How to visit Darjeeling in a shared taxi: different routes and timings

Traveling does not always need to come with a price tag. When it comes to traveling to Darjeeling, the Queen of Hills in the Eastern Himalayas of West Bengal, there are lots of shared taxis offering cheap conveyance. Let us see how to visit Darjeeling and the nearby attractions in a shared taxi on a budget tour.

Reserved cars indeed provide more comfort and security, but they are pricey, more so in the Eastern Himalayan regions of West Bengal, Sikkim, and the Seven Sister States. A more pocket-friendly (although at times less comfortable) alternative is to go for the Shared Taxis. There are also lots of buses plying in several regions, and the Sikkim Nationalized Transport (often shortened to SNT) does a commendable job connecting several places of Sikkim to Siliguri in West Bengal, which is the gateway town to these mountains. As a traveler, you can always debate over the merits and demerits of share taxis and other forms of public transports, but there are certain travelers who would love to travel on shared taxis and buses any day (including myself!). So, let us check out how to travel to Darjeeling, the Queen of Hills, by shared taxis in your budget tour.

How to go to Darjeeling in a shared taxi

Situated in the lower ranges of the Eastern Himalayas is one of the most sought-after hill stations, Darjeeling. Since the colonial times, this town has remained one of the crown jewels of the Eastern Himalayas, hence aptly called the Queen of the Hills. The headquarter of a district by the same name, the town and its neighborhood mostly makes money from two professions – tea and tourism. As one of the prime tourist destinations in India, no wonder there is no shortage of Darjeeling tourist guides on the internet. However, most of them are not for the budget traveler. If you are taking resort to the internet hoping for finding out the cheapest ways to travel to Darjeeling, you will find no easy answer and will require a lot of research to find the information that you were looking for. Now, let us see how to visit Darjeeling in a shared taxi from Siliguri and other adjacent places.

Where to start from

If you are going to Darjeeling, you should either be catching a flight to Bagdogra or taking a train to New Jalpaiguri (popularly known by the Indian Railways' station code NJP). Siliguri, the gateway to the Eastern Himalayas, lies at a pebble-throwing distance from both the places. Outside Bagdogra Airport, you may not find shared taxis to Darjeeling unless it is a tourist season. In that case, you should take an auto-rickshaw to Siliguri. Ask the driver to take you to 'Junction', a local abbreviation for "Siliguri Junction" – another railway station located right in the heart of the town. In front of Siliguri Junction, you will find a lot of shared taxis waiting to take you to Darjeeling. Also, if you are coming from Bagdogra (not applicable if you are coming from New Jalpaiguri), you may choose to get down from the auto-rickshaw at 'Darjeeling More' on the way, and then hop onto a shared taxi bound towards Darjeeling. Sometimes, there will be many shared taxis waiting at the Darjeeling More as well. However, exercise this with caution in the second half of the day, as after 4 pm, it will be difficult to get a shared taxi to Darjeeling from there.

If you are coming by train and get down and New Jalpaiguri station, you will find a lot of shared taxis waiting right outside the station building to take you to Darjeeling, Gangtok, Pelling, and other tourist places. In fact, you don't have to look out for them – many of them will come inside the station compound to ask you about your plans and itineraries. At times, they can be very nagging. However, I personally do not take these cabs because most of them are not regulated by any drivers' association or syndicate, and they demand exorbitant fares in most cases. I would always refuse them, in a cold manner if required, and come to the road outside the station compound where I can find auto-rickshaws. I shall catch one Siliguri Junction, and then take a shared taxi to Darjeeling as described above.

One note of advice here: it is best to take shared auto-rickshaws to Siliguri Junction. The ones going to Salugara will take you to the Junction at just twenty rupees per passenger. If you have big suitcases or trolley bags, then they might charge you twenty rupees per bag. Nothing more, nothing less – they have a fixed rate, and you do not have to negotiate. However, as you step out of the New Jalpaiguri railway station compound, you will find there are several private auto-rickshaws (as well as toto or e-rickshaws) eager to take you to Junction. They will ask for anything between 100 to 500 rupees. One advantage of taking them is that you can have the vehicle all for yourself. However, as a budget traveler myself, I feel that it is a waste of money. The ride is short, approximately fifteen minutes or so, and I feel I can manage in a shared auto-rickshaw bound to Salugara. So, how to distinguish between the privately reservable auto-rickshaws and the shared ones plying to Salugara? The shared ones are bigger!

The Rohini Route: The popular and cheap shared traveling option to Darjeeling

Almost all shared taxis (whether leaving from Bagdogra, NJP, Siliguri Junction, or Darjeeling More) will take you to Darjeeling via the Rohini Route. They will take the Hill Cart road until Sukna, then turn left to approach Rohini. The latter is a small village lying at the foothills of the mountains, and right after a toll gate, the climb will begin. Soon, after the steep climb, you will be at Kurseong, another tourist attraction in the Darjeeling district. Darjeeling is roughly an hour's journey from here. This Rohini Route is the most popular and shortest route to Darjeeling – that is why all direct shared taxis from the Siliguri plains will take this route. This is also the cheapest way to travel to that hill town.

Note: If you are traveling in the morning, and want to be a little adventurous, you can get down at Kurseong, have a stroll in the town or check out the tourist places in Kurseong, and then hop on the Toy Train or the 52541 Up New Jalpaiguri-Darjeeling Passenger of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways to experience a bit of history. The train is scheduled to arrive at Kurseong at 14:20 hours, and leaves after 10 minutes, giving you sufficient time to easily board the train. While waiting at Kurseong, you can also check out the DHR Museum at Kurseong.

