A sleepy town surrounded by verdant tea estates, Bagdogra’s claim to fame is its tiny airport, which connects the hill stations of Bengal and Sikkim with the rest of the country. For most travellers, Bagdogra is not a destination, but a gateway to the more charismatic towns of Darjeeling and Gangtok.
Need To Know
The weather here is pleasant almost throughout the year. Summers in Darjeeling and Gangtok are warm and sunny, while the average daytime temperature can dip to 10º C between December and February. Torrential rains between June and September often lead to landslides and heavy fog, so best avoided.
Auto-rickshaws are available for travel within Bagdogra and to the airport. Decide on the rate before getting in. Private taxis can be hired for day trips and journeys to Darjeeling and Gangtok.
Thanks to the proximity to Nepal and Tibet, the regional food is dominated by momos, thukpa, and churpee (local cheese made from yak milk). Bengali staples like alu dum and luchi are also popular. Meat eaters can savour local dishes such as phagshapa (pork with chillies) and pakku (mutton curry) in Gangtok.
Things To Do
For Nature Lovers
Travellers keen to spend time amidst nature should head straight to the colonial hill station of Darjeeling for breath-taking views and unique flora and fauna. Situated at an elevation of over 2,000 metres, Darjeeling is surrounded by sal and oak forests. Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park (Tel: 0354 225 3709), the highest altitude zoo in India, conserves and breeds endangered Himalayan species such as the snow leopard and red panda. Lloyd’s Botanical Garden preserves exotic species of plants including rare varieties of orchids. Watching the sunrise from Tiger Hill and riding on the heritage train to Ghum, the highest railway station in India, are the other must-dos.
Jorpokhri is a picturesque hilltop spot on the way to Darjeeling. The landscaped gardens offer panoramic vistas of the Himalayas, and the two lakes are home to the rare Himalayan salamander known locally as gora.
For Culture Vultures
Gangtok, the charming capital of Sikkim, is located 120 km north of Bagdogra, and the drive through lush tea gardens on the Shivalik Hills is an enjoyable one. An important stopover on the trade route between Lhasa and Kolkata in the early 20th century, Gangtok is now a centre of Tibetan Buddhist culture with several monasteries and educational institutions. The 200-year-old Enchey Monastery is the oldest in the city and is home to monks of the Nyingma order. Namgyal Institute of Tibetology is a centre of Buddhist study that offers courses on Tibetan culture. The serene campus also houses a museum with rare, ancient manuscripts, statues, coins, and thangka paintings.
What To Eat & Where
While there are few restaurants of note in Bagdogra, both Darjeeling and Gangtok offer travellers succulent gastronomical experiences. Steaming momos and bowls of thukpa are available at all street-side eateries. In Darjeeling, Kunga (Tel: 095635 63219) serves the most delicious chicken wanton soup, while both locals and tourists swear by the mutton momos at Dekevas Restaurant (Tel: 0354 225 4159).
Revolver (Tel: 083719 19527) serves traditional Nepali and Naga thalis in its quirky Beatles-themed restaurant. Gourmands can get a taste of dalle (local pickle) and churpee at Keventers (Tel: 0354 225 6542). In Gangtok, Taste of Tibet (Tel: 091631 22020) is a fuss-free eatery serving momos and shyabhale (fried meat pasties). Dynasty Wine and Dine (Tel: 03592 206 444) is famous for its authentic Chinese offerings, while Roll House (Tel: 098320 92219) dishes out Bengali street snacks.
What To Buy
Fragrant local tea and Tibetan curios make for excellent gifts. Nathmull (Tel: 0354 225 7309) in Darjeeling stocks a wide variety of teas, while Golden Tips (Tel: 03592 208111) in Gangtok is a boutique tea store with a picturesque tasting area. In Darjeeling, Dorjee Himalayan Artefacts is famous for its intricate amulets and silver prayer wheels. In Gangtok, Handicrafts & Handloom Emporium (Tel: 070631 09336) has a range of affordable gift items and souvenirs such as hand-woven carpets, handmade paper products, and traditional Sikkimese furniture. Travellers keen on buying thangka paintings can visit Curio Art Gallery in Gangtok.