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Old 20th June 2015, 15:50   #1
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Default Darjeeling for Dummies

Darjeeling, one of the most popular tourist spot in West Bengal needs no introduction. Countless threads are there on this beautiful place where every detail like transport options, hotels, restaurants, sightseeing etc are present. However this travelogue will be more about the journey of a newbie driver (me) doing his maiden drive to the hills & longest trip so far (1.5k Km)

After driving the Ecosport for nearly 10 months with little over 10k Km on ODO and doing nearby (read 300Km radius) trips which included:

Digha
Mython
Bakkhali
Mandarmani

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ourists-5.html (West Bengal - A treasure for tourists)

i was looking for something around 500km for my next trip. Puri, a popular beach destination fitted in perfectly. With a superb TL by Bhpian AJ-got-BHP, my level of excitement rose even more !
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...i-kolkata.html (The Call of Lord Jagannath: Weekend Getaway to Puri from Kolkata)
I was all set for Puri-Konarak expedition, but alas the temperature soared. Going to a sea side destination did not seem to make a good proposition anymore. So naturally the next option was hills in a bid to escape the heat wave, and when you say hills to a Bong, Darjeeling is the first destination which comes to mind. I had read many superb TL on darjeeling here, like:

Samba's TL
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...-tourists.html (West Bengal - A treasure for tourists)

AJ-got-BHP's TL
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ourists-5.html (West Bengal - A treasure for tourists)

BlackPearl's TL
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ndra-thar.html (Weekend drive to Kurseong and Darjeeling in a Mahindra Thar)

psurelia's TL
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...g-gangtok.html (Storme through the Hills: Kolkata to Darjeeling & Gangtok)

and always wanted to drive there one day. However i was little apprehensive about driving in the hills & the risks involved. Most people i know drive within city & outskirts only. Our last car which was chauffeur driven was never taken outside Calcutta. Reactions from my family & friends after hearing my plan:

Mom: Silent..
Dad: Let him do whatever he likes. I am done with him !
Friend 1: Are you out of your mind ?
Friend 2: You need a hill driver to drive on hills.
Colleague 1: Its too late for getting train reservation. Book a Volvo bus.
Colleague 2: I have studied nearby. I have seen newbie trekker drivers memorizing each and every turn. You need to do the same.
Colleague 3: Its risky to drive home from CTS Bantala office at night. Why dont you take office bus?

But a life without risk is not worth living ! My best friend from college decided to come with me, and suddenly we had a plan. Although it takes minimum of 4-5 days to explore Darjeeling fully, we had been there many times (last year itself with colleagues) and couldn't take much leaves (IT industry, sigh). So decided to make it a quick 3-4 days max outing. I found this website pretty useful:
http://www.darjeeling-tourism.com/darj_000010.htm

The Achilles heel of this trip is the poor condition of NH34, the primary road for going to Siliguri. There are a lot of discussion on this, even a thread:
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/route-...g-nh34-35.html (Kolkata - Siliguri route via Dumka, Bhagalpur. Avoiding NH34)

Bhpian Samba and BlackPearl recommended me the following route:

Calcutta-Burdwan-Bolpur-Suri-Massanjore-Deoghar-Banka-Amarpur-Bhagalpur-Purnea-Dalkhola-Siliguri-Darjeeling

Most people in the group follow this route only and Calcutta-Siliguri takes as little as 11 hrs by some of them. Meanwhile Bhpian AJ-got-BHP recommended me to stick to NH34, mainly because i am going there first time and its easy for me to get confused by so many diversions. All navigation softwares like Google maps, Here maps or Sygic mostly stick to NH34 only. Given my poor knowledge of highways and directions I follow GPS mostly in all my trips. Besides my car is the hottest "SUV" now, wont it be able to take all the beating which NH34 throws at it? I went through this guide for hill driving one last time:

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/techni...l-driving.html (Tips required for hill driving?)

