few benches to relax if you are out of breathing. As I walked along the way, I saw few beautiful cottages with an open patio lounge for sunbathing. As we approached the temple, monkeys too started to be more prominent.
Mahakal temple has a deeply rooted history. It is said where the temple stood now used to be the original place of Dorjeling Monastery, which is also known as Bhutia Busti monastery. Gorkha destroyed the original monastery in 1815, which was ideally built-in 1765 by Lama Dorje Rinzing. Though it was rebuilt a year later & shifted to a lower level of Darjeeling, and in its place, Mahakal temple was built.
As I approached the temple smell of heavily scented incense stick filled the air & I could hear the chanting of prayers. It was fascinating to see the rhythmic chants of priest & monks reading their holy script. Both harmoniously co-exist. This is the unique Darjeeling heritage. The fluttering Buddhist prayer flag caught my attention as it was all over. I asked one of the monks the importance of these flags since I could not hold my curiosity. He smiling replied to me Buddhist believe the prayer reaches heaven from these flags. Along with the changing season, the colour of the flag and prayers fades away. And this signifies that with the passing time, sin will also wash out. Quite Intimidating!
Well, Finally, I entered the temple. It is said that the temple with three Shiva lingams has been self-manifested in 1782. These three gold plated icons stand for Bramha, Vishnu & Maheswar. I saw many devotees doing parikrama of the temple as they offer their prayers. However, I did ring the bell & offered my prayers too.
I walked ahead of the temple to find a Tibetan memorial shrine, though there were many small temple & shrines in & around the temple complex. I walked along the pathway; and saw many shaded seating places are made. While standing near one of the seating places, I saw the mesmerizing Kanchenjunga through the trees. It stood solemn and majestic amidst the fog. I sat for a while before moving towards my next destination.
As I started to climb down the temple, on the first bend, I saw a cave. However, you need to climb down a few flights of steep stair to each it. It is said the cave is the old temple, and you have to crawl to enter.
Well, I skipped this adventure & moved on towards St. Andrew Church, an old Anglican church built-in 1843. The exterior of the church construction is simple, as it was built at the cost of Rs 9000 only. But as I entered the church, the interior walls were inlaid with alabaster tables that held the memories of great residents of Darjeeling. One of them was of Lt. General A. Lloyd, who was the discoverer of Darjeeling. I sat in the church as I love the silence here.
Later I walk past the Darjeeling Gymkhana, which is fully operational even after 100 years of showcasing Darjeeling heritage.
Further down the mall road is Raj Bhawan, though we could not enter due to COVID protocols. I could gather a few information from the counter-like established in 1840 by the Britisher. Later bought by Maharaja of Cooch Bihar, but finally taken over by the government of India in 1877. Hence I took few pictures before proceeding ahead. The building holds the gloriest Darjeeling heritage.
After a long walk, I was thirsty, so I headed to Fiesta, a cafe joint on mall road. And ordered a cup of coffee and a sandwich before heading towards the Himalayan mountaineering Institute.
We all know Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who conquested Mount Everest. And HMI, a Darjeeling heritage, was built to commemorate his success. HMI comprises a residential school for mountaineering student, Swiss-style houses for Sherpa trainer. Along with a well-stocked museum with all mountaineering artefacts & loads of expedition on display. I skipped the zoo to avoid the crowd amidst the COVID hazard. Instead walked directly towards the main gate of HMI. I bought a combined Rs 60 ticket for Zoo &HMI.
Upon entering the gate, I saw few curio & souvenir shops on my left. However, I walked forward; I could see the Insitute whose walls had an impression of a mountaineer with a quote-“May you climb from peak to peak”. Interesting! I also noticed the founder stone, laid on 4th Nov 1854. And all along the wall were multiple knot hanging. Quite Amazing!
Well, you need to walk the road a little to reach the museum, but it’s worth it. The museum has two section- The main museum on the ground floor, while Mount Everest & Mount Makalu one on the upper floor. One of the oldest mountaineering museums in the country set up in 1957 serves as a vital resource to many researchers & students. Since photography is prohibited inside the museum, so I could not click any pictures.
