Luxury (over US$35/Rsl000 per room night)
For comfort and style, stay at the Windemere Hotel, Bhanu Sarani,The Mall (tel 2397, 2841). This is a wonderfully eccentric place, much in the same mould as Calcutta’s Fairlawns Hotel. Nearly a century old, once used as a British officers’ club, it simply reeks of the Raj. Situated on the slopes of Observatory Hill, it offers spectacular views from the sundeck patio. Rooms have quaint functional furniture, log fires, quilted coverlets, and bags of rustic charm. Including all meals, they are fairly priced at US$50 single, US$80 double. Other features include bar, badminton court, miniature golf course and beautiful terraces of potted flowers. It’s a real period piece!
Mid-range (US$10-35/Rs250-1000 per room night)
The New Elgin Hotel on H.D. Lama Rd (tel 3314, 3316) is another place in the Britishstyle and tradition—hot-water bottles and all. This hotel has a great reputation for food (you can get anything you want, if you order well in advance), with a superb location, and homely rooms from Rs750 single, Rsl150 double including all meals. The other good hotel with central heating is Hotel Sinclair, Darjeeling’s most modern hotel, with good service and facilities. Single/double rooms are from Rs750 and Rsll50. The Oberoi Mount Everest has been closed for the last few years. The government-run Luxury Tourist Lodge, Bhanu Sarani, The Mall (just behind the Windemere; tel 2611) is clean and comfortable, and all the rooms (Rs350-500, breakfast/dinner included) have outstanding Kanchenjunga views and good heaters. The Bellevue Hotel (tel 2129, 2221) on The Mall has some of the best views in town. The Central Hotel (tel 2033, 2746), Robertson Road has a good restaurant and rooms from Rs600 single, Rsl000 double..
Budget (under US$10/Rs250 per room night)
The most popular budget place is the Youth Hostel, Dr Zakir Hussain Road (tel 2290). A great place to meet fellow-travellers, it has a friendly manager, hot showers and prime morning views of the mighty Kanchenjunga. The hostel is a climb from either bus or rail station, but rooms are so cheap (singles only, at Rs25) it’s worth it. The trouble is, this place is often full.A good fallback is the homely Shamrock Hotel on Upper Beechwood Road (up stone steps adjoining Washington restaurant, turn right). Run in family-style, this is a very clean, comfy place with hot water, supplied by dunking live electric elements in buckets. Rooms are cheap (Rs30-65), and the two best ones (Nos 10 and 13) have the Kanchenjunga views..
Local Tibetan-style food is cheap and simple. The most interesting items are Tibetan bread, which is delicious with honey or jam, and the traditional mono (mincemeat balls, flavoured with onion and ginger, cooked in steam). Finding good food is a problem, though, and many people eat in their hotel. Darjeeling has few restaurants, mainly just small speak-easies where patrons secretly consume their food in tiny partitioned boxes. Not only does this stop you meeting new people, but a curtain is often drawn to stop you even seeing other diners.One exception to this is Glenary’s restaurant (tel 2055) in Laden-La Road, which has a wide and open eating area. It’s supposed to be the best eating place around, but isn’t. Armies of cummerbunded waiters linger overlong in serving up very unpredictable over-priced Indian food. Glenary’s is redeemed only by its superb ground-floor bakery. Just below it in the same road is the excellent ice-cream parlour affectionately known as the ‘green pharmacy’.
At the bottom of Nehru Rd, just above the Lion’s Club traffic island, is Dekavas Restaurant (‘the ideal place for fun and fast food’). Good veggie-burgers, pizzas, chow mein here, and the service is remarkably fast. Just up from the post office in Laden-La Rd, the ever-popular Himalaya Restaurant is where everybody goes for breakfast: Tibetan bread ‘n’ honey, recognisable porridge, non-greasy eggs).Down the steps behind this, New Dish Restaurant offers superb Chinese food, Japanese sukiyaki, ‘speciality’ dinners at US$10-plus which few can afford, and after-hours alcohol.
The vegetable curries and the provocative menu deserve a particular mention. Opposite the Himalaya, both the Washington and Lotus restaurants continue to serve good, cheap Tibetan/Western-style fare. The Lotus is one of the few places in town which serves Darjeeling tea in the afternoons. Of the many good eating places up on Chowrasta, try Chowrasta Restaurant for South Indian food, and Snow Lion Restaurant for Chinese/Tibetan food. All Darjeeling’s restaurants tend to close early, and latenighters go either to the New Dish, or the Golden Dragon Bar just up from the Himalaya. At both these places, steer clear of the local fomba beer—it’s made from non-purified water, and travellers have reported fearful after-effects.
The tourist Bureau, 1 Nehru Road (tel 2050) is located at the Hotel Bellevue complex at Chowrasta; open 10.30 am-4 pm, closed Sunday, and every second/fourth Saturday of the month). Friendly and helpful, but go armed with precise questions (they’re extremely busy). Not much literature, but an adequate Darjeeling map. The bureau also sells bus tickets back to Bagdogra, for these returning to Calcutta by air; and hires out good guides, but trekking information is better at the Youth Hostel. The Tourist Bureau offers three local sightseeing tours daily: Dhirdham Temple, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (9.30 am-12.30 pm); the Zoo, Passenger Ropeway, Tibetan Refugee Centre, Lebong Race Course (1.30-4.30 pm); c) Tiger Hill, Senchal Lake, Ghoom Monastery, Batasia Loop (4-8 am). All tours cost Rs70, and are strictly for those who are short on time.
Indian Airlines (tel 2355) is next to the Tourist Bureau. The post office and Grindlays Bank are in Laden-La Road. So is the State Bank of India. The (good) Oxford Bookshop is up on Chowrasta.