Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity

Sunrise at Tiger Hill is a reminder of the love of the Lord, where everything is luminous but not transparent. These thoughts came to my mind while I climbed up towards Tiger Hill. However, I am more of a sunset person if you ask what defines me. But at times, it worth capturing sunrise too. So to capture this lifetime experience at Tiger hill, I have to wake up at 3 am, in the cold. But honestly, all that pain is significant when it transforms into a cherishable moment. Hence I was all pumped up with excitement, though shivering in the cold. Hari, my cab driver, was always on time; he parked at 3 am, and we drove towards Tiger hill.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Morning at Tiger Hill

Perched at 8482 feet is Tiger Hill, around 11 km from Darjeeling & above Ghoom. The area is a natural reserve and a part of several interconnected wildlife reserves around Darjeeling. An observation deck is also built on top of Tiger hill to cater for hundreds of tourists. By the time we reached, cars were standing in rows. We paid Rs 200 for entry, and further ahead, we paid Rs 50 for seating on the top floor of the observatory. As we drove along the steep incline, I could see a line of trees & could hear the sound of the crowd getting closer. 

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
The 4 am view of the snow-capped peak

Remembering that Darjeeling’s weather can be unpredictable since the fog & mist plays a mystical game most of the time. Hence I prayed for clear weather to peep into a mesmerising sunrise view along with the immense natural splendour at Tiger hill. I started to walk to the top of the observatory, holding my lenses to secured a spot. The sight from my seat was 360 degree. Quite lucky, huh!

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Sun rays Like molten lava

I could see the Darjeeling Area, including the eastern Himalayan range. I waited patiently, shivering in the cold & watching the sky. As in this deep slumber, cotton clouds rested over the pristine snow-capped mountain peaks. Thankfully I got a cup of coffee sold by the hawkers at Tiger hill to keep me warm. Also, the crowd was well behaved as all waited patiently.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Colour changing sky

After 4.15 am, the stars in the sky started fading, and a blue tint started coming up on the horizon. With each moment, the rising excitement among the people kept increasing. And the sudden roar of voice turned my head towards the left; I saw the peaks have begun to emerge. And on the right of me, I could see the shining pool of molten lava floating on the clouds.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
The rising of the sun

The sky started to change its colours from dark blue to deep red to orange. Standing in front of the peak of gigantic mountains, I witnessed the untainted and eclectic view of divinity. With the passing minute, the red rim of the sun pushes itself out of the floating clouds. And the golden hues of the first rays fall on the snow-clad mountains illuminating it beautifully- The Kanchenjunga.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
First ray of sun on Kanchenjunga

The crowd broke into applause when the sun finally peeked from behind the mountains. Mount Everest, Mount Kanchenjunga, and Makalu view are significantly clear during the sunrise from Tiger hill. This view was divine because it is undoubtedly God’s bequest to earth. With the rising sun, the colour of mountains changed from shades of pink to orange. 

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
The morning view od Kanchenjunga

Not just the sunrise, I could not stop myself admiring the spot lacing with natural foliage. Since covered in mild natural growth, contrasted against the sublime mountain views, it makes the place an artist’s favourite.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
The rays on the laced landscape

To view this beautiful sunrise at Tiger Hill is the best time is from October to December and March to April. Since these months, have a clear sky that allows an uninterrupted and panoramic view of the mountains. So I sat beholding the sight of glowing snow-capped mountains under the golden hue of the sun.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
The artistic view

Post the mesmerising sunrise at Tiger Hill, and I wanted to relive the long-gone glory of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway- better known as the Darjeeling toy train. It’s was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1999. I have already enjoyed the Kalka-Shimla toy train ride and the Niral-Matheran toy train ride, so I did not want to miss the Darjeeling toy train ride. The toy train ride is not a journey for me; it’s a blend of myriad emotions. And trains have been a part of me since I was born as my father’s was working Indian Railways. 

