Kolkata and beyond: Loleygaon, Lava, Rishop, Darjeeling

Having lived in Finland, I have developed a special liking for the nature. Fortunately, or Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to explore the diverse nature in the India yet.

“Maine humari Darjeeling ki tickets already book kar li hai, ab tu jaldi se Kolkata aaja.”
(I’ve already booked our tickets to Darjeeling, come to Kolkata quick)

My friend on his call made sure, there won’t be any further delay to this plan and I won’t be allowed any more excuses.

Packing my rucksack, I boarded the train from Delhi to Kolkata in the evening. I was greeted by my friend at the station and we reached our abode in the “City of Joy”, I was not disappointed. That city is a living museum, seems like not much has changed there since the Britishers left India (check my post on the tram in the city, to get a glimpse of my thoughts).

Kolkata to NJP

One evening, a week later, I was standing at the same Sealdah station, only this time to board the Darjeeling Mail. It was weekend, and I could sense a special joy and relief among the passengers to the train. Being a popular hill station, it was fairly evident most of them were excited to get there. After a long and tiring day, I retired to sleep and was up before the sunrise. Being a December morning, it was misty and foggy outside. As the train passed through the farms and fields, the view outside was pleasant. Hazy sun, rising in the horizon, damp fields and unmade houses. Finally, we arrived at the New Jalpaiguri Station (NJP).

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View from Darjeeling Mail

NJP to Loleygaon

After a bit of bickering and bargaining we managed to convince one driver to take us directly to Loleygaon for 1200 rupees. The driver was very talkative, friendly and helped us plan our trip, the dos and don’ts and places to see, things to do, such stuff. Located roughly 100 kms from the NJP, it took us around 3.5 to 4 hours to reach Loleygaon. We stopped for a breakfast at a shack, next to a tea gardens, and it was lovely, my first time among the tea gardens. The road on the hills to Loeygaon wasn’t the best one to drive on, it was broken at places and full of stones. Eventually we arrived at our destination and check into an inn, the lady charged us 700 per night for two people. Loelygaon is a small settlement with a sparse population of around 5000 located at an altitude of 5500 feet in the Himalayan ridge. Since we were there in December, the weather was on the colder side.

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Tea Garden en route to Loleygaon

We had our lunch freshened up a bit and went to see the place. There’s a canopy bridge and we went to have a look at it. You will come pass through the bridge area of the entrance gate kind of a thing while traveling from NJP to Loleygaon. To our dismay, the bridge was closed for some construction repair and we couldn’t get to walk on it. But nevertheless, we had a good look at it. It’s made of wooden planks all along and at places supported by branches of the trees. Since, the place is totally secluded and amidst a forest, the evening was quiet and calm. Occasionally, you could hear the birds chirping or even leaves falling. We didn’t do much that evening, as were tired. After a small walk in the village, we had dinner and off to sleep.

Next morning, woke up early and walked uphill for around 4 km to reach Jhandi Dara, the sunrise point. The view from the hill was absolutely spellbinding. I stood there for a long long time staring into the sky admiring the rising sun. We were hoping to get a glimpse of the Kanchenjunga hills, in the west, opposite the rising sun but the clouds hid them behind. After the sunrise, we headed back to our accommodation, showered, had brunch and started for Lava.

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Sunrise from Jhandi Dara
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Sunrise from Jhandi Dara

Loleygaon to Lava via Kalimpong

We started for Lava around 11.00ish, our original plan was to reach Lava from Loleygaon but things didn’t go per our plan. During our ride from NJP, the driver informed us that there is a quicker and cheaper way to reach Lava from Loleygaon and he handed out his contact too in case of any confusion. So, per his instruction, we hitchhiked, walked and walked and walked till we reached a four-way intersection. One road each leading to Kalimpong, Lava, Loleygaon and some other village close by (I can’t recall the name). There was a three way a few hundred metres before the four way and it’s easy to lose way due to confusion there. Anyways, on reaching there, we were told that we had already missed the last car/taxi thing to Lava and if we’re lucky we might get a ride from someone heading that way. We waited at the four way for an hour or so, asking every passing vehicle. Ultimately, we decided to go to Kalimpong, because if we missed the last car/taxi to Kalimpong, we might have to be stranded there. The plan was to hop on another bus/car/taxi from Kalimpong to Lava.