I walked inside and took a walk of the museum. I noticed there are many sections like- Equipment in vogue displaying various accessories. Another area shows badges of different mountaineering clubs & associations. A vast relief model of the Himalayas is placed in the centre, showcasing the entire range & principal peaks. Further ahead, the sections highlight clothes, boots, lamps, wireless set, compass etc., used during mountaineering. However, a Buddha statue (Vairo Chana) caught my attention; he is regarded as the first Thayanu Buddha by the Nepalese Buddhist. Interesting!
I climbed up to the upper section, where I was astounded by a life-size model of a mountaineer showing crevasse crossing. Mount Makalu section has all the mountain mule used by Edmund Hilary and George in 1953 during the British Everest expedition. At the same time, the Everest section consists of the chronological account of the attempt made at Everest since 1852. I also saw the personal gear & clothing of Tenzing Norgay used during the climb. While moving out of the museum, I stopped by the information centre & collected few pamphlets for a read. Outside the museum, you have the HMI Restaurant & tea parlour right in front where we had a cup of tea. Beside it is an ice cream parlour & photo studio too.
Another interesting article that HMI owns is a powerful telescope used to view the entire range of the Himalayas. Adolf Holter gifted it to Maharaja Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana of Nepal. The Maharaja of Nepal later gifted the telescope was to HMI. Alas! I could not get a chance to use it because of the long queue; instead, I click the picture range through my lens.
It was time to head towards my next destination, the Old cemetery; I walked down the hill to Lebon carter road. Although cemeteries are not a place to visit, I recall the British Raj memories of Darjeeling heritage I dropped by. Upon reaching the cemetery, I got an idea that the area is not maintained. But looking around, I saw some grave are still intact and dated back to the early 1840s. I guessed there would be more than 100 graves since the cemetery was divided into two sections.
The oldest grave I found was of the great Hungarian linguist Alexandar Csoma de Kros, who compiled the first dictionary and grammar in the Tibetian language. Damn Interesting! This was the only grave beautifully decorated with a flower bed and fenced. Another one I found was of Lt. General George W. Aylmer Llyod, whose crave has the inscription in high Victorian style. Though I enjoyed the quietness around me, wrapping me like a blanket. But I couldn’t stay for long as I had my ropeway trip already scheduled, and my driver always arrived just in time.
Upon reaching, we had to take a few steep steps to get to the entrance gate of the ropeway. Omg! There was a large queue; trust me, I was leaving, but my aunt was adamant about taking the ride. Hence we had to stand in the line for an hour till we got the cable. The ropeway is actually called the Rangeet valley Passenger cable car. The reason is the spectacular view of the valley around the river- Little Rangeet. The ride is of 45min, and we travelled at an altitude of about 7000 ft. This ropeway is an important part of my Darjeeling heritage walk.
Darjeeling ropeway started in 1968, though it was built to cater for the tea gardens at the valley below. But now it’s more for tourist as 16 cable car operates each having a capacity of six people. The cable ride gives a breathtaking view of the valley, the spread of lush tea gardens on hill slopes, flowing rivers, dense forest, & a picture of eastern Himalayas. The ropeway route is from Singmari and Singla Bazar, which is the tea estate. We did not get much time to spend at the Singla Bazar; it was evening already; hence we returned.
The rest evening was spent on the Mall road, shopping. Before heading to our hotel, we had dinner at Kunga, a tiny budget restaurant run by a family over two decades. It is a part of the Darjeeling heritage. The restaurant serves Tibetian & Chinese dishes and has a seating capacity of 20 people. Generally, the restaurant is packed & you need to wait in a queue to get a seat, but we were lucky today.
I tried the Chicken Thenthuk soup, a delicious Tibetian noodle soup as suggested by the lady owner. It’s a complete meal as the soup has eight pieces of momos dipped in it. It was just Yum! My mom and aunt ordered their veg delicacies in a lesser quantity as they served in large portion. The remaining evening passed with good food in a relaxed, comfy atmosphere.
How to Reach
The nearest airport is Bagdogra, approximately 95 km away from the city. From the airport, hire taxis to reach the city.
New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railway station to Darjeeling. New Jalpaiguri connects the city in India. You need to hire private cabs from the station to reach Darjeeling.
Darjeeling is well-connected via road with Kolkata city & other closeby cities such as Gangtok and Kalimpong. Buses, private cabs, shared taxis ply to Darjeeling from these places.