Well, the Himalayas are so widespread that they cover a distance of about 5000 kilometers from North Western to Eastern India. A number of popular hill stations in India have been developed by the British rulers. Among them, you already have heard the most common ones as Shimla, Manali, Mussoorie, Nainital, Darjeeling etc. So, in this post, I am going to present a brief guide to Darjeeling and Sikkim.
West Bengal is the only unique state in India which has the magic of having both the sea (The Bay of Bengal) and the mountains like Himalayas. The sea acts like the foot while the Himalayas act like the head of the state.
Darjeeling is the most popular hill station in the eastern Himalayan region in India, having an altitude of about 6,500 feet above the sea level. The neighboring hilly state Sikkim’s capital Gangtok is another popular hill station after Darjeeling. Both the hill stations are so close that you can plan to visit them in a single tour. In fact, in Sikkim, it’s not only Gangtok, but the entire tiny state is worth a visit.
How to reach Darjeeling and Gangtok?
If you wish to travel by train, the nearest railway stations are New Jalpaigudi (NJP) and Siliguri. Both the stations are only 8 km apart, but NJP is more popular due to more connectivity than Siliguri has. NJP is connected to almost all major railway stations in India.
You can easily travel from these railway stations to either Darjeeling or Gangtok by a shared taxi or jeep. From the NJP railway station, Darjeeling is 70 km away which makes a 3 hrs long journey, while Gangtok is 120 km away which makes a 4 hrs long journey.
Darjeeling Toy Train:
This is the most interesting part. If you want to enjoy this toy train journey, which is also a World Heritage declared by UNESCO, you should definitely choose this option. Although it is also true that the toy train journey from NJP to Darjeeling is very time consuming (7 hrs) as compared to the road journey.
You can book toy trains tickets from the regular IRCTC website. The toy train leaves NJP at 8.30 am and reaches Darjeeling at 3.35 pm. Train name is NJP DJ Passenger, train no is 52541. Also, remember that the toy trains runs only between NJP and Darjeeling, no train is available between NJP and Gangtok. If you want to go to Gangtok first, road journey is the only option.
By Air Route (Flight):
The nearest airport to Darjeeling or Gangtok is Bagdogra Airport. Bagdogra has good air connectivity with all the major airports of India. Darjeeling is only 70 km (3 hrs) away from this airport while Gangtok is 120 km (4 hrs) away. Taxis are always available between these cities.
Well, you understood that NJP/Siliguri, Darjeeling and Gangtok- all the three form a triangle, so from NJP/Siliguri, you can choose either Darjeeling or Gangtok to go first.
Suppose you arrive at Darjeeling first, what should you do the next day? Here is my brief advice.
Darjeeling is not a very big city. Exploring the city for sightseeing needs only a full day. You can hire any taxi or jeep for a full day at around Rs 2000 only.
Early in the morning, you must visit the famous Tiger Hill for the mesmerizing Sunrise. If the weather is clear enough, the spectacular view of the Sunrise is easily visible. If weather is cloudy, you are somewhat unlucky for this charm.
Moving on, you may be staring at the sky, the Kanchenjunga, third highest peak in the world, is easily visible in the clear sky. The toy train track is also noticeable within the city.
The Batasia Loop is a tribute to the brave Gorkha soldiers, surrounded by the spiral loop of the toy train track. A nominal entry fee of Rs 15 is required to enter the loop.
Can you imagine Darjeeling without tea gardens? Along the way, certainly you should take a mini halt at these beautiful greeneries.
The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, a pioneer in training the adventurers, is also an point of attraction in Darjeeling. The Tenzin Rock, where the climbers practice, you will notice somewhere while loitering in the steers.
Gangtok/Sikkim Sightseeing Itinerary
If you have already visited Darjeeling, you can proceed directly to Gangtok, no need to go back to NJP. People commonly say it is a ‘Gangtok’ tour, but in fact, it’s not just Gangtok, it’s Sikkim tour. Gangtok is only the capital city of this tiny state, only has few temples, market and monasteries. If you wish to see the real snow cladded mountains, you need to travel a lot within the state. I am going to tell you two major sightseeing points where generally tourists visit.
The Yumthang Valley/Zero Point
Your Sikkim visit is just worthless if you don’t visit the Yumthang valley. This valley lies in the northern Sikkim at a distance of 125 km from the city of Gangtok. The tour operators conduct this tour at a cost of around Rs 1500 per head. It includes a night stay at Lachung, dinner and next day breakfast. But remember to carry some passport size photographs and ID proofs, as the same is required for issuance of tour permits.
This journey is somewhat difficult to complete in a single day, so it is done in two parts. First day, the tour operators will take you up to a small village named Lachung, where a night stay is required. Next day, early in the morning, the tour will proceed for the Yumthang valley (only 20 km or an hour journey from Lachung left now).
This valley is at a height of 12,000 feet. Although it looks like a small village, it’s beauty is no less than the popular Kashmir valley. In summer, the beautiful valley of flowers can be observed while in the winter, everything (including a river) is snow covered.
In case you don’t find snow at this valley, you can proceed further up to the zero point at a height of 14000 feet (just another 20 km journey from the Yumthang valley). But to avoid your legs trapping the deep and soft snow here, you can purchase or hire long gum boots in Yumthang valley. Almost an hour stay is allowed at zero point, thereafter, a direct return journey to Gangtok (about 140 km ) will be started.
The Changu Lake, Baba Mandir and Nathula Pass
The second most popular sightseeing tour is the Changu Lake and Nathula Pass tour from Gangtok. Again, please note that for this tour too, you will have to submit your passport size photographs and ID proofs to the tour operators for getting travel permits. If you can’t arrange the tour yourself, take help from your hotelier. Th cost of this tour is around Rs 800 per head.
Just at 40 km from the Gangtok city, the Changu lake is the first attraction on the way to Nathula Pass. It remains completely frozen in winters, but partially in the month of March as I experienced. Local people can be seen with their Yaks, hovering around the lake for offering Yak rides to the tourists. You can try it at just Rs 50.
Afterwards, you reach Baba Mandir (16 km from Changu Lake). This is actually not a temple/mandir. Baba Harbhajan Singh was an army personnel who is accorded as a saint, believed to serve and protect the nation even after his death. So, it has been developed as a shrine in his respect.
Now you finally reach the Nathula Pass (55 km from Gangtok). It was once a famous silk trade route, now an international border between India and China. Since it is located at a height of 14000 feet, be prepared with your warm clothes, otherwise the chilled wind may make you shiver.
There is a small entrance, walking upstairs is required to finally get a glimpse of the border. But you can’t touch the fencing, just you can meet the Indian soldiers, they will show you the Chinese side and their soldiers too.
Hope this post will be useful to you for your next Darjeeling-Gangtok trip!