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Darjeeling
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The Mall: Essentially a market place, it is one of the most defining areas of this town. The Mall is the center of the town and is lined on both sides with shops that sell Tibetan hand-knitted sweaters and souvenirs, curios, Himalayan artifacts and antiques. This hive of all activities leads to the Chowrastra or town square, where you can hire ponies for trotting around or simply catch views of the Kanchanjunga Range. Â Observatory Hill: This is the oldest site in Darjeeling where most of the high end hotels are located. Legends have it that a Red Hat Buddhist Monastery called Dorje Ling, or 'Place of the Thunderbolt', from where Darjeeling derives its name, stood at this spot, which was later destroyed by the Nepalis. The famous Bhutia Basti Gompa was located here before being shifted near Chowrasta. Today, a Kali Temple sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus is located here. Himalayan Mountaineering Institute: This Institute was founded and managed by the late Tenzing Norgay who conquered Mt Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. Today, it has on display records of some major expeditions undertaken. Next to this is the Everest Museum, which traces the history of different attempts on the world's highest peak. You may also contact the institute for mountaineering courses for all levels. And a one-off rock-climbing session can be taken at the Tenzing Norgay Rock, located on the northern fringes of Darjeeling. Open from 9 am-4.30 pm Entrance fee: Rs 6 Darjeeling Rangeet Valley Passenger Ropeway: Located at North Point about 3-km from the town, this is the first passenger ropeway in India. Temporarily under restoration, it connects North Point to Singla Bazaar over the Rangeet River in the valley. Open from 8 am-3:30 pm Ghoom Monastery: One of the renowned monasteries of Darjeeling, Ghoom is located at 8000 ft, 8 kms from Darjeeling and belongs to the Yellow sect of Buddhists. It is home to the 15 ft high statue of the Maitreya Buddha. Painted in gold, the statue is said to be coated with precious stones. The rooftops and facades have colorfully painted figures intended to scare away evil spirits. The external walls are lined with prayer wheels, which are spun during praying and the internal walls are lit with butter lamps. Also check out the several thangkas on the walls. The monastery also houses the Tibetan translations of some of the most famous Sanskrit works by literary geniuses. Bhutia Basti Gompa: Situated 1 km out of town, this monastery is built against the spectacular backdrop of the Kanchenjunga Mountains. The shrine located here, earlier stood on the Observatory Hill. It is built in Tibeto-Nepalese architecture and is a storehouse of ancient Buddhist texts and artifacts, including the original volume of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Tiger Hill: This is the highest point in the area and is located about 14 kms from Darjeeling. The best time to visit it is early morning, when the first rays of the sun create a dramatic effect on the distant Himalayan peaks. And if you're lucky you just might also catch a glimpse of Mount Everest. Carry your camera and some warm clothing, since the altitude makes it bone-jarringly cold. Darjeeling Toy Train: Built in the late 19th century, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is today a World Heritage sight, only the second railway to have made it to that list. Built through a zigzag of tracks, the distance of almost 87 kms between Kurseong and Ghoom takes almost the entire day. And it's worth it! En route, you pass through rhododendron slopes, rolling hills and spectacular views of the Kanchenjunga, and cross villages with quaint names like Margaret's Hope, and chug past the front doors of houses that have red-tiles and potted-flowers. Gardens: As picturesque as Darjeeling is, head out to the numerous gardens and parks. Head out to the Shrubbery, behind Raj Bhavan, and the Lloyd Botanical Gardens that offers several varieties of flowers and orchids. Also you can catch a view of the Kanchenjunga Range and Singalila Valley. The Bengal Natural History Museum is excellent for garnering information on the varied Himalayan fauna and Bengal wildlife. Open from 10am-4pm Entry fee: Rs 2 Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park: Other than the usual animals here, this zoological park is home to the Snow Leopard Breeding Center, the only place in the world where breeding of snow leopards in captivity has been successful. Led by Kiran Moktan, who dedicated his life to this program, catching a glimpse of the adorable cubs gamboling with their mother, is an ultimate experience. Remember to maintain silence when visiting the enclosure. While walking out, keep an eye on the trees nearby to sight the elusive red panda! Open from 10am-4:30pm Entry fee: Rs 10