It went great, indeed! But…

Okay, let me start from the beginning. This is Neel here from Kolkata and this was my FIRST time in Darjeeling, yes, in 2023 (hope you can understand my excitement!!), also the first time in Himalayas (been to Mussoorie earlier but I was quite little that time so won’t consider) so had much greater expectations.
Wait! Before we proceed, do check out my Complete Darjeeling Tour Planner post for a comprehensive Darjeeling tour guide, you’ll find that interesting for sure!

It was a family trip, me with my parents so had to plan properly as without things being ‘near perfect enough’ my mom won’t agree for a trip anyway, you can understand with a single example that I’m having this family trip almost after 7 years, it was Puri last time on 2016, just because she wasn’t much interested to move out of her ‘comfort zone’ which is her personal room itself 😀 She’s still like a kid sometimes you know and I love her a lot for that!

Anyway, back to the topic, plan was something as below;
starting on 27th March 2023 by flight from Kolkata (CCU) to Bagdogra (IXB) (flight no. 6E-751), staying for 5 nights and 6 days, returning by 1st April 2023 by Vande Bharat (train no. 22302) in EC from New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to Howrah (HWH).

Accordingly, we started early on 27th from our home and reached the airport by 11:25am, flight was scheduled for 12:30pm. It was an Indigo flight and by the time we reached the bag drop counter it was 11:35am and the personnel marked our boarding passes to be of ‘late entry’ saying bagdrop has to get completed at least one hour before, also gate closes for passengers 15 – 20 minutes before the departure time. Anyway, flight trip went well, almost no turbulences and completed within 50 minutes.

Kolkata (CCU) Airport

We booked pre-paid taxi from the Bagdogra airport itself, it’s recommended as they follow standard fare and a bit reliable I’d say; from airport to Darjeeling taxi stand it was Rs.1900/- in Wagon-R with 3 passengers, 3 suitcases and 3 small luggage, and Rs.2200/- till hotel which we chose. It was a 3 hours and 10 minutes journey which I PARTIALLY liked, as the route he took was via Rohini Park => Kurseong => Tung => Margaret’s Deck => Hill Cart Road which I found dangerous enough having so many hairpin turnings, blind spots and steep inclined roads, that too in a fully loaded Wagon-R which is quite infamous for it’s body roll tendency. Though smaller car is better (and cheaper too) considering the narrow passages in this route, but I’ll definitely recommend some bigger car here for safety purposes.

View from our Room

We reached the hotel around 5 which we pre-booked (details and review I’ll share in separate posts), it was a room for 3 and we immediately settled down and slept off as we were exhausted, but took a quick look from the window which was like… check the pic!

Let’s have a summary of how the 5 nights and 6 days were spent;
Day 1
Nothing much, we reached only after 5 so went to the Darjeeling Mall which was just 350 meters away from our hotel in the evening around 6:30pm, but was unable to spend more than 5 minutes as it was super cold (Yes, around 9 degrees at March end) along with continuous strong cold wind, hence explored the New Mall Market and Old Mall Market for a while, had dinner at Padma Restaurant and came back to hotel.
Day 2
Still being exhausted, just me and my father went out around 12:30pm for exploring and random photoshoot. We visited the Mall again starting from the Rangamancha and covered the area around till Rink Mall round trip to hotel. In the process we walked around 4.5km in those steep inclined and disinclined roads which almost felt like our lower bodies were numb at the end, had lunch at hotel, some sandwiches and hot chocolate at Keventer’s in the evening and dinner from Hotel Mahakal and Good Night!
Day 3
One of the most exciting day of the trip, started by 11am and explored several sightseeing points. We started at Peace Pagoda & Japanese temple which were awesome, next we went to Gangamaya Park (entry fee Rs. 20 / person with mobile or camera) and then Rock Garden (entry fee Rs. 20 / person with mobile or camera), I’d say these are the MUST visit points but most of the drivers or tour operators won’t agree to go there without extra money as the road condition is worse, quite long distant and almost at the bottom of the mountains so again steep disinclined roads, but worth visiting if you wanna see some fountains and awesome flower gardens, along with boating at Gangamaya for Rs.200/- per person. Rock Garden additionally has some options to try out traditional Nepali dresses and capture photo for Rs.50 / person, checkout a few snaps below;