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Deisel & Steam engine of DHR

The toy train ride is like romancing with Darjeeling, just like Rajesh Khanna did with Sharmila Tagore in Aradhana’s movie “Mere Sapno ki Rani”. Hence we drove to Darjeeling station, as I already booked online tickets for Steam engine rides for Rs 1600/- per person, though Desil engine rides are cheaper for Rs 1000/- per person. All are first-class seats, and the Joy rides is a roughly two-hour trip from Darjeeling station up to Ghum & back via Batasia Loop, covering a total distance of 14km. After a 40min drive, we reached the station. & luckily, it was not crowded since it was 7.30 am and COVID.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Goom station

While I waited at the station for my train, I realised that everything from the British Era does not have nightmarish memories; some have lasting memories. The charm of steam engines is lost since the diesel engines have made some difference to the speed. Still, the sights, sound and smell are unparalleled. Lost in my thought, I did not realise the train was already stationed. I saw in amazement as the tiny steam locomotive chugged with two first-class coaches stands in front of me. Ah! my heart leapt a beat; I was all ready to experience the authentic & heritage colonial aura ride. Hence I boarded my first class compartment. 

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Darjeeling station

The train whistled, & I could hear the sweet Chuk Chuk sound of the train while the whiff of the cold air played through my skin. Then, with a jolt, my ride has begun. While the ride, I felt the train been romancing with the mountains as it zooms past along the steep slopes and sharp curves with such skills.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
The joy ride romancing with the mountains

I could not help but marvel at the ingenuity behind creating these masterpieces. The ride also gives a glimpse of life in Darjeeling as the train weaves its way through the houses & shops where you see local people doing their daily chores. Also, a man stood in front of the coach continuously coaling the engine, and the small piece of coal & steam just hit my face quite often. Quite an experience!

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Steam Engine ride

While enjoying the joy ride, I read about the history of DHR in the pamphlet provided at the time of booking. Built between 1879 & 1881, DHR is a narrow-gauge line. This was initially constructed as a way to ferry British aristocrat and goods from sweltering lowlands to Darjeeling. The most interesting of DHR is its loops and Z-reverses. The loops help the train attain heights in the mountain, keeping the curve as minimal as possible. There is a total of six loops & the most beautiful is the Batasia Loop. 

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Batasia loop

What caught my attention was the maintenance of these old steam engine as it was required even in the course of a 2hrs journey! As our train clunked along at a steady pace, resting quite a few times for the conductor & engineer to adjust a bolt or refill boiler or maybe oil a widget. 

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Maintenance of the engine during the ride

Despite the odds, we finally reached the Batasia Loop; the train here halts for 10min. This is the best place to get 360 views of Darjeeling’s landscape, including hills, town, & snow-capped peaks. And this view you get to see from the middle of a well-maintained garden around which track of toy train is laid.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Panaromic view from the Batasia loop

Batasia means air space; as the name suggests, the place is an open area with a beautiful garden & surrounded by a spiral track with a double loop. Batasia loop was commissioned in 1919 to counter sharp descent of 140 feet towards Darjeeling. I walked along the trail passing through the tunnel to complete the circle. It’s outstanding engineering work.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Stop at batasia loop

Also in the centre of the Batasia Loop is the War Memorial. To commemorate the Gorkha soldiers of hills who sacrificed their lives in various warfare after the independence War Memorial was opened in 1995. On an elevated platform, a cenotaph is placed and a statue of a soldier paying homage. So if you wish to end your joy ride here, they can visit the Batasia market for some hot momos, samosa & even shopping. And then when the engine hooted, signalling time to leave.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
War Memorial

Passing through various bridges & few tunnels, we continued our journey. Finally, we reached our next destination, Ghoom station; the train halts here for 30mins. Here we visited the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Museum.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
DHR Meusem

It gave a glimpse of how the toy train was built and a snippet on the history of Indian railways. The photographs on display are original that showcases the construction of toy trains. The prime highlight of the museum is the oldest toy train engine- The Baby Sivok.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Baby Sivok

When the toy train is ready to leave its start hooting, passes through the Batasia loop again but without stopping. Within a few minutes of leaving Goom station, I realised I had reached the Darjeeling station which a foggy breeze gushed through the window. Ah! What a ride, another memory to cherish. However, there are three types of DHR journey. The first one is from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling station, which was currently not in operation due to COVID. Another exciting route is Kurseong to Darjeeling; you get to see the beautiful tea estate. And the last one is the joy ride. For further information & prices, you can visit the DHR- website http://dhr.in.net/fare-details.php.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Hooting of engine