Bhpian AJ-got-BHP helped me a lot in planning and inspiring me for this. He prepared me a list of pointers which turned out to be very useful.
  1. It is not a race to reach Siliguri so drive comfortably and take your time instead of rushing up.
  2. Try and maintain an Average of 55kms/Hour including Short stops.
  3. Do not accelerate above 100-110 on NH-34, but try to keep minimum speed at 60kmph.
  4. Target Maldah by 12:00 noon to stop for lunch.
  5. Keep Tyre Pressure 2-4 points lower than OEM recommended even on hills.
  6. Beware of State Buses in this route, they do not let u overtake very easily - do not panick, keep to your right and wait for the right time.
  7. In your initial drive up on the hills, try to follow a local cabbie up and judge their style of driving especially when they corner on bends.
  8. Thereafter make your own road and you'll be just fine.
  9. On your way up, keep a watch on the Gear on which you have gone up, try using the same gear on your way down without using much brakes.
  10. Do not corner sharply.
  11. Speed is not the key on the hills.
  12. Do not honk if not required on the hills - use short press.
Initially i planned to start at 7am, but was advised to leave early preferably at 4am to avoid unnecessary traffic. Finally we started at 5am and headed towards Siliguri. It turned out to be a pretty good decision. Last time while going to Mayapur via Krishnanagar we faced a lot of traffic due to trucks & buses but this time we passed Krishnanagar quite early as roads were mostly clear. The condition of the roads are pretty bad as expected. Construction is going on in many stretches to widen it seems. There are some decent stretches with potholes here and there followed by big potholes & boulders where the construction ends. Low GC cars certainly need to be a bit more cautious while navigating these stretches and driving at high speed is a bad idea as that seemingly good stretch may suddenly have a big pothole out of nowhere. I kept myself well hydrated and stopped every couple of hours for a 10-15 mins break. My car had 10k service done recently and only had a puncture repair kit just in case anything goes wrong. Had faith in RSA and the Siliguri ASS in case of any hiccups. Drive was turning out to be slow and pretty boring till we hit Beharampur-Farakka section, possibly the first toll portion of the stretch. And what a lovely stretch it was ! Reached high speeds in no time. Just the kind of adrenaline rush i was waiting for !



Crossing the Farakka dam gave us a nice view of that area. Too bad photography isn't allowed there. After reaching Malda i was thinking of having lunch, but the place seemed to be crowded & full of traffic, so i moved forward. After travelling sometime found a decent road side dhaba where we had lunch.

Darjeeling for Dummies-20150605_164907.jpg

As we neared Siliguri it started to rain and had to slow down again. Was deciding whether to stay in Bagdogra or Siliguri as the former is closer to Rohini road. But decided to go Siliguri for better lodging options. Finally at 7pm, after 14hrs of travelling we reached Siliguri. Scouted for hotels to spend the night & found one along the road. 800 rs per night seemed reasonable. Checked in and went to a local pub to raise a toast to the day's drive.

Darjeeling for Dummies-20150606_075902.jpg

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Woke up 8am next day and headed towards Darjeeling. Decided to take then Rohini road route upto Kurseong instead of going via Mirik. Crossed the Army camp and reached Rohini toll booth.



Darjeeling for Dummies-20150606_083545.jpg

Rohini is steeper and the climb has hairpin turns compared to the spiraling road of Hill Cart. I initially fumbled in gearing but after sometime got the hang of it. I had to keep the gear mostly in 1st and 2nd and i was mistakenly up shifting where i shouldn't have. The road seemed narrow when a larger vehicle passed by and had to slow down but apart from that it was a wonderful drive. Never did i feel any lack of confidence or fear, save from the fact that those larger vehicles might brush against mine while navigating through tight portions of the road. In a particular section there was dense fog and visibility was very low. I turned on fog lamps and drove slowly.

