Buddhist prayer flags snap in the breeze, while jagged Himalayan peaks play hide-and-seek in the cloudy distance. It's my second day in Darjeeling, a quintessential South Asian hill station. The colonial British and their Indian counterparts once escaped the scorching summer temps on the plains by heading for this most famous of summer capitals. These days, travelers find respite in these cool hills.
Like generations of explorers, I've come to bag a few nearby peaks. First stop is the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, once presided over by the late Everest pioneer Tenzing Norgay, which offers outdoor courses (and has a museum stuffed with alpinism memorabilia). Hoping to follow in Norgay's bootsteps, I I book a multiday trek and set off into the nearby hills.
Even for those without high-altitude designs, Darjeeling is a worthwhile stopover. The town has a flavor as distinct as the tea grown on its outskirts, seasoned not just by Raj-era architecture, bakeries, and antique shops but also by a heady dose of Himalayan culturesNepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim are all next door. In town, the Hotel Windamere, a 19th-century Heritage Hotel overlooking Chowrasta Square, provides local color and great views. DETAILS: Doubles from $145, with full board; 011-91-354-2254041, www.windamerehotel.com.