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- 26 Jan 2020, 3 nights
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You'll find India's Darjeeling perched above steep slopes of emerald tea plantations stretching all the way to the mighty Himalayas. Come to watch the snow-capped Khangchendzonga mountain turn a soft pink at sunrise while you sip a steaming cup of spiced tea. Charmingly coloured houses dot the hillside and conjure fantasies of luxurious Raj summers, while thriving bazaars tempt visitors in to fill their suitcases with Indian, Tibetan and Nepalese wares.
If you'd like to wake to mountain views, look for a Darjeeling hostel with an outdoor terrace. There are hostels with restaurants where you can taste local flavours and drink the famed Darjeeling tea. Some hostels in Darjeeling have free breakfast, and others run airport transfers to make your trip a little simpler. You can spend the night in a Tibetan homestay and arrange a games nights in the common area with your dorm mates, or check into a private room available in most Darjeeling backpackers hostels.
Darjeeling winds along the ridge of a hill, with the main area (Chowrasta) sloping down the eastern side. Mall Road runs through Chowrasta, culminating in a flurry of activity at Bhutia Market by Darjeeling Train Station. North of Chowrasta rises Observatory Hill, a celebration of religious co-existence with Buddhist and Hindu temples on show. Tiger Hill, however, is the place for views over Khangchendzonga and Everest. The viewpoint is 11km to the south of the city and early morning jeeps leave daily.
With tea terraces all around, a visit to Darjeeling must include an authentic tea-tasting. Puttabong Tea Estate in Tukvar to the north lets you explore the plantation process and sample unique varieties. Learn to climb at the historic Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, or trundle along the quirky Darjeeling Himalayan Railway to nearby Ghum for views served up with a side of colonial heritage. Outdoors enthusiasts can head to Singalila National Park to hike the ridge route overlooking four of the world's five highest peaks, but a guide is mandatory for trekking here.
Bagdogra International Airport is the airport closest to Darjeeling, and from there it's a 4-hour taxi ride into the hills. If you're arriving by bus, an overnight route runs from Kolkata to Siliguri. You'll then catch a taxi or shared jeep for the final 3-hour stretch to the Darjeeling Motor Stand on the north edge of town, which is also where you can find minibuses going to the national park. For a quaint mode of travel, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway runs a 7-hour train from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, stopping at hill stations in between.