Darjeeling for Dummies-20150606_085129.jpg

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After joining Hill Cart road, the drive seemed so boring. I hardly needed to use 1st gear and mostly shuffled between 2-3-4th gear. Captured some nice shots along the way. We reached darjeeling around 2:30-3 hrs from Siliguri.

Darjeeling for Dummies-20150606_102802.jpg

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We haven't booked any hotels in advance, and didn't have much budget either. Most low budget hotels don't come with parking and there are no public parking places in darjeeling. I was recommended the following hotels: Planters Club, Alicevilla & Pradhan. Called them up and only Alicevilla seemed to have room. However parking was not available. After asking police and locals i parked my car opposite to Rajbhavan and tried my luck to find rooms.

Darjeeling for Dummies-20150606_111424.jpg

I came to know that the only paid parking available is Bigbazaar and it wont be a problem to keep my car in front of Rajbhavan like i had. A friendly taxi driver near mall also allowed me to park beside their cars. After looking at some hotels, went to AliceVilla and this time they allowed us to park in their compound. It was a big relief. Their rates are pretty decent @1950 including taxes and the location is 5 mins from the hub of Darjeeling, the Mall.

http://www.hotelalicevilladarjeeling.in/

Darjeeling for Dummies-20150606_134742.jpg

Darjeeling for Dummies-20150606_160233.jpg

After taking some rest, had lunch & explored the city.

Darjeeling Railway Station
Darjeeling for Dummies-20150606_163450.jpg

Ghoom Railway Station
Darjeeling for Dummies-20150606_171218.jpg

Darjeeling for Dummies-20150606_171247.jpg

A walk behind Mall area
Darjeeling for Dummies-20150606_190401_lls.jpg

Sumptuous dining at Glenary's
Attachment 1384408

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Next day we woke up at 4am and left for tiger hill. I was advised not to take my car due to traffic and parking problems. Took a shared trekker who normally charges 200rs per person. But it was too foggy and couldn't see sunrise properly. On the way back visited Batasia loop and Dali monastery.

Tiger Hill
Darjeeling for Dummies-20150607_050502.jpg

Batasia Loop
Darjeeling for Dummies-20150607_055504.jpg

Dali Monastery
Darjeeling for Dummies-20150607_060922.jpg

Darjeeling for Dummies-20150607_060537_lls.jpg

Also tried our luck at rope way, but it was closed. Visited zoo on the way back to hotel.

St. Joseph's College
Darjeeling for Dummies-20150607_092941.jpg

Darjeeling for Dummies-20150607_093954.jpg

Darjeeling Zoo
Darjeeling for Dummies-20150607_095805.jpg

Last edited by ampere : 22nd June 2015 at 08:26. Reason: Removed alcohol related picture. The Forum does not permit any mention of alcohol in any context.
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Old 21st June 2015, 18:15   #2
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Default Darjeeling for Dummies

After reaching hotel, checked out at 11.30am and headed towards Mirik. The road was pretty nice and the views were lovely. It was a very scenic route and road had little traffic also. There were hardly any cars coming uphill. If anyone wants a laid back driving while coming to Darjeeling, and don't want to negotiate steeper hairpin bends of Rohini, they can pretty much take this way instead. The edges of the roads are also well guarded and it seemed to be a much safer road to drive. Let the pictures do the talking.

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We reached Mirik parking area and halted there for an hour. Enjoyed the breathtaking view of the serene lake and had snacks.