Alternative routes to reach Darjeeling

Apart from the Rohini Route, another option is to take the Hill Cart road all the way up to Darjeeling, avoiding the diversion at Sukna. However, no shared taxis ply through that route, and it is possible to take that route only if you have a reserved car. Earlier, another way to reach Darjeeling was to take the Pankhabari route, but at present, no vehicles are allowed on that route except for those that are going to Pankhabari itself. However, there are two other possible routes – through Mirik and via Kalimpong. However, both of these routes will be significant detours and will involve repeated break journeys. Take these routes only if you do not have any shortage of time, energy, and enthusiasm about traveling in the mountains.

The Mirik – Pashupati – Sukiapokhri – Ghoom route to Darjeeling from Siliguri

This one is my personal favorite, because of the lovely views of tea gardens on the way. Most people visiting Darjeeling want to visit the lush tea gardens along the mountain slopes, and the Happy Valley Tea Estate right beside the town of Darjeeling remains the most popular option with the tourists. However, being very close to the town, that tea garden is relatively smaller, and at times overcrowded. Instead, if you are really looking for wide vistas of tea gardens reaching all the way up to the horizon, you should take the Mirik route. If you are driving your own car or have a reserved vehicle, you should go to Mirik, then drive straight to Pashupati, which lies in the Nepal border. The neighboring country is just across what looks like a railway level-crossing, and you can see local people traveling in and out, under the observance of the defense personnel in the check-post. You can also have a glimpse of the shops on the other side. After that, continue on the same road to arrive at Sukhiapokhri. Continue straight and you will reach Ghoom. Take a left turn on the Hill Cart Road, and you will catch a glimpse of Darjeeling in no time.

If you are a budget traveler to Darjeeling and want to take a shared taxi instead, you can get into one going to Mirik from Siliguri Junction or NJP. At Mirik, you need to break your journey. Have a nice stroll along the lake of Mirik, spend some time there, visit the nearby monastery if you want to, and then get back to the shared taxi stand at Mirik to catch one for Darjeeling. If you do not get a directly shared taxi to Darjeeling from Mirik, you will definitely get one to Sukhiapokhri. From Sukhiapokhri, you can get another shared taxi to Darjeeling.

If you want to halt at the beautiful Gopaldhara Tea Estate on the way, you can reserve a vehicle from Mirik and ask it to drop you at Sukhiapokhri. And if you already have a reserved vehicle all the way from Siliguri or if you are driving your own car, you should halt at Gopaldhara for some time. The small roundish hillocks covered with green tea leaves is sure to soothe your eyes and calm your mind. Moreover, there is also a sales counter at Gopaldhara right beside the road where you can buy some tea leaves. If you want to buy tea on your trip to Darjeeling, I would personally suggest you should buy from Gopaldhara as they sell some of the best teas grown in the region and the price is quite right. You have a choice of teas to choose from, suitable for every pocket and budget. You can also have a nice cup of hot tea, just at the price of Rs. 10/- per cup. So, if you want to make it cheap but still want to enjoy the beauty of Mirik and Gopaldhara, I will suggest you take a shared taxi to Mirik, then book a car to Sukhiapokhri and halt at Gopaldhara en route, and then from Sukhiapokhri, take another shared taxi to take you to Darjeeling, your final destination.

The Kalimpong – Peshoke – Lopchu – Jorebungalow – Ghoom route to Darjeeling from Siliguri

You should call this an alternative itinerary instead of a route because of the significant detour involved, but I think the extra time, energy, and money will be very much worth them. Kalimpong itself has a lot of attractions to offer, ranging from sprawling mountaintop parks, ancient monasteries, and beautiful nurseries, to name among the few. If you can start really early from Siliguri, you can take a bus or a shared taxi to Kalimpong and you will reach in 4 and 3 hours respectively. So, if you start at 7, you will reach at 11. At the taxi stand, there are plenty of eateries where you can have some refreshments. Then you can book a local taxi to take you to Durpin Monastery where you can see Lamas worshipping. It is one of the few monasteries where you can witness live prayers – you can actually sit down there for some time and lose yourself in a world of spirituality created by those magical chants, sounds, and smells. Then you can ask your local taxi to take you to some local nurseries – there are plenty of them. You can see vast collections of flowers and cacti there. If you are interested, you can also visit the Delo Park. Having finished your brief Kalimpong sightseeing in 2 to 3 hours, you should come back to the motor stand by 3 pm. Then take a shared taxi from Kalimpong to Darjeeling.

Your vehicle will come down to Teesta Bazar all the way from Kalimpong, and then cross the river and start ascending again towards Lopchu. Shortly, you will be mesmerized by a forest of Sal trees. The beautiful Peshoke Tea Garden will be on the way. The road involves a steep climb and you will enjoy it. The shared taxis usually halt at Lopchu for some time, where you can buy some refreshments. Just after Lopchu, you will be at an altitude parallel to that of Kalimpong, and you can get a glimpse of Kalimpong on the opposite hills on a clear day. The road continues to climb further, and you will soon be at Lamahatta, which is an upcoming eco-tourism center. After Lamahatta, you will pass through the Senchal forest and finally meet the Hill Cart Road at Jorebungalow. Your car will then take a right turn towards Ghoom on the Hill Cart Road, and soon reach Darjeeling.

Did you take any of these routes to Darjeeling? How was your experience? Did you travel by your own vehicle, a reserved car, or a shared taxi? Let us know by posting a comment below!

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