Darjeeling is a picture
perfect getaway in the lap of the Eastern Himalayas where one can experience
serene landscapes, iconic eateries, beautiful monasteries, and heritage sites.
But what I find most fascinating is the hospitality of the local people. The
connection and the bonds made is the primary reason I go back to the Queen of
Hills again and again.
Not very long ago, my
friends and I made a sudden plan to trek to Sandakphu, one of the best
Himalayan treks in the country from where you can see the mystical range of Khangchendzonga,
more often known as the Sleeping Buddha for its shape. We decided to spend a
day in Darjeeling before we headed for the trek. My hometown, Siliguri, is just
2.5 hours away from Darjeeling, and so I’ve visited Darjeeling countless number
of times but spending a day with friends in the town that exudes old-world
charm did not seem like a bad idea.
During all my travels, be it the majestic mountains or coastal areas, I prefer opting for homestays over hotels as it gives me an opportunity to interact with the locals and get tips and recommendations. I believe that a place is all about its people and their history, values, and culture. A traveller has so much to learn from the local people, starting from sustainable practices to food and traditions. Keeping this in mind, I booked a homestay in Darjeeling through Airbnb. The location was one of the main reasons why I chose this particular place but upon reaching there, there was much more that added to the charm of this stay.
Dorje Homestay, Darjeeling
The Dorje Homestay, run by Mr. and Mrs. Chogyal, is located very close to Chowrasta, or Mall Road as known among tourists. There is an ample number of restaurants, cafes, and eateries close to the homestay. After we reached Chowrasta, Mr. Chogyal came to receive us and took us to the homestay. We were assigned a sparkling clean room that had a balcony overlooking the town. Due to the rough weather, we could not spot the peaks of Khangchendzonga but our host claimed that the snow-capped peaks are quite visible when the skies are clear.
View from the balcony
The common area of the homestay
The room we stayed in
We relaxed for a while and headed out for lunch. We took a short walk to find a
cute little cafe by the name of Tom and Jerry. Upon entering, we were greeted by
the owner, who ran the cafe himself. We ordered thukpa, burgers, and some
beverages. The food was delicious. This is a common experience I have had each
time I’ve visited a town in the mountains. Hidden cafes, which are run single-handedly by the owners or with very little help, always turn out to be good
experiences; most of the time, tourists overhype few well-known eateries and
miss out on the best of experiences like trying local cuisines. After finishing
our lunch, we headed for a walk and did a little street shopping. We took a
stroll in Chowrasta, clicked pictures, and walked to St. Andrew’s Church. As
we did not have a checklist to follow, we moved at our own pace and soaked in
the vibe of the town. We observed tourists taking endless photographs, people
bargaining with shop owners at Mahakal Market, and kids enjoying horse rides in
Chowrasta. The remnants of colonial architecture found in the nooks and corners
of Darjeeling town coupled with the monsoon made our experience even more
thrilling. The weather soon got colder after the rain that we were forced to
buy umbrellas, gloves, and caps for ourselves. After the teeny bit of unplanned
shopping, we went to meet some friends. Later in the evening, we enjoyed a
swanky dinner at Glenary’s, an iconic restaurant in the heart of Darjeeling that’s
been there since the British era. Post dinner, we returned to the homestay and
retreated to deep slumber.
Lip-smacking burgers at Tom and Jerry Cafe
Glenary's, the iconic restaurant in Darjeeling
The next morning we
woke up to chilly weather and a light drizzle. Our breakfast was ready by 9 am.
Who does not like a sumptuous breakfast to start the day? We were served toast,
omelette, and tea, and the hosts happily accepted the request of our friend to
prepare her some rice and vegetables. We enjoyed our breakfast as we chatted
with Mrs. Chogyal. She was a very warm lady who shared with us her
experiences when she worked in Israel. Upon learning that all three of us
belonged to the Christian faith, she narrated to us about her visits to Jerusalem
and insisted that we visit the Holy Land once in our life. She was kind enough
to give us a fridge magnet, a souvenir she brought all the way from Jerusalem.
This little gesture of hers has stayed with me and still makes me feel
connected to Darjeeling. We finished our breakfast and relaxed in the common
area for a little longer before Mr. Chogyal came and greeted us. Upon learning
that we were about to head to Manebhanjan that day, he explained the route to
us in great detail and informed us about the place from where we could get a
shared taxi. The information really came in handy as we did not get a direct
taxi for Manebhanjan and had to break the journey at Sukhiapokhri. But we could
manage the journey with ease as we already had the idea of the route; all credit
goes to our host.
The breakfast spread at our homestay
Our host Mr. Chogyal and us
By early afternoon, we were ready to leave towards our destination
and commence our trek the next day. We clicked pictures with our host and often
look at them on days we miss travelling. It is encounters like this that make
me believe that travelling is not about visiting every famous and touristy spot
or about having a checklist to follow; it is about those engaging conversations
shared over simple meals and the care of the hosts that make our travels
memorable. As stated earlier, it is the people that make a place special.
Darjeeling Tour Packages