My mountaineering course at HMI Darjeeling was about to start from 4 April. As it was the first time I was traveling to North East India, I decided to reach 2 days before the reporting date so that I could explore some places in Darjeeling. I checked on the internet and made a list of the best places to visit in Darjeeling. I boarded the train on 31 March at 6:45 AM from Anand Vihar Terminal. After getting into the train, I met my co-passengers. They all were going to Guwahati. One person was from the Army and one from CISF.
As usual, my train got late by 6 hours, but I did not get bored due to the good company of those people. It was indeed a good journey. We had a discussion on so many things related to defense and all. They all wished me luck while deboarding. I reached New Jalpaiguri Railway Station at 2 PM instead of 8 AM. I took the exit and hired a shared taxi to Darjeeling.
The journey time from New Jalpaiguri Railway Station to Darjeeling is around 3 hours. On that day it took around 4 hours to reach Darjeeling due to rain and dense fog. As we crossed Siliguri, the weather got pleasant and soon it turned bad when we entered the hills. There was a dense fog on the road due to which the driver was not able to see a single thing. The drive was getting scary as we were moving towards our destination. In spite of all this, the driver was using his phone while driving. I asked him several times that “what are you doing? why are you using your phone?”, but he was not responding anything at all.
Several times, our taxi got off-roaded and even sometimes the driver took the car on the track of the toy train by mistake. At last, I reached Darjeeling at 8 PM and it was raining like cats and dogs. So I told the driver to drop me at the cheap and good hotel. Finally, I did check-in into hotel lemon tree situated near the Darjeeling Railway Station. I bargained and booked a room for 2 days for INR 1500. The room was good at that price. I had my dinner and booked the taxi for my next day’s tour of Darjeeling.
There are several places to visit in Darjeeling such as tiger hill, monasteries, temples, rock garden, tea estates, etc. The tours are differentiated into 3 point, 5 point, 7 point, and mixed point tour.
- 3 point tour – Tiger Hill, Ghum Monastery, and Batasia Loop & War Memorial.
- 5 point tour – Peace Pagoda and Japanese Temple, Lalkothi, Dhirdham Temple, Ava Art Gallery & Bengal Natural History Museum
- 7 point tour – Himalayan Mountaineering Institute & Darjeeling Zoo, Darjeeling Ropeway, Tenzing & Gombu Rock, Happy Valley tea estate, Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre, Lebong Race Course and Gorkha Football Stadium.
- Mixed point tour – Japanese Temple & Peace Pagoda, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and the Zoo, Darjeeling Ropeway, Tenzing & Gombu Rock, Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center, Rangeet Valley Tea Garden, and Happy Valley Tea Estate and Rock Garden & Ganga Maya Park can also be combined at an additional charge.
I was not at all interested in visiting temples, museums, and all the monasteries and I already had my list of places to visit in Darjeeling. So I opted for 3 point tour in the morning and rock garden in the evening. The price of both the tours was INR 250 each.
The next day I woke up early at 0345 hrs, got ready, and went for my first tour of Tiger Hill. Tiger Hill is situated at a height of 7780 feet and is the highest point of Darjeeling. The hill is famous for clear and majestic views of Kanchenjunga (3rd highest mountain peak in the world and highest in India) and mesmerizing sunrise that takes place behind the towering mountains. People from all over the country visit here in the early morning during sunrise to see the mesmerizing view when the first ray of sunlight gets fallen on the peak. The peak looks magnificent at this time. I took several shots there and left for my second destination which was Ghum Monastery.
When I reached there, prayers were going on. Several child monks were doing prayers at the entrance of the monastery. I did not stay there for too long and soon I traveled to Batasia loop and War memorial, which was the last destination of the 3 point tour. I liked this place because of the views and the interesting loop of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. I spent a good time here and then reached my hotel back.
It took around 4 hours to cover all the places in the 3-point tour. Then I did my breakfast of aloo parantha and explored the market on foot. I went to Darjeeling Railway Station where I saw Darjeeling toy train for the first time. At that time, the train was getting ready for its first ride of the day. I did not take a ride because I did not have the reservation and it was also out of my budget.
Later I had my lunch at Hasty Tasty restaurant located at the mall road. After having lunch, I spent some time at Chowrasta. Chowrasta is a big circular ground having a statue of Bhanubhakt Acharya in the middle. Then I started walking towards HMI and found a peaceful place amidst the way, viz, Nightingale Park. I bought a ticket and went inside the park. It was a good place to spend some time in solitude watching mountains and hearing the chirping of birds. There were a plethora of flowers from different species that made the park more beautiful.
