Tiger Hill, I’m sure you’ve heard of plenty of times, is the highest point in Darjeeling and is situated inside the Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary from where you can witness the sunrise and some of the highest Himalayan peaks, including Mt. Everest.
The views of the rising sun and the simultaneous illumination of the Khangchendzonga peaks are so ethereal that people are ready to bundle up in a car bleary-eyed to reach Tiger Hill by 4 am! The sun of course rises after 6:00 am but people arrive ridiculously early to station themselves at the perfect spot on the concrete platform for the best viewing angle before throngs of tourists arrive and jostle the timid ones aside to get a better view.
The day had arrived when I finally got to have this amazing experience. I’d set the 3 am alarm with scepticism, and added several others 5 mins apart. We’d decided to take our own car up to Tiger Hill rather than take a shared cab from the taxi stand or reserve one.
Note: If you’re driving your own car, you need to take a permit from the town police office complex near the bus stand a day prior (carry your Aadhaar card, driver’s license, and car registration paper just in case). If you’re taking a shared cab, it costs 450 per person and 1500 for a reserved cab.
INSIDE SENCHAL WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
I had neither heard nor read that Tiger Hill is inside the Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary, so I was shocked to arrive at its entrance after being directed there from Jorebungalow. I had wanted to come here for cycling but never knew where it was located; I guess I do now.
You won’t find anyone at the entrance to the sanctuary, so you drive right in and follow the trail of cars that are making their way up to Tiger Hill (entrance fee is taken on your way back: INR 20 for entry and INR 50 as tourism fee). Save for the car ahead, you are enveloped in pitch black. If you’re early, you’ll get a parking spot on the roadside near the platform otherwise you’ll have to walk it up, which is not very pleasant so early in the morning.
After parking, you walk up to a wide platform with a semicircular railing. If you stand at the centre of the railing, you will be facing Mt. Khangchendzonga, the sun rises from the right, and Mt. Everest and other peaks are situated to the left.
We arrived at 4 am, took the center spot, and waited excitedly with numb fingers and toes. And then something amazing happened—we saw several shooting stars zip across the sky; what a thrilling opening show before the main event.
Celestial lights clash with artificial lights at Tiger Hill
As the sun rose, we witnessed the most ephemeral moment when Khangchendzonga lit up with a warm golden glow as the sun steadily ruptured the horizon in hues of red, orange, and yellow.
However, this ideal location proves a disadvantage if you want to witness the sunrise that’s on the far right because of the crowd that magically forms in the dark while you’re waiting (I was quite shocked to see the minuscule group of 50 gathered at 4 am swell into a swarm of 300 odd people when the sun rose).
If you’re expecting a sublime moment during sunrise, you will be in for a rude shock as the crowd shouts, hoots, and claps at the sight of the first sight of light (after all, you have to celebrate your reward for getting up early and standing in the dark and cold for 2 hours refusing to budge or even go to the loo because you’re too scared to lose your spot).
Note: To help you brave the cold, you can buy tea from the insistent lady vendors and woolly caps, gloves, and shawls from a makeshift stall. You can also rent a selfie stick.
Sunrise from Tiger Hill