Part Victorian holiday resort, part tea-growing centre, DARJEELING straddles a ridge 2200m up in the Himalayas, almost 600km north of Kolkata. It remains as popular as ever with travellers, thanks largely to its stupendous mountain vistas. Kanchenjunga, the world's third-highest mountain, and other ice-capped peaks dominate the northern horizon. Despite Darjeeling's cosmopolitan atmosphere and charm, it's being swamped by rampant growth. but it still offers good shopping and dining, walks in the hills, and attractions like the Toy Train and Buddhist monasteries. The best seasons to visit are after the monsoons and before winter (late Sept to late Nov), and spring (mid-Feb to May).
The heart of Victorian Darjeeling is the Chowrasta, a traffic-free square above the busy bazaar on Hill Cart Road. Leading off it, the Mall descends to Clubside, the area below the prestigious Planters' Club, otherwise known as the Darjeeling Club, once the centre of Darjeeling high society. Little seems to have changed since tea planters from all rode here to attend social occasions.
Taking the right fork of the Mall from the northern end of the Chowrasta brings you to the viewpoint from where you can survey the Kanchenjunga massif and almost the entire state of Sikkim. From near the Windamere Hotel steps, ascend the pine-covered hillside to the top of Observatory Hill, the original site of the Bhutia Busty monastery. Streaming with prayer flags, the shrine at the summit, dedicated to the wrathful Buddhist deity Mahakala, whom Hindus worship as Shiva, reflects a garish hybrid of styles. The picturesque Bhutia Busty Monastery was re-established one kilometre downhill from the Chowrasta approached by the steep CR Das Road.