Discovering Darjeeling in West Bengal, India
Darjeeling, in the north of West Bengal, is one of the most enchanting hill stations in India, steeped in British colonial history. When I think of Darjeeling, I imagine emerald-green tea plantations, lengthy scenic walks (complete with a home-made picnic) and, of course, the snow-capped Himalayas acting as a perfect backdrop against the deep-blue sky. I also think of the totally serene, privately run Glenburn Tea Estate, which lies in the shadow of Kangchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world.
When you have been travelling for six hours, there is nothing better than arriving somewhere that enables you to switch off from the outside world. The journey to Glenburn is arduous and not necessarily for everyone, but for me, it was conducive to an extraordinary adventure far removed from the bustle of India’s hectic city life. The nearest airport is Bagdogra which, at best, can be described as a chaotic, oversized barn. As I left the calamity behind me, I was then faced with a four-hour escapade by car, meandering my way through unspoilt countryside and undulating tea hills.
We would suggest spending three nights here – not only because of the incredible journey to get there, but also to experience everything that this verdant and remote corner in India has to offer.
I was welcomed with the freshest cup of Darjeeling tea and then shown to my room, the Singalila Suite, with its unbeatable views over the glorious Singalila range. It was full of vibrant, block-printed fabrics and a very inviting four-poster bed.
The following morning, I was matched with my delightful guide, Luna, who took me on a four-hour trek through the Bora Gaon Village and into the Simbong Tea Division. We passed tea fields, small hamlets, farms and children playing numerous games in their school playgrounds. As we made it to the riverbank, we were met by a team of smiling chefs who had put together the most delicious barbecue picnic. For what seemed like very few basic ingredients, the dishes were so imaginative and gave me the fuel I needed for the afternoon.
After lunch, Luna took me to the Suspension Bridge, which connects West Bengal with Manjitar in Sikkim. International visitors need a permit for Sikkim, so I was only able to put one toe over the line before being quickly ushered back across by an official.
Once back at the estate, I enjoyed sundowners overlooking the majestic Kangchenjunga. Dining at Glenburn is normally communal in the relaxed dining room, so the evenings are especially interesting for sharing stories with the other guests as well as the charming manager, Bertie, and his wife, Audrey.
Darjeeling town is a must-see, and for those who have time, I recommend taking The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, or the ‘Toy Train’, from Ghum to Darjeeling. The views from your seat can only be described as mesmerising, as you meander your way along the narrow, rickety tracks, passing pine forests, bustling towns and unimaginable viewpoints overlooking the blue mountain ranges of the foothills.
For travellers, young or old, Darjeeling is a place for adventure but also for relaxation. You should also take advantage of being in West Bengal by spending a couple of nights exploring India’s cultural capital, Kolkata, formerly Calcutta – a perfect contrast to the hills.
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