Queen of the Himalayas

deforestation
The one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once-by even a glimpse would not give that glimpse for the shows of the rest of the world combined – is what Mark Twain said about natural beauty of some place. Although Kashmir with its gardens, lakes, mountains and pilgrim spots is known as Paradise on Earth; none can really match the warm welcome extended by the Queen of Himalayas, Darjeeling. It produces the famous Darjeeling Tea, one of the world’s finest teas. It is also home to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a World Heritage Site.

Nestled among the rolling mountains with the glistening Mt Kanchenjunga towering over the azure sky, Darjeeling provides a perfect gateway for those seeking to be in harmony with nature. Apart from its natural beauty provides a wide variety of activities from leisurely scenic walks to more grueling activities such as trekking and river rafting for the adventurous ones.

This is the land of the muscatel flavoured Darjeeling tea revered by connoisseurs across the globe. The tea plantations date back to the mid 19th century as part of a British development of the area. The tea growers of the area developed distinctive hybrids of black tea and fermenting techniques, with many blends considered among the world’s finest.

This is also the land of the world heritage Darjeeling Himalayan Railway where the century old miniature steam engine still chugs uphill vying for space with the fast disappearing Land Rovers.

Once covered in royal robe of majestic evergreen forest, major deforestation due to pressures of population overgrowth and commercial tourism has taken its toll on this breathtaking beauty of a town. But yet in some pockets it still preserves the pristine beauty of its virginal fir and pine forests, where sunbeams dance on the leaves to create a fairytale world. Flora around Darjeeling includes temperate, deciduous forests of poplar, birch, oak, and elm as well as evergreen, coniferous trees of wet alpine. Dense evergreen forests lie around the town, where a wide variety of rare orchids are found.

Lloyd’s Botanical Garden preserves common and rare species of flora, while the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park is the only specialized zoo in the country conserving and breeding endangered Himalayan species. The fauna here is very varied – squirrels(including the Himalayan flying and Assam giant varieties), monkeys, civets, wild cats, tigers, leopards, jackals and foxes, wild dogs, otters, martens, weasels, bears, porcupines, hares, barking deer, chitals, sambhars and the extremely rare pangolin. In the foothills and the terai forests, in the sanctuaries (Jaldhapara and Gorumara in the neighboring Jalpaiguri) can be seen the gaur or Bison, the single horned rhinoceros and elephants.

Darjeeling is also the home of six hundred varieties of beautiful birds like fairy bluebirds, sunbirds, orioles, flycatchers, finches, woodpeckers, Rufus piculate, emerald cuckoos, three-toed kingfishers, long-tailed broadbills, long-legged falcons, Hoogson’s imperial pigeons, emerald doves, besides a large number of seasonal migratory birds on their way to the plains.

Fascinating Darjeeling the famous summer haunt of the Rabindranath Tagore was also his inspiration for many of his best creations. Today it is known for six T’s -Tea, Tourism, Tiger Hill, Toy Train, Teak and Trekkers’ paradise. Accommodation in Darjeeling has never been a problem for any visitors to the Queen of Hill Stations. There is always ample accommodation available from lavish hotels to economical lodgings. Travelers are advised to book earlier if planning a tour between March end and May due to the peak season. Arranging accommodation on reaching might be complicated and could be expensive. There are a few government approved hotels which provide subsidized rate for government employees and dignitaries.