Trekking & Adventure Activities
Darjeeling is a good base for various "acclimatization treks" at lower altitudes than those you're going to come up against if you intend to trek in Sikkim. For sightseeing as well as trekking tours around Darjeeling and western Sikkim Gurudongma Tours and Treks (tel. 90-0269-2611 or 94-3406-2100; www.gurudongma.com) comes highly recommended. For white-water rafting, contact D.G.H.C. Tourism (Silver Fir Bldg., The Mall; tel. 0354/225-5351). A well-established tour and travel agency in Sikkim, with a branch in Darjeeling, is Himali Travel Specialists (30 D.B Giri Rd., Darjeeling; tel. 0354/225-2741 or 98-3204-5091; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Darjeeling is the type of place where you might easily find yourself wanting to do very little other than drink in the restorative climate and tea. There are over 70 different tea plantations in the area, and a typical tour demonstrates everything from harvesting to how different varieties of tea are sorted and prepared for export around the globe. For the finest selection of organic and nonorganic teas -- 20 to 30 plantations are represented -- pay a visit to Nathmulls (tel. 0354/225-6437; www.nathmulltea.com; Mon-Sat 9am-7pm), a family business that's been selling tea since 1931. Better still, stay at the Glenburn Tea Estate. For a good vantage point, climb Observatory Hill, held sacred by Hindus and Buddhists. A Kali shrine is guarded by foul-tempered monkeys that play on the colorful Buddhist prayer flags strung between the pine trees.
Darjeeling has a sizable Tibetan presence and a number of Buddhist monasteries you can visit. Set against the backdrop of Kanchenjunga, colorful Bhutia Busty Gompa, near Chowrasta, is famous for the contents of its upstairs Buddhist library -- one of the texts kept there is the original Tibetan Book of the Dead. On Tenzing Norgay Road, you may be able to buy Tibetan and Sikkimese handicrafts at Aloobari Monastery.
An hour's walk from town is Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park, where you can give the animals a miss and head straight for the secluded Snow Leopard and Red Panda Breeding Programme, the only successful breeding program of these endangered species in the world. Sit patiently and watch snow leopards in their cages or a red panda in the trees, or chat with Kiran Motane, the program's dedicated zoologist.
A Glorious Sunrise
Watching the sun rise from Tiger Hill, near the sleepy town of Ghoom, is one of the best things to do in the area (11km/7 miles from Darjeeling; private taxi costs Rs 800 round-trip): The sight of the first rays of dawn carving a dramatic, golden silhouette around the not-too-distant eastern Himalayan peaks is brilliant. Occasionally, Mount Everest is also visible, just 225km (140 miles) away. Come armed with spare film and warm clothing -- at an altitude of 2,550m (8,160 ft.), predawn Tiger Hill is bone-jarringly cold, and if you want to join the crowds who flock here each morning, you have to be up before dawn. The entry fee is Rs 5, but you can pay a little extra for VIP treatment inside a special observation tower (Rs 40), where heating is accompanied by soothing Darjeeling tea. On the way back, visit Ghoom (Liga Choling) Gompa; possibly the best-known Buddhist monastery around Darjeeling, it was founded in the late 1800s and enshrines a 5m-high (16-ft.) clay statue of the Maitreya Buddha. In the early morning light, the colorfully painted figures over the facade and rooftops -- intended to scare away evil spirits -- are radiant. Along the exterior walls are prayer wheels that are spun in order to send countless prayers to the heavens, while inside, butter lamps are lit in offering to the deity.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.