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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Basic Mountaineering Course at Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling - Part 2

Manu Khandelwal

Darjeeling Excursion








I boarded the train on 31 March at 6:45 AM from Anand Vihar Terminal. After getting into the train, I met my train-mates. They all were going to Guwahati. One person was from Army and one from CISF. As usual, my train got late by 6 hours, but I did not get bored due to good company of those people. It was indeed a good journey. We had a discussion on so many things related to defense and all. They all wished me luck while deboarding. I reached New Jalpaiguri Railway Station at 2 PM instead of 8 AM. I took the exit and hired a shared taxi to Darjeeling.

The journey time from New Jalpaiguri Railway Station to Darjeeling is around 3 hours. On that day it took around 4 hours to reach Darjeeling due to rain and dense fog. As we crossed Siliguri, the weather got pleasant and soon it turned bad when we entered into hills. There were so much of dense fog on the road due to which driver was not able to see a single thing. The drive was getting scary as we were moving towards Darjeeling. In spite of all this, our driver was using his phone while driving. I asked him several times that "what do you want to do?", but he was not responding anything at all. Several times, our taxi got off-roaded and even sometimes the driver took the car on the track of toy train by mistake. At last, I reached Darjeeling at 8 PM and it was raining like cats and dogs. So I told the driver to drop me at the cheap and good hotel. Finally, I did check-in into hotel lemon tree situated near the Darjeeling Railway Station. I bargained and booked a room for 2 days for INR 1500. The room was okay at that price. I had my dinner and booked the taxi for my next day tour of Darjeeling.

Darjeeling is home to many attractions such as tiger hill, monasteries, temples, rock garden, tea estates, etc. The tour is differentiated into 3 point, 5 point, 7 point and mixed point

3 point tour – Tiger Hill, Ghum Monastery and Batasia Loop & War Memorial.
5 point tour – Peace Pagoda and Japanese Temple, Lalkothi, Dhirdham Temple, Ava Art Gallery & Bengal Natural History Museum
7 point tour – Himalayan Mountaineering Institute & Darjeeling Zoo, Darjeeling Ropeway, Tenzing & Gombu Rock, Happy Valley tea estate, Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre, Lebong Race Course and Gorkha Football Stadium.
Mixed point tour - Japanese Temple & Peace Pagoda, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and the Zoo, Darjeeling Ropeway, Tenzing & Gombu Rock, Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center, Rangeet Valley Tea Garden, and Happy Valley Tea Estate and Rock Garden & Ganga Maya Park can also be combined at an additional charge.

I was not at all interested in visiting temples, museums, and so many monasteries. So I opted for 3 point tour in the morning and rock garden in the evening. It cost me INR 250 each for a shared taxi.

Next day I woke up early at 0345 hrs, got ready and went for my first tour of Tiger Hill. Tiger Hill is situated at a height of 7780 feet and is the highest point of Darjeeling. The hill is famous for clear and majestic views of Kanchenjunga (3rd highest mountain peak in the world and highest in India) and mesmerizing sunrise that takes place from behind the hills. People from all over the world come here in the early morning during sunrise when the first ray of sunlight incident on the peak. The peak looks magnificent at this time. I took several shots there and left for my second Destination which was Ghum Monastery. 

people capturing sunrise at tiger hill
People capturing sunrise at Tiger Hill

Sunrise at Tiger Hill
View from Tiger Hill
When I reached there, prayers were going on. Several tiny lamas were doing prayers in their way. I did not stay there for more time and after all this, I reached Batasia loop and war memorial, which was the last destination of the 3 point tour. I liked this place because of views and the interesting loop of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. I spent a good time here and then reached my hotel back. Then I did my breakfast of aloo parantha and explored the market by walk. I went to Darjeeling Railway Station where I saw Darjeeling toy train for the first time. At that time, the train was getting ready for its first ride of the day. I did not take a ride on that train because I did not have the reservation and it was also quite costly.

Ghum Monastery in Darjeeling
Ghum Monastery

Inner view of Ghum Monastery
Ghum Monastery

view of Kanchenjunga from Batasia Loop in Darjeeling
View of Kanchenjunga from Batasia Loop

Me posing at Batasia Loop
At Batasia Loop

At Batasia Loop
At Batasia Loop

Track of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway at Batasia Loop
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Track at Batasia Loop

Steret Market at Batasia Loop in Darjeeling
Street Market at Batasia Loop

war memorial
War Memorial


Toy Train getting ready for its first ride
Darjeeling Railway Station

Toy Train taking a trial run
Trial run of Toy Train

People waiting to get on the train
People waiting to get on the train

View from Darjeeling Railway Station
View from Darjeeling Railway Station

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Engine starts

Darjeeling Toy Train
Darjeeling Toy Train



Later I had my lunch at Hasty Tasty restaurant located at the mall road. After having lunch, I spent some time at Chowrasta. Chowrasta is a big circular ground having a statue of Bhanubhakt Acharya in the middle. Then I started walking towards HMI and found a park called Nightingale Park amidst the way. I bought a ticket and went inside the park. I found Park a good place to spend some time in silence watching mountains and hearing chirping of birds. There were several varieties of flowers that made the park more beautiful.


