Tiger Hill is a favorite early morning destination for Darjeeling holidaymakers. Participate at your own risk. You will be drowning with loud loud tourists impatient to have their photos taken against the backdrop of the Kangchendzonga Range. It is much more civilized to walk up and reach in the late afternoon, view the evening views and, if you are not in too much of a hurry, you can even choose to spend the night and catch the sunrise before the big crowds of tourists begin.
If you’ve been eating and drinking too much, this day trip will help you trim down. Scheduled for the elevation gain in Sikkim, mountain climbers and trekkers usually do this hike as part of their acclimatization and to get their bodies into a comfortable rhythm. If you bring your children, you don’t have to worry. Just rent a pony or two from the stables Chowrasta, straddle them and let them follow. They will enjoy playing cowboys for the rest of the day. In addition to walking this beautiful nature trail along ancient forests, you can even catch a glimpse of Tibetan Buddhist culture.
Stop with the old May Dhog Yolmowa Gompa, built by the Ven Sangay Lama of Yolmo, during the First World War in 1914. Mag Dhog means to ward off war, and it is dedicated to world peace. The interior of the monastery has murals of the Buddha in different shapes and forms mudras, painted with natural mineral and vegetable paints in the Tibetan art style common in the region. It houses the old Termas, the esoteric, secret teachings of the great Tibetan Buddhist masters. You can stop here and buy Tibetan and Sikkimese handicrafts and religious items from the monks.
Another interesting stop on this route is the old Buddhist cemetery, two turns before reaching the monastery. In the past, Tantric lamas practiced the Chod ritual where they would allow spirits to ‘feed’ on their bodies to gain greater tantric powers. This happened in the middle of the night in this cemetery. Good thing the walk takes you past the spot in broad daylight. Locals still believe that if you happen to walk along this route at dusk, evil spirits are likely to pounce on you! The graves lie in an unkempt state, overrun by ferns and mosses, and the cemetery is full of beautiful, aging Japanese pines (Cryptomeria japonica) and oaks. You wouldn’t believe it when you see how urbanized it is Darjeeling has become, but the forests of this area are home to a number of birds and animals. Look out for the endangered partridge, broad-billed warbler and red-tailed robin. Nettles on the way!
DISTANCE 13-14 KM TIME 5 HOURS
The walk starts from Chowrasta in Darjeeling (2,134 m), past the stables on a quiet but wide path Tenzing Norgay jeep trackbeyond the settlements of Toong Soong and Aloo Bari, with its old monastery. The greenery around Aloo Bari thickens and you enter a tranquil area away from the mad rush of Darjeeling. Along the route to Jorebungalow, you pass a few small hamlets, inhabited by the Tamangs, Rais and Bhutias, who trace their roots to Tibet. Stop here for a meal of local cuisine. Besides the ubiquitous momos, try it gundruk with rice and the sel roti of dum aloo.
Along the way there are many places where you can just lie in the bright sunlight and especially enjoy the solitude Money Point, marked by a cheerful stream, 3 km beyond Mag Dhog Monastery. Just before you enter the dingy, damp city Jorebungalow, there is a path to the right, climbing for about 2 km. It ends in the Jalapahar Cantonment, a remnant of the British Raj and the road to St Paul’s School. This area has been the training ground of the Gorkhas for centuries.
Upon return from Tiger Hillyou can walk back to Darjeeling town via Jalapahar and beautiful views of the Kangchendzonga, and the hills around Darjeeling, even the distant Kurseong, Mirikand Sandakphuand the distant plains of Bengal. From Jorebungalow you can walk about a kilometer to the Jathe Rinpoche Monastery, associated with the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism. Or continue to Tiger Hill. From Jorebungalow you have two options to reach Tiger Hill. The first is to hike the motorized route, but the second trail takes you further out of town and into the wilderness.
A few hours of climbing through forests takes you to Senchal Lake (2,529 m), located on a plateau. It is the source of drinking water for Darjeeling. The forest here is evergreen and wooded, with a mix of the many species of rhododendron along with remnant oaks, bamboo thickets, ferns and wild orchids. Locals believe that the forests are enchanted. The forest spirit, called the Banjhakri, incorporates various forms of animals and birds. Throughout the walk, one will come across miniature shrines dedicated to the spirits of the wood. Just before you finally climb to the top of the hill, you will come across a creek where you can see the terraces of Tiger Hill and the ancient temples above. A few minutes later the path joins the jeep track, which slides up from Jorebungalow. Another easy kilometer and Tiger Hill has been reached.
Standing atop Tiger Hill, one is absolutely mesmerized by the panoramic views of the guardians of Tibet. The longest is the Kangchendzonga, on the left, just like the road to Lhasa, the ice-covered Jelep La Pass to Tibet. The summit of Everest is a straight line to Tiger Hill, 172 km away. Chomolari, on the border of Bhutan, and the Yatung Valley are also clearly visible. The other visible peaks are Makalu, Pandim, Kabru, Siniolochu, Kothang, Janu, Pandim, Simvu, Kumbakaran and Ratong. Also visible from here are the major rivers that invade the plains of Bengal – the Teesta, Mahanadi, Balasun and the Mechi, all meandering southwards.
Take a few minutes to hike uphill to the cave temples, said to date back to the Satya Yug. This is where the protective deity of Tiger Hill resides. Even though it is a shrine dedicated to Shiva, people of all religions claim this as the home of their favorite gods. One cave is believed to have its exit 76 km away, in Siliguri! If you want to see a sublime sunrise, camp overnight. There is plenty of water and space on the property, to the right of the welcome gate. Early the next morning, if you’re lucky with the weather, hold your breath. You will experience the most amazing sight of the sun gilding over the Great Himalayan range. On your return, you can take a jeep taxi or walk to Darjeeling via Jalapahar.