Gangamaya Park
Boating at Gangamaya Park
Rock Garden

Next we visited Orange Valley Tea Garden which was a decent tea garden with beautiful landscape, just be a little cautions as are leeches.

Orange Valley Tea Garden

As all these we completed by 2:45pm and for Rs.2200/- in that same Wagon-R for 3 of us, we planned to add Lepchajagat for additional Rs.2000/- which we reached in another 40 minutes from Orange Valley Tea Garden. Lepchajagat is utmost beautiful, very less locality, comparatively silent being remote and full of pine forest. There is a view point here which you’ve to trek to visit but only decent, and weather here was very chilling and felt like almost 4 – 5 degrees with continuous wind. Check once;

Pine Forest at Lepchajagat

We came back by 5:45pm, took some rest, had dinner again at Hotel Mahakal and slept off.
Day 4
Relatively simple, visited Mahakal temple and New Mahakal Market at around 12:30pm, had lunch at Sholo Ana Bangali, evening snacks and tea at Glenary’s (took lots of item as parcel for Kolkata) and dinner at Dekevas.

Sholo Ana Bangali
Dekevas Restaurant

Day 5
Had joyride at toy train, we booked the diesel engine one which costs us Rs.1000/person for a 40 minutes round trip from Darjeeling station to Ghum station including Batasia Loop (NO stoppage due to G20 summit preparation that time) and Rail museum (nothing is there basically) at Ghum. It was a mixed experience as I found it to be quite overpriced and mostly boring city view except that 30 seconds Batasia Loop part, a decent heritage ride which can be skipped I think.

Toy Train Joy Ride (Diesel Engine)

Day 6
Our train was scheduled for 3:05pm from NJP which hardly takes 3 – 3.5 hours to reach from our hotel, but we had to start by 9:30am in the morning as due to G20 summit the usual road via Kurseong was about to get closed by 10:30am, and if that would’ve happened we’d to take the route via Mirik or via Mangpoo which would’ve taken around 5.5 hours and much costlier as well. We’re lucky as the usual route was open when we started and this time we took a Swift Desire and can confirm it was a much better and less scary ride. We reached much early at New Jalpaiguri by 12pm so took an A.C retiring room near platform no. 1 for Rs.1050 (usually Rs.850 for 2 persons and 8 hours, but took Rs.200 extra for extra person), very simple room and not very well maintained but was okay for us for that short stay. Our train 22302 NJP-HWH Down Vande Bharat arrived at around 2:15pm, started on time, reached on time, booked an Ola cab from Howrah while returning which took additional Rs.100/- and we reached home by 11:30 in the night, and that’s how our trip ended!

What we Liked?

* Awesome landscapes.
* Good food, street foods, restaurants, food varieties.
* Great for shopping, specially winter garments are available at cheap rates.

What we didn’t Like?

* Extremely crowded
* Hills are now full of constructions and houses which will block the view most of the times.
* No local commute like auto, short distance travels are only possible by walking, shared cabs are rare and costly.
* Food, other than street foods, are mostly on the costlier side, Keventer’s and Dekevas were reasonably priced though (will share detailed reviews in separate post).
* Our hotel experience, in spite of being a 4 start category hotel, had quite some issues which we were not happy about, stay tuned for detailed hotel review.
* Good hotels are mostly far from Darjeeling Mall, and heritage hotels are not properly maintained and miss modern amenities and facilities.

So that’s then end of our story, feel free to share your feedbacks and comments, will be back soon with more such exciting stories!