On reaching Kalimpong, it was already evening, and on enquiry we found out that the next bus to Lava is in the night. No point reaching Lava after nightfall, since we won’t be able to do anything there at night. Hence, we parked ourselves at Kalimpong for the night. Kalimpong is a city with lots of people, cars, hustle, bustle, coming from Loleygaon we found it a bit crowded. Next, morning on bus to Lava. The slow bus ride took us higher and higher into the mountains. The driver seemed to be a popular friendly guy, smiling and greeting people all along the way, exchanging pleasantries, promising people to deliver their gifts, dropping off late going school children. It made me wonder, the people in these hills don’t have access to the best to infrastructure and facilities but they have themselves and each of them take care of one another and help when needed, was kinda hearting to see. I noticed the change in vegetation all along the way.

Eventually, we arrived at Lava. Located at an altitude of about 7000 feet, the place is scenic and small. We rested and dined and headed out to the Lava Monastery. Situated on the hills, the panoramic view around the monastery is absolutely breath taking. Unfortunately, the time we reached there was a meditation time for the monks and we couldn’t get to talk to them. We roamed around the place for a while, talked to a few locals and since we were already behind our schedule, headed straight to Rishop.

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View from Lava Monastery
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At Lava Monastery

Lava to Rishop

There are two ways to reach Rishop, from Lava – by taxi and by foot. We walked for one and half hours uphill on broken roads to reach our destination. The trek is demanding at places but still doable. The way to Rishop is a bit disguised and one might need to ask locals for directions. There’s some sort of government accommodation and some small broken wooden stairs lead up on the right side of the road. On walking, a few hundred metres, there a diversion and we stuck to the right side of the road, but we asked people constantly to assure ourselves that we were on the right track.

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Trek uphill to Rishop

After a while we could see the small village in the horizon. Rishop is a small quaint Hamlet at an altitude of 8530 feet located amidst the hills. “Pink Floyd Hotel”, that was our resting place. We were living in the clouds and on opening the door, the clouds would float into the room. There was nothing but silence, dead silence. Imagine a small place in the clouds, sipping hot coffee on the balcony and all you can see is mountains, trees covering the mountains, little houses, small villages in the distant. The stars covered the night sky, twinkling bright. In the morning, we trekked 2 km uphill in to Tiffin Dara to a get a Panoramic view of the place. The trial passes through a forest and you can also rent a guide to take you there. The view was a bit below my expectation but nevertheless still worth it. We headed for our final stop, Darjeeling via Ghoom.

 

Rishop to Darjeeling via Ghoom

A few of our To-Dos in Darjeeling was to catch the glimpse of the sunrise at the Tiger hill and ride the Toy Train. The hill is closer from Ghoom, 5ish kms, and the train passing through Ghoom takes you to D’jeeling. Rishop to Ghoom was a long journey, going back to Lava, Kalimpong and then to Ghoom. The journey from K’pong to Ghoom was very scenic. We drove downhill, passing small waterfalls from big huge rocks, river flowing through the valley, trees and stones on either side and we crossed a small bridge before driving uphill.

It was already night by the time we reached there. We somehow managed to get an accommodation for 500 bucks after extensive bargaining. Next morning at 4 am we went about our way to Tiger Hill, it’s not so pleasant and there are a lot of cars whizzing past you, many tourists from Darjeeling hire cars to get there. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed on reaching there, it was crowded as hell, and they have constructed a stand to seat the tourists. Overcrowded places do not interest me. All I could see was vendors, selling you coffee and people flashing their phone for selfies. The sunrise wasn’t appealing either because of the heavy clouds.

We got on a 9 o’clock train to Darjeeling, from a distant, the city was half lit with the morning sun. We were lucky to get a view of the Kachenjunga range. And trust me on this, it’s one of the best thing you’ll see your entire life. For me, it was one of those moments, when you see something so mesmerizing that you want to keep looking at it the entire time. I was dumbstruck. A flat white mountain range covered with silver velvet. The white snow was gleaming in the morning sun. You know when you see something very gorgeous, and it makes you so happy that you forget all the worries in life and want to just keep staring, it was something like that (and I’m not exaggerating). Maybe, because I live in the city, it was more appealing to me, but still it was absolutely worth every bit of it.

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Darjeeling with Kanchenjunga in the background

Darjeeling is just like another city, full of cars and people all around. The Mall road is cleaner and better compared to other places and you can take a walk around. We went up to see St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling, it was nice, organized. I wish I went to such school, with the view of Kanchenjunga every morning. We stayed in Darjeeling for a day and a half, went to watch a movie and roamed around the city, talking to locals, there were a few good coffee houses and eateries around. It felt kinda good because I hadn’t had good coffee in a while.

Being a city it is well connected and got a shared cab to NJP.

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