Darjeeling for Dummies-20150607_132414.jpg

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Left Mirik and descended towards Siliguri. Caught glimpses of lovely tea plantations along the way. After reaching siliguri at 3.30pm, i decided to head towards Calcutta instead of halting there. This time decided to take the alternative route. Roads turned out to be pretty decent till sunset after which was greeted by a wave of high beams from approaching cars. Speed took a hit, and then we encountered heavy traffic along the way. This continued till 10-11pm after which roads cleared off and we were back in game. We had dinner meanwhile in a roadside stall. I was feeling a bit stressed as i woke up at 4am, climbed all the inclines of tiger hill and other tourist spots and then driving continuously. Decided to press on as i wanted to reach home early and well we couldn't find any decent hotels along the way. This route seemed to be more secluded than the NH34 we took before. Plus there were lot of tolls in this route. Road was mostly two laner but we did encounter some lovely stretches. Finally at 5.30am,after 19hours of hard driving and 26hours without sleep we finally reached Calcutta. I could hardly keep my eyes open. Was drinking lotts of water and listening to loud music so that i don't fall asleep. Should have given a halt in between. Well this ends my darjeeling story. Hope i am able to inspire someone interested in this adventure. Planning to do Sikkim next time. Till then cya !

Sam

Last edited by Samfromindia : 21st June 2015 at 18:54.
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Old 21st June 2015, 23:01   #3
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Default Re: Darjeeling for Dummies

Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing!
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Old 22nd June 2015, 00:02   #4
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Default Re: Darjeeling for Dummies

Congratulations Sam for the maiden drive to the hills. I am sure it is just a beginning. Nice travelogue and pictures . Darjeeling is one of my favourite places and it has been a while since I last went there. Your 4 day trip is an inspiration. However you should not have pushed yourself so much during the return journey.
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Old 22nd June 2015, 01:56   #5
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Default Re: Darjeeling for Dummies

Darjeeling ! Naam e kafi hai (The name is enough) to attract attention of the readers.

Its a sweet and crisp travelogue with some lovely pictures which portrays the essence of Darjeeling very well.

Hats off to you for the enthusiasm you showed for the return leg of your journey but still i will say please do not stress yourself so much while driving. Take adequate breaks or night halts when required and take it easy from the next time!

And lastly another Bhpian bitten by the Himalayan bug, so expecting more such travelogues to come from you in the near future.

Last edited by Samba : 22nd June 2015 at 02:15.
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Old 22nd June 2015, 07:34   #6
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Default Re: Darjeeling for Dummies

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samfromindia View Post
... Finally at 5.30am,after 19hours of hard driving and 26hours without sleep we finally reached Calcutta. I could hardly keep my eyes open. Was drinking lotts of water and listening to loud music so that i don't fall asleep. Should have given a halt in between. Well this ends my darjeeling story. ...
Sam
Hello Sam! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your travelogue. It is straight from the heart! As you have said, you should have taken a halt somewhere in between. A set of few power naps helps a lot if you are driving in a similar situation and hard-pressed for time.

Best,
Golam
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Old 22nd June 2015, 08:45   #7
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Very nice write up. My wife and I spend a long weekend near Darjeeling last year at the Glenburn tea estate, a fantastic experience. (http://www.glenburnteaestate.com/ )

We also visitied the Darjeeling zoo as you did, which was as zoo's goes, actually a very nice little zoo.

We thought it was one of the prettiest parts of India we have seen so far.

Jeroen

Last edited by GTO : 22nd June 2015 at 13:13. Reason: No personal blogs please
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Old 22nd June 2015, 13:34   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackPearl View Post
Your 4 day trip is an inspiration. However you should not have pushed yourself so much during the return journey.
Thanks BlackPearl ! You guys inspired me for this, and yes its just a beginning. It was actually a 3 day trip & not a 4 day one (Friday 5am -> Monday 5:30am) Will definitely plan well next time so that i get adequate time to rest & enjoy the place.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samba View Post
Its a sweet and crisp travelogue with some lovely pictures which portrays the essence of Darjeeling very well.

And lastly another Bhpian bitten by the Himalayan bug, so expecting more such travelogues to come from you in the near future.
Thanks Samba for helping me whenever i needed. You wanted a TL and i have kept my word.