In the evening, I visited Rock Garden which is situated in the Rangeet Valley. The route to rock garden is scenic as it passes through Happy Valley tea estate. It was an average place, not that good as I expected. The place was nothing just a little isolated from the main city.
Later, I got back to my hotel and after having dinner, I took a stroll at the mall road. The mall road has different shops where one can buy the world-famous Darjeeling tea, clothes, and souvenirs. I also bought some gifts for my family members including a packet of tea. Before buying, I did a small research on the tea because there were several brands ranging from INR 500 per kg to INR 5000 per kg.
Locals told me that during the season, the highest quality tea is sold in the auction, and the price can hike up to INR 5 lakhs per kilogram. They told me that if you want to buy tea of good quality then Golden Tips is a good brand but it is expensive and if you want to buy tea of good quality with cheaper rates then Apoorva tea from Makaibari Tea Estate is a good option. I decided to buy 250-gram tea of Golden Tips and the cost was INR 2200 per kg. After all this, I came back to my room to have some rest.
Now the day came, on which I had to report at HMI. I got ready, had breakfast, and reached HMI at around 11 am. HMI and Padmaja Himalayan zoological park are situated in the same premises. To reach the HMI campus, one has to cross the Zoo first. While entering through the main entrance, the guard asked me a ticket and I just said that I am a trainee of HMI and he let me in. For visitors, there was an entrance fee of INR 40. There is another gate inside the premise which is called the main gate of HMI.
As I entered into HMI Campus, a statue of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and a Stupa can be seen then there comes an open space, which has Jayal hall on the right, a classroom, and a library on the left and office in the front. The institute building was old but good. The walls of the Institute have photos of legend climbers, various knots, ice axes, etc.
When I entered the campus, there were some people standing in front of the office and several visitors. I went to see the notice board at which it was written that “all the trainees have to report here at 5 PM”. I was left with a quite good time so I quickly got inside the office, completed all the formalities, and went into the hostel. There I met with the quartermaster and he allotted me room no. 6. I was the first one in that room. I put my rucksack into the cupboard, locked it, and went to explore the Zoo.
The Zoo had all the main animals including Royal Bengal Tiger, Snow Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Leopard, Himalayan Bear, Jackal, Several species of birds, and in the end I went to see my favorite animal, which is Red Panda. When I visited there, Panda was sleeping on a branch of a tree. As panda is one of the laziest animals in the world, it took me around 2 hours to capture this cute animal. The reptiles were in hibernation mode, couldn’t see them. At around 4:45, I reached back to the HMI hostel as orientation was about to start.
This was the first time that I traveled solo to any place and the experience was completely different. Sometimes it was fun and sometimes it was boring because I don’t like visiting crowded places and in India, hill stations remain filled with visitors every time. The overall experience was good. The hill station is popular and there are a lot of places to visit in Darjeeling but out of all Tiger Hill, Batasia Loop, and Darjeeling Zoo are the places that I liked the most. If someone wants to spend time doing nothing then Nightingale Park is a good place and from there one can get a scenic view of Darjeeling.
As Darjeeling is also known for its vast tea estates, hence a tea estate is also a must-visit place. During my Darjeeling visit, I had all the meals in only one restaurant, which was Hasty Tasty because it was a pure veg restaurant with decent prices. The food quality and taste were also good. I tried Burger, Masala Dosa, Paneer Dosa, Cheese Utpam, Chole Bhature, Aloo Parantha, Paneer Parantha, Chinese Thali, and a few more dishes. All the dishes were delicious. I went to one café which is the most recommended cafe in Darjeeling, Glenary’s. The pastries and cookies were awesome and the cost was also nominal. Glenary’s is the place that should not be missed while exploring Darjeeling.
The next blog (Part 3) is about the training and life at the HMI campus in Darjeeling.
Here are all the blogs regarding my HMI journey.
- Part 1 – How I came to know about this course?
- Part 2 – Exploring Darjeeling
- Part 3 – Life & Training at HMI Darjeeling
- Part 4 – Rock Craft Training at HMI Darjeeling
- Part 5 – Trek to HMI Base Camp in West Sikkim
- Part 6 – Reaching Chaurikhang Base Camp
- Part 7 – Life & Training at HMI Base Camp
- Part 8 – Peak Climbing, Snow Craft & Glacier Training at HMI Base Camp
- Part 9 – Last Days and Graduation Ceremony
Hope you enjoyed reading the blog. In case of any suggestions, improvements, or any queries, please let me know in the comments. 🙂