Statue of Nawang Gombu Sherpa near Governor House, Darjeeling
Statue of Nawang Gombu Sherpa near Governor House

View of Darjeeling from Nightingale Park
View of Darjeeling from Nightingale Park

Nightingale Park
Nightingale Park









Chowrasta, Darjeeling
Chowrasta

Statue of Bhanubhakt Acharya at Chowrasta
Statue of Bhanubhakt Acharya at Chowrasta

Mall Road, Darjeeling
Mall Road, Darjeeling
In the evening, I went to rock garden. The rock garden is situated in the Rangeet Valley. The route to rock garden is scenic as it passes through Happy Valley tea estate. The rock garden was an average place according to me. The place was nothing just a little isolated from the main city. Later, I got back to my hotel and after having dinner, I took a stroll at the mall road. I bought some gifts for my family members. Clothes were not very expensive there. Also, I bought the famous Darjeeling tea, but before buying, I did a small research there and found some interesting information about the tea. Locals told me that during the season, the tea gets sold at the auction and prices can hike up to INR 5 lakhs per kilogram. They told me that if you want to buy tea of good quality then Golden Tips is a good brand but it is expensive and if you want to buy tea of good quality with cheaper rates then Apoorva tea from Makaibari Tea Estate is a good option. I decided to buy 250-gram tea of Golden Tips and the cost was INR 2200 per kg. After all this, I came back to my room and slept.

Rock Garden, Darjeeling
Rock Garden, Darjeeling




Now the day came, on which I had to report at HMI. I got ready, had breakfast and reached HMI at around 11 am. HMI and Padmaja Himalayan zoological park are situated in the same vicinity. To reach the HMI campus, one has to cross the Zoo first and then HMI comes. While entering through the main entrance, the guard asked me ticket and I just said that I am a trainee of HMI and he let me come. For visitors, there was an entrance fees of INR 40. There is another gate inside the premise which is called the main gate of HMI. As we enter into that gate, a statue of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and a Shanti Stupa can be seen. Then there comes an open space, which has Jayal hall on the right, a class room and library on the left and office in the front. The institute building was old but good. The walls of the Institute have photos of legend climbers, various knots, ice axes, etc.

Entrance of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
HMI Entrance





When I entered into the campus, there were some people standing in front of the office and several visitors. I went to see the notice board at which it was written that “all the trainees have to report here at 5 PM”. I was left with quite good time. I quickly got inside the office, completed all the formalities and went into the hostel. There I met with the quartermaster. He allotted me room no. 6. I was the first one in that room. I put my rucksack into the cupboard, locked it and went to explore the Zoo.

I saw all the animals including royal bengal tiger, snow leopard, leopard, Himalayan bear, jackal and in the last I went to see my favorite animal, which is Red Panda. Panda was the reason I was excited to see the zoo. When I visit there, Panda was sleeping on a branch of a tree. As panda is one of the laziest animals in the world, it took me around 2 hours to capture this cute animal. Also saw several different species of birds there. I wanted to see reptiles but they were in hibernate mode, so the reptile zone was closed at that time. Later I came back to the HMI hostel and waited there.


Padmaja Himalayan Zoological Park
Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park

Red Panda at Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
Red Panda at Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park




This was the first time that I traveled solo to any place and the experience was completely different. Sometimes it was fun and sometimes it was kind of boring. Boring because I do not like places with so much of crowd and in India, hill stations remain filled with visitors. The overall experience was good. Tiger Hill, Batasia Loop, and Darjeeling Zoo are the places that I liked the most. If someone wants to spend time doing nothing then Nightingale Park is a good place. From park one can get a nice view of Darjeeling. Tea estate is also a must visit place. During my Darjeeling visit, all the meals I had in one restaurant, which is Hasty Tasty. The food was good as well as cheaper, but it is for only vegetarians. I tried Burger, Masala Dosa, Paneer Dosa, Cheese Utpam, Chole Bhature, Aloo Parantha, Paneer Parantha, Chinese Thali and some more dishes (I don’t remember). All the dishes were delicious. I went to one café also, which is Glenary’s. Its pastries and cookies were awesome and the cost was also nominal. Glenary’s is the place that one should try in Darjeeling.

Manu Khandelwal / Author

I call myself a traveller more than a travel blogger. Started this blog in 2013. Apart from this I am an Electrical Engineer. Love trekking and doing bike road trips. Like using technology but not addicted to it. A true foodie and love eating burgers.

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