I spent two nights in Darjeeling in late April and while I was initially quite excited, I left feeling like this place had been unnecessarily hyped up by guidebooks and India travel websites.
I’ve been to three hill stations now in India, and compared to all three Darjeeling had the most expensive and poorest quality accommodation of the bunch. There are no hostel options here (that aren’t completely sketchy) and because Darjeeling is almost perpetually covered in mist and fog, many of the cheaper rooms are damp and musty and way over-priced for the poor quality.
I’ve been to Dharamsala and Manali in Himachal Pradesh, and Darjeeling was the most touristy of the three towns in my opinion. Manali was the most laid back. While McCleod Ganj in Dharamsala is actually almost all hotels and restaurants, it maintains the laidback vibe lacking in Darjeeling.
The cheapest accommodation in Darjeeling is located along Dr Zakir Hussain Road at the very top of the hill. I stayed at Long Island Hotel for 700 rupees in a decent dry room. It had a squat toilet but at least a hot shower. I had to look around a lot to find this deal and later found out that the hotel seems to charge people based on how they look – desperate or wealthy – so bargaining is definitly possible.
How to get to Tiger Hill
In Darjeeling, the number one activity is visiting Tiger Hill for sunrise. Tiger Hill has great views of the Himalayan range where you can see the third highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga, and even Mount Everest on a clear day. It is best to check the weather before you head out to make sure that it will be clear. Unfortunately even though the sky was blue, there was too much fog and haze on the horizon to see the sunrise.
It is very easy to get to Tiger Hill on a budget. Head down to the Club Size Taxi Stand located at the traffic circle around 3:30/4:00 AM. There will be shared jeeps waiting for Tiger Hill and it should cost 200 rupees. Once the jeep fills up, it is about 30 minutes to Tiger Hill. The jeep will park and then you must return to your same jeep after sunrise for the return trip (included). Your driver will likely also make two stops along the way back at a monastery and railway monument that are quite cool and will make the trip worth it even if you don’t see the mountains.
My early morning adventure really tired me out so I spent the rest of my time in Darjeeling relaxing, eating, and visiting cafes. Some of the best places I visited:
Kunga’s – an excellent Tibetan restaurant located right near the traffic circle. They hand-make the noodles in their soups and while it may cost a little more than other restaurants, the portions and quality are bigger and better.
Himalayan Java – upscale cafe in the main mall area with a great wifi connection. If you’re looking for somewhere to do work, this is the best place in town. A coffee will run you about 120 rupees.
Tom And Jerry’s – a small restaurant and cafe located along Dr. Zakir Hussain Road. They also have a solid internet connection and are almost always filled with foreigners. It is a great place to meet people in town. The coffee is also much cheaper than Himalayan Java because you’re not paying for the upscale cafe environment. They make pretty good lattes (but labeled as regular milk coffee on the menu).
Hasty Tasty Pure Veg – good Indian restaurant located across the street from Himalayan Java. Pro tip: if you visited Himalayan Java before, you can still access their wifi from the seats in the front of Hasty Tasty.
Darjeeling is a decent place, but it is more positioned towards mid-range to upscale travel over budget travel. The town is not very backpacker friendly and it lacks many of the good hiking options available in Manali and Dharamsala. It is more of a middle-class Indian family tourist destination. Perhaps Darjeeling is a good place to rest for a couple days if planning to hike further into the surrounding region, but because of all the hype around Darjeeling in books and movies, the place is a little over-rated. Darjeeling was not a highlight of my trip to India, but it was a nice place to rest.