Darjeeling, the Queen of the Hills, is the perfect destination to visit in order to beat the sweltering heat of Kerala during April-May. Not far from Darjeeling is Sikkim, which can also be covered in the same trip.
If you want to save time, fly to Bagdogra Airport in Siliguri from Mumbai, Chennai or Bengaluru. Reach Darjeeling by road in about four-and-a-half hours from Bagdogra. Cabs are available outside Bagdogra Airport and would cost you around Rs 3000 at the airport counter. It is advisable to book your hotel or resort in advance as the tourist season begins from mid-April.
The tea plantations at Darjeeling
The chief attraction of Darjeeling is the cool weather with mild showers. Drive to Tiger Hills early in the morning for a view of the sunrise over Kanchenjunga. However, foggy weather can mar this experience sometimes. Local vendors at Tiger Hill say the best time to see Kanchenjunga is in October; you can experience a spectacular multi-hued sunset against the peak.
Aboard the toy train
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railways operates toy train services in the region. The Ghoom Railway Station here is the highest one in India, located at an altitude of 2,258 meters. At Batasia Loop, the toy train takes a sharp spiral turn around the Gorkha War Memorial. A bit away from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI), Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park and the Bengal Natural History Museum are located on the same campus. The HMI was built to commemorate the success of Tenzing Sherpa Norgay, who along with Edmund Hillary, conquered the Mount Everest. At the zoological park, one can see some Himalayan animals in their semi-natural habitats. The Bengal Natural History Museum has many types of stuffed mammals and pinned arthropods. Like Munnar, Darjeeling too faces vehicle pollution and is urbanised, taking away some of the charm.
The Teesta River
The drive from Darjeeling to Gangtok in Sikkim takes almost four-and-a-half hours alongside Teesta River; it is a long stretch with a mesmerising view. The drive costs approximately Rs 4,000. Gangtok is moderately cool and it drizzles in the evening. The MG Marg here is an attractive place for an evening visit.
Visiting the border
The Nathula Pass visit is exceptional and on the way, you can see the majesty of the Himalayas. The mountains are huge and rocky at first and after an hour’s journey, you get the view of the snow-clad Himalayas. You can hire jackets, snow boots, gloves and other things in preparation for a temperature of sub zero degrees.
The Tsongo lake enroute to Nathula offers a spectacular view against the backdrop of the white Himalayas. You can ride on a Yak here. The animal is very friendly, though it resembles Bison. You can play with the snow on the way to the mountains. Harbhajan Mandir is another tourist spot here. Vehicles take the visitors only to a certain point, a little away from the border. Owing to security reasons, cameras are not allowed at the border. One can see the fenced Indo-China border while travelling through the road cut through the snow. A steep climb of 200 metres in the snow will take you to the border post where jawans are posted. Altogether, the journey to Nathula and the permit charges cost Rs 7000.
A visit to South Sikkim does not offer much. Namchi is the main place in South Sikkim. Sidheswara Dham (Siva Temple) complex atop a huge hill and the Guru Padmasambhava statue, of an 8th century Buddhist master, atop another hill are the key spots here. It costs Rs 3000 for the day’s journey. I wouldn’t recommend the monasteries in Darjeeling and Gangtok as they are not exceptional and stand nowhere close to the Buddhist monastery in Kodagu in their size and upkeep.
Securing a pass
Nathula Pass on the Indo-China Border is a dream for any tourist who visits Gangtok. Permit for the visit can be obtained through a tour operator authorised by the Sikkim government at least a day prior to your travel or through the hotel where you have booked accommodation.