Darjeeling, “Land of the Celestial Thunderbolt,” was given to the British as a “gift” from the once-independent kingdom of Sikkim. Lying in the Himalayan foothills and entirely surrounded by snowcapped vistas, Darjeeling soon became the favorite summer resort of the British Raj during the heyday of Calcutta — when Mark Twain visited, he exclaimed it was “the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once by even a glimpse would not give that glimpse for the shows of the rest of the world combined.” Today, the incredible view of the world’s third-highest mountain, Mount Kanchenjunga (8,220m/27,400 ft.), is undoubtedly Darjeeling’s best-loved attraction, though the town has also acquired a global reputation for producing the “champagne of teas,” and retains some of its haunting Gothic Victorian ambiance.
Most visitors are here to pick up a permit and get acclimatized for hikes through the mountainous state of Sikkim. It’s worth noting that if you want a sleepy colonial hill-station environment, with splendid flower-filled walks, this is not it. Head instead for nearby Kalimpong, which offers a number of charming old-world accommodations.