Quote:
Originally Posted by gmhossain View Post
Hello Sam! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your travelogue. It is straight from the heart!
Thanks gmhossain ! I am glad you liked it. This decision to go Darjeeling was taken only few days before the trip, but somehow we managed to do it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeroen View Post
Very nice write up. My wife and I spend a long weekend near Darjeeling last year at the Glenburn tea estate, a fantastic experience. (http://www.glenburnteaestate.com/ )
Thanks Jeroen ! I enjoyed reading your blog on Darjeeling. I am sure you had a lovely time there. The resort where you stayed is wonderful, seems to be a boutique hotel. The tariff seem to be very high close to 30k/night. I was on low budget and normally don't spend more than 2k with friends & 5k with family. But all good things in life come at a price.
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Old 22nd June 2015, 14:55   #9
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Default Re: Darjeeling for Dummies

Excellent write-up! and an equally good destination. A drive to the Himalayas is much adored, specially so with the near and dear ones. Next time tag along your parents as well and I am sure their opinion about road trip will change.

Whenever I find some time, I take a look at the videos of my travel to the Himalayas taken with my dashcam. The flavor still lingers.
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Old 22nd June 2015, 15:18   #10
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Default Re: Darjeeling for Dummies

Fantastic thread and some really great images! I honestly never put much thought into hill driving and have played it by instinct so far, but there are some great tips that have been shared here. Definitely bookmarking this thread for future reference. Thanks!
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Old 22nd June 2015, 15:29   #11
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What a quick and lovely dash to the hills! Rohini road looks like a dream with all that cloud and mist around. The torquey 1.5 TDCi must have had it's share of fun on the twisties.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samfromindia View Post
Had faith in RSA and the Siliguri ASS in case of any hiccups.
There is a Ford Sales /Service outlet just before Berhampore, bang on NH34 as well. So, for Ford owners venturing through NH34, there is the new Kaikan Ford A.S.S. near Birati, then Ganges Ford Sales/A.S.S. at Berhampur and then the regulars at Siliguri and Gangtok.
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Old 23rd June 2015, 00:24   #12
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Default Re: Darjeeling for Dummies

Excellently laid out write up.

Congratulations on your maiden drive to the hills in your Ecosport. It looks smashing in orange. Hopefully this would be the first of many trips that you enjoy in each others company.

Cheers!
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Old 23rd June 2015, 00:34   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gearhead_mait View Post
Next time tag along your parents as well and I am sure their opinion about road trip will change.

Whenever I find some time, I take a look at the videos of my travel to the Himalayas taken with my dashcam. The flavor still lingers.
Haha i wish. But i think such a long drive will be too hectic for them. I do agree about the video part. I have posted some videos too in this TL

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tushar View Post
Fantastic thread and some really great images! I honestly never put much thought into hill driving and have played it by instinct so far, but there are some great tips that have been shared here. Definitely bookmarking this thread for future reference. Thanks!
Thanks ! I have shared a link of a thread on hill driving which tuned out to be pretty useful.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mi2n View Post
There is a Ford Sales /Service outlet just before Berhampore, bang on NH34 as well. So, for Ford owners venturing through NH34, there is the new Kaikan Ford A.S.S. near Birati, then Ganges Ford Sales/A.S.S. at Berhampur and then the regulars at Siliguri and Gangtok.
Thanks for the info. Another reason to smile for being a Ford owner !
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Old 23rd June 2015, 08:31   #14
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Default Re: Darjeeling for Dummies

Excellent write up, mate.
Took me on a nostalgic trip down memory lane, especially after I saw the photos of the roads I learnt driving on and of my alma mater, which you've stupendously captured.

Glad to know you enjoyed your trip thoroughly without any nuisance from the locals, which is quite common when they see non-Darjeeling vehicles. Rated a thoroughly deserved 5!
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Old 23rd June 2015, 11:42   #15
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Default Re: Darjeeling for Dummies

Samfromindia .. that's a really good travelogue!
Great pics and collection of information - surely going to act as go-to thread for Darjeeling lovers!!
Was a little disappointed to see the end of the 'story', was hoping to see a few more pics
Hope to lay hands on Sikkim thread soon!
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