The Himalayan Railways steam train has been operating since 1879. Take the joy ride from Darjeeling to Ghoom along the Batasia Loop, and soak in magnificent mountain views and monasteries.
The narrow-gauge rail cars chug their way along mountain cliffs and down main thoroughfares of towns, alongside automobiles and people who politely move aside to let it pass.
At the highest point of Darjeeling town, Observatory Hill, you’ll find Mahakal Temple. Here, there are a number of small shrines you can wander between, and receive blessings from monks and priests who preside over each one.
Don’t miss the tiny underground Mahakal Cave, which is just downhill from the temple. Be prepared for the monkeys; I got into a tug-of-war with one who tried to steal my pashmina.
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is just past the temples, with a terrific museum documenting expeditions and conquests of the world’s highest peaks.
The ticket into HMI also grants entrance to the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological park, home to Siberian tigers, black bears, red pandas, and other indigenous species.
Visible from most points of town in Darjeeling, the Kanchenjunga Mountains are a huge draw – especially irresistible to trekkers.
Get up early to hike to the top of Tiger Hill (2,590m/8,497ft) to watch the sunrise.
The whole hike is approximately a six-hour round trip, depending on your pace. If you want to see the sunrise, give yourself three hours to reach the top. Depending on the time of year and what time the sun will rise, it’s a good idea to start the hike at 3:30am.
One of my favorite hikes was a half-day trek up to the small, 17th century Nezi Monastery, close to the Sikkim border. A monk’s mother unlocked the doors to let us inside, where ancient prayer books were piled on top of each other beneath peeling frescoes and Tibetan Buddhist statues.
A trip to Darjeeling would be incomplete without exploring some of the 70 tea gardens found here, ranging from simple to sumptuous.
Some offer heavenly resort retreats nestled in the foothills amid acres of rolling green tea gardens, and most offer insider tours of the farms and processes.
The luxurious Gleburn Tea Estate is nestled in the foothills amid acres of rolling green tea gardens – one of my personal favorites.
Simply wandering around Darjeeling town is a great way to meet the friendly locals. Make your way along the maze of narrow market lanes, up to the main promenade of Chowrasta.
Here you’ll find a large open square lined with antique and jewelry shops filled with quality treasures, while horses and donkeys tote small children around the pavestones for a ride.