Observatory Hill and The Mahakal Temple
Situated in the heart of Darjeeling, and rising abruptly and steeply like some lone sentinel is ‘Observatory Hill’ locally known as ‘Dara’. The steep climb up is well worth the magnificent view that is seen from its summit. The whole mountain range can be seen with all the surrounding country-side, right into the heart of Sikkim. More than 12 peaks of over 20,000 feet can be counted, with many other lesser peaks also in sight.
The Mahakal Temple occupies the summit where once a Buddhist monastery stood.
The temple with three siva-lingas said to have itself manifested in 1782 is today covered with gilded astdhatu (eight metal alloy) coverings representing Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. The temple is greatly venerated and devotees from all sections of the community go up for worship. Prayers are chanted by a priest while a Buddhist monk reads from the Buddhist Holy Scriptures. The devotees meanwhile walk barefoot round the shrine, three times, ringing bells that are placed round it. Hundreds of prayer flags are hung all over the shrine and tree tops; the whole scene presenting an atmosphere of peace and serenity.
Also on the summit is a white Chorton (a Tibetan Memorial) enshrined with the relics of Dorjee Lama, who was in-charge of the shrine in the early 1880s. Other shrines near the summit include that of Goddess Kali. Beside the temple of Goddess Kali a finely constructed platform is present where all religious rites are practiced. A tumble down there is a small dwelling for the image of Lord Hanuman and then a further down a gamete of Gods and Goddesses. The hugely carved images of Goddess Durga, Lord Ganesha and Goddess Saraswati on the slope of the hill itself is preceded by the stone carved images of Lord Krishna along with Radha which itself faces the gothic rock carved manifestation of Lord Shiva. A few feet ahead and below the stairs is a cave worshipped by the local inhabitants as the abode of Lord Shiva. Legend has it that no man has ever survived to see its interiors. Indeed a British couple once said to have ventured into its interiors along with their pet dog died and were never to be found while the dog returned safely.
The Observatory Hill is abundantly blessed with exotic flora and fauna and offers great opportunities to bird watches and photographers.