After a refreshing ride, I was hungry. But before leaving the station, I walk past the road & visited the locomotive shed. The old engines are strong & an art still thriving at its best. On the way, we ate breakfast from the roadside stall- steaming hot momos & a hot cup of tea. Our next destination was Ghum Monastery.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
The locomotive of DHR

But before visiting the Ghum monastery, we visited the Samten Choling Buddhist monastery. First, I entered the gate and could see the monastery in white with a golden top.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
The entry gate to the monastery

Then, I climbed down few stairs to reach an open patio & walked up to the shrine which holds the 26 feet idol of Lord Buddha. It was built in recent time to honour the renowned scholar Lama Anagarikha Govinda.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Samten Choling monastery

The atmosphere of the monastery was spiritual, with the humming and chanting sound of the monks. The monastery is associated with the yellow hat sect, which has a great collection of manuscript & books.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
The 26 feet Bronze Buddha

There is a small cafe within the sanctuary. Beside the restaurant is a stairway that leads to the rooftop, from where I saw the snow-capped mountains and beautiful valley. I stood there a few moments awestruck, looking at the view & clicking few photographs. Later have a cup of tea at the cafe before leaving for Ghum monastery.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
View from the monastery

Yiga Choeling Monastery, popularly known as the Ghoom monastery, is one of the oldest in Darjeeling. The Hermitage belonged to the Gelukpa or the Yellow Hat sect.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Old Ghoom Monastery

The famous Mongolian monk and astrologer Sokpo Sherab Gyatso built it in 1850. This monastery is located near the gum railway station & I had to climb down quite a few stairs to reach it. 

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Yiga Choeling Monastery

This monastery is known for its 15 feet high unique statue of the Maitreya Buddha (Gyalwa Shampa) or the Future Buddha. As I entered the shrine, I saw the Maitreya Buddha right in front of me. It is the largest and the oldest statue among all the monasteries in Darjeeling. The figure is made up entirely of clay brought from Tibet.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Maitreya Buddha

On the right side of the Maitreya Buddha are the three figures of Buddha, which symbolises the past, present and future. While on the left side is the idol of Chenrezig-Avalokiteswara-the god of love and compassion with 1000 hands, 100 eyes and 11 heads.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Three Buddha representing Past Present & Future

Various arts of Tibetan Buddhism with different images of bodhisattvas and magnificent paintings are portrayed on the entire monastery’s walls. All spectacular pictures are placed symmetrically, making it very easy for any visitor to understand the basics of Buddhist philosophy. The monastery stores a vast collection of Buddhist manuscript that includes the Kangyur and Tengyur commentary and philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism. I took few photographs for which I paid 50 INR in the donation box.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Mural In the Monastery

The chants echoed in the monastery’s premises, & the fragrance of incense sticks filled in the air with a sweet smell. There was peace all around that calmed my senses. I wanted to spend the rest of the time here but had few more places to cover. So I bought a brass Tibetian bell with Dorje before leaving the monastery. 

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Tibetian Bell with Dorje

A slight detour was taken to visit the Tibetian refugee centre before driving off to Mirik. It is located in Lebong and locally known as Hermitage. On October 2, 1959, the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre was started. During that period of mayhem, the dramatic escape of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, followed. In 1959, funds raised from local charity led to the starting of this centre by Zhu Dan (wife of Gyalo Thondup). The place initially provided emergency relief to Tibetan refugees who had come through a hazardous trek over the Himalayas into India.

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
The Tibetian Refugee Centre

There were just four workers at the centre started nearly 50 years ago. However, the centre is now home to 650 refugees. Over the period, the centre has undertaken multifarious activities-like handicrafts and training of artisans and craftsman. And taking care of the sick, the old, the orphaned, and the needy. The centre now comprises one créche, one nursery school, and a pre-primary school (up to +2 standard).

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
Refugee tibetian

The centre was registered as a Charitable organisation under Indian law in 1961. It also received an exemption from income tax on all gifts and donations made to it. I spent some time exploring the area and bought a hand-crafted yak wool shawl before heading to Mirik. 

Tiger Hill Sunrise : The untainted and eclectic view of divinity
The Tibetian refugee shop

How to Reach :

By Air: 

The nearest airport is Bagdogra, approximately 95 km away from the city. From the airport, hire taxis to reach the city.

By Rail:

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.

By Road:

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